December 18, 2014 | By Roger Thurow

A Christmas Miracle—Almost

The Last Hunger Season Film Series

‘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.


| By Roger Thurow

The Ryan Budget and One Particularly Pernicious Paragraph

Since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, many people have peered into the House budget plan that the Wisconsin Congressman shaped - the so-called Ryan budget — to see what it might portend for a Romney-Ryan administration.

| By Roger Thurow

The Games and Hunger – True Inspiration

The London Summer Olympics have been chock full of wondrous achievements and inspiring moments: Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Sarah Attar, Oscar Pistorious, an impressive roster of African athletes rising from deep poverty to the medal platform. Just imagine the journey from Somalia or Sudan to a stadium filled with 80,000 people, flashbulbs sparkling like stars. Amazing.

| By Roger Thurow

Let's Keep the Focus This Time

Are we paying attention now? The shriveled corn and wilting beans and severely parched soil of the U.S. farm belt are trying to tell us something: focus on the global food chain.

| By Roger Thurow

From AIDS to Agriculture

As we have heard during this week's international conference in Washington, D.C., there has been wondrous progress on the AIDS treatment front since President George W. Bush launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) nearly a decade ago.

| By Roger Thurow

Just Do It

With the London Olympics approaching, it is time that we dusted off the old Nike solgan - Just Do It - and apply it to the agricultural development front.

| By Roger Thurow

Derailing Momentum

There is no doubt that the financial crisis roiling Europe has unsettled world markets, scrambled politics, shaken re-election prospects in several countries and darkened many 401-k prospects.  But as the drama stretches on and on, another mighty impact is emerging: it is derailing the momentum to fight hunger and poverty through agricultural development.

| By Roger Thurow

A Beautiful Day

It was a beautiful day, as Bono might sing, when President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and a phalanx of corporate leaders, and the Irish rock star himself, gathered in Washington DC on May 18 to shift the effort to end hunger through agricultural development into a higher gear.

| By Roger Thurow

Neglect Reversed, Now Keep the Focus

Too poor, too remote, too insignificant.  That was the unofficial mantra behind the neglect of smallholder farmers in Africa for the past four decades.  It was recited by the farmers’ own governments, by rich world governments, by development institutions large and small, by the private sector.  It has left Africa’s farmers far behind those in the rest of the world.  It has left them unable to feed their own families throughout the year.  It has given rise to that horrible oxymoron “hungry farmers.”

| By Roger Thurow

Fighting the Injustice of Hunger

President Barack Obama issued an "all hands on deck" command to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition, which he said was "an outrage and an affront to who we are."

| By Roger Thurow

A Transformational Day

The Chicago Council Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security opened with a jolt of urgency and possibility.




Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »