‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the House,
Optimism was stirring
Of more food for good health.
The House of Representatives had brought us to the edge of a Christmas miracle by passing legislation giving statutory authorization to Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative to reduce global hunger through agricultural development. The Global Food Security Act had been bottled up for nearly six years, a captive of Washington’s polarized politics. On the ground in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, millions of smallholder farmers and their families—ironically, the hungriest people on the planet—were benefiting from increased investments in their work; Feed the Future was swinging the aid pendulum away from feeding the hungry with emergency food aid to long-term agricultural development aid that creates the conditions for the hungry to grow more food to feed themselves. (See how agriculture development benefits smallholder farmers in Africa, and the entire global food chain, in this Last Hunger Season short-film series).
Still, Feed the Future’s own future has been in constant peril, under threat from tight budgets, cuts to foreign aid, and political paralysis. The prospect for Feed the Future becoming a permanent part of America’s good work abroad has often looked bleak.
Then last week, members of the House—rallied by a gang of dogged supporters of agriculture development and, perhaps, moved by the spirit of the holiday season—embraced the legislation with rare bipartisan support. Next up to complete this Christmas miracle would be the Senate, where another group of dogged supporters had kept a fire burning for Feed the Future. Momentum for action on food security grew when the Senate followed another House move and approved the Water for the World Act. That bill builds upon the Water for the Poor Act of 2005, which was championed by the late Senator Paul Simon to make access to safe drinking water and sanitation a priority of American foreign policy. Since water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) go hand-in-hand with abundant, nutritious food in the assault on world hunger, it seemed that adoption of the Global Food Security Act would naturally follow.
But, alas, political strategizing on the extent of compromise in this lame duck Congress intervened, and the clock ran out on Senate action for this year. Global food security would have to wait for the New Year, and the new Congress.
For Congress to not establish Feed the Future as a pillar of American policy (as it had for President George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR) would be to ignore the gathering momentum worldwide to end hunger. In the past couple of months, conferences in New Delhi, New York, Addis Ababa, and Rome, and a multi-city launch of a first-ever Global Nutrition Report, have given food and nutrition security a prominence that won’t go away.
In New York, dozens of university presidents gathered at the United Nations under the banner of Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH). They committed their schools to doing what they can to end hunger: spreading knowledge, generating research, inspiring the leaders of the future. In Delhi, a Together for Nutrition conference rallied all sectors of Indian society to attack malnutrition in a country with the highest numbers of undernourished and stunted children. The Global Nutrition Report was a heads-up to the entire world. The report highlighted the benefits of ending hunger—particularly the “hidden-hunger” of micronutrient deficiency—and noted the costs of inaction, not only in the developing world but in the rich world as well, as the ever-widening obesity problem weighs on economies. It clearly outlined the globalization of malnourishment; how a malnourished child—whether stunted or obese—in one part of the world is a malnourished child everywhere.
We are seeing a swelling outrage that the ancient affliction of hunger and child stunting remains with us in the second decade of the 21st Century. Even Pope Francis sounded the alarm when he spoke at the International Conference on Nutrition in Rome in November. We should be “scandalized” that hunger persists today, he said. He added that food, nutrition, and the environment should be viewed as global public issues at a time when the nations of the world are linked together more tightly than ever before.
“When solidarity is lacking in one country, it’s felt around the world,” Pope Francis said.
Global solidarity on ending hunger would indeed be a miraculous development. When Congress reconvenes in the New Year, it will be time to finish the work left undone.