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Senate Committee Discusses Global Hunger, Questions How to Help Women

On March 24, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Alleviating Global Hunger: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Leadership.”

Chair John Kerry (D-MA) said, “It is remarkable that in 2009, there are over 850 million hungry people in the world. One in seven people on Earth goes hungry every day. We must do more to alleviate this crisis and the suffering it causes. While other threats often command our attention, hunger and malnutrition remain the number one risk to health worldwide—a risk that will be exacerbated by two relatively new driving forces in today’s world: the global financial crisis and global climate change. We are already having a harder time feeding people, and our challenge is only growing.”

Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) said, “We live in a world where nearly one billion people suffer from chronic food insecurity. An estimated 25,000 people die each day from malnutrition-related causes. Health experts advise us that chronic hunger has major health consequences, including decreased child survival, impaired cognitive and physical development of children, and weaker immune system function, including resistance to HIV/AIDS. These severe humanitarian consequences of hunger are sufficient cause for us to strengthen our approach to global food security.

Catherine A. Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Program, said, “Over 600 million of the nearly one billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day reside in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. These people, the majority of whom are women, are smallholder farmers and their families. Rural dwellers in these regions do not have the necessary tools to improve their agricultural livelihoods. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 70 percent of those in rural areas live more than a 30-minute walk away from the closest all-weather road; only five percent of all arable land is irrigated; and, even in a good year with adequate rainfall, the crops in the fields will produce only 20 percent of the yield typical in most developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are also the two regions that are most likely to be affected by climate change and water scarcity. In fact, if the rural sectors in these regions are not developed, and population growth continues as projected, the number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will triple between 1990 and 2080. If we are going to make significant advances in reducing global hunger and poverty, we must focus on developing the agricultural sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”

Daniel R. Glickman, former secretary of the Department of Agriculture, stated, “The project we [Mr. Glickman and Ms. Bertini] co-chaired developed five recommendations for how the United States can best carry out this objective. All the recommendations are based on a shared set of principles and priorities. They assume the United States must attach a high priority to reducing large-scale hunger and poverty abroad and domestically; and it should be done as soon as possible; women must be central to any development approach, since the majority of those working in agriculture are women; [and] the U.S. approach to agricultural development should be based on reciprocal partnerships which will require the sustained leadership of the president of the United States and key members of Congress. The most critically important requirement for a renewed U.S. effort in the fight against global poverty is leadership, and in particular, the interest and commitment of the president, and of Congress. We realize that we are experiencing an unprecedented time of economic distress. However, our research suggests that the U.S. can make a significant impact on global hunger at a modest cost. The recommendations our group suggests have a first year cost of $340 million, increasing to $1.03 billion annually when the proposal reaches full funding after five years.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) questioned the panel about “encouraging women to become more involved” in bettering their economic status. Ms. Bertini replied, “Women do the vast majority of the work in agriculture…we have to ask that [question of how to get women involved] and build our systems [and programs] around it.” David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, added, “We have to make sure [women are] educated, [as] educated farmers tend to be more productive.”

Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA, also testified.

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