October 16, 2017 | By Paul Weisenfeld

Guest Commentary - On World Food Day, Recognizing America’s Proud History of Feeding the Hungry

By Paul Weisenfeld, executive vice president for International Development at RTI International
I’ve spent my career in the international development field and have witnessed extreme poverty up close. To me, the single most haunting image of poverty is one I’ve seen far too many times:  a hungry child with a protruding stomach, clearly malnourished, holding onto a visibly distressed mother and barely clinging to life. That child’s fate is clear: If she doesn't receive food, she’ll die.
World Food Day is a time to reaffirm our commitment to this child and millions like her. This year, famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen threatened the lives of an estimated 20 million people. Overall, more than 800 million people around the world do not receive enough food on a regular basis.  For those of us that have ready access to a wide variety of supermarkets and local groceries, it’s easy to forget that a steady supply of nourishing food is not so easy for many families around the world. 
America has a proud history of coming to the aid of billions around the world who have faced hunger. Founded by President Eisenhower in 1954, the Food for Peace program has been a beacon of American compassion for more than 60 years. Through the program, Americans have provided food to more than 3 billion people in need.
Earlier this year, Food for Peace and other programs that respond to food crises came under threat. The main source of funding for Food for Peace would have been eliminated under the Administration’s budget proposal. And the Feed the Future initiative, which helps low-income countries prevent food insecurity by reducing poverty and hunger, and strengthening their resilience to future shocks, would have received a 50 percent cut. Such a decrease would undermine recent progress; in 2016 alone, Feed the Future reached nearly 27 million children with programs to help improve their nutrition. Similarly, the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which provides school meals for more than 2 million children annually in some of the world’s poorest countries, would have been eliminated under the budget. Even the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a critical tool for monitoring and responding quickly to famines, would have seen its funding slashed.
Hunger is a short path to hopelessness and desperation. That’s why America’s foreign assistance and humanitarian interventions have always focused on meeting this basic human need. Feeding the hungry also reflects a deeply felt American value that recognizes our common humanity.  When Americans see other people starving, they help.
Like foreign assistance more generally, efforts aimed at fighting hunger also benefit America strategically and economically in two main ways:
  • It’s safer to live in a safe neighborhood: Countries are more secure and stable when the basic needs of their people are met. In the modern age, the world is our “neighborhood,” which means that strengthening global food security likewise strengthens our own national security.
  • Markets need consumers, and consumers need markets: By helping lift people out of poverty, efforts like Feed the Future open new markets for U.S. goods. As Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran noted in a recent op-ed, “The vast majority of future market growth for agriculture products will not occur domestically, it will be through exports of the food and fiber our farmers grow to people around the world.” Other sectors of the American economy stand to benefit in the same way.
When it comes to feeding the hungry, however, I believe Americans will agree that it is our moral imperative to act regardless of what we receive in return. Empathy allows us to identify with those who are suffering and dying for lack of that most basic human need--food. Compassion motivates us to provide them with something to eat. For many, faith reminds us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. 
Thankfully, Congress has demonstrated its support for food security, and is on track to pass legislation providing strong funding for Food for Peace, McGovern-Dole, and Feed the Future.
Still, as we recognize World Food Day, it’s important to remember what the past year has shown us: standing up for America’s proud history of feeding the hungry and preventing famines is a year-round job. 


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Millicent Yeboah-Awudzi

Next Generation 2018 - Dreams of Change

Our 12th post in the Next Generation blog series is by Millicent Yeboah-Awudzi, PhD candidate in applied plant science at Louisiana State University.