Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

20 posts from March 2010

Hunger in the News

The Cry from Haiti: 'We Want to Escape Misery to Return to Poverty.'
As Haiti prepared its plea for help at today’s donors’ conference, a retired Norfolk orthopedic surgeon has been tending earthquake victims… [Times Online]

Africa Has 27 Million More People in Poverty Following Crisis. The global economic crisis pushed 27 million more people into poverty in Africa. [Business Week]

Recovery Could Leave Behind World's Poorest. The world's 49 least developed countries, described as the poorest of the poor, could feel the effects of the global economic crisis for decades. [Inter Press Service]

[Monstanto] Has Been the Prime Beneficiary of Food Crisis. Today, Monsanto is the virtual king of genetically modified food crops… [Expressbuzz.com]

Private Sector Shed Jobs in March -- Analysts Expected Big Gain. Stocks traded mixed Wednesday after a payroll company's report provided a surprising reminder that the job market remains weak. [Huffington Post]

Real Food for All: The Role of Farmers' Markets. [O]ur food system has gone horribly wrong. While I don't believe this happened by intent, the results are dire for most Americans. [Atlantic Online]

Poor Results Doom Anti-Poverty Project Opportunity NYC. An ambitious city program that offered cash rewards to poor families that did the right thing isn't the cure-all officials hoped it would be. [New York Daily]

Climate Change/Environment
Lovelock: 'We Can't Save the Planet.' Professor James Lovelock, the scientist who developed Gaia theory, has said it is too late to try and save the planet. [BBC]

Will Apple's iPad Add to or Alleviate Climate Change? A new report linking Apple's iPad, which debuts Saturday, to global warming has prompted debate among environmentalists about the true planetary impact of these mobile devices. [USA Today]

Cap and Trade Dropped from Senate's Energy-Climate Change Bill. Cap and trade, a centerpiece of the Waxman-Markey Bill passed by the House, won't be included in the upcoming Senate version of the bipartisan energy-climate change legislation, according to its sponsors. [Examiner.com]

Hear from Melinda Gates and Melanne Verveer

Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Melanne Verveer, the first U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, will speak today in a conference call about women and global poverty – and you can dial in.

Organized by the ONE campaign, one of Bread’s partners, the call is part of ONE’s new initiative -- Women ONE2ONE -- which helps empower women to end poverty and disease. RSVP with your telephone number and ONE will call you at 7:30 PM (EST) today, March 29.

Gates will share success stories from the Living Proof Project -- a Gates Foundation program that highlights U.S.-funded global health initiatives -- and what we can do to help empower women globally. Ambassador Verveer will talk about her work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department’s efforts to focus on women and girls.

Women are key to eliminating hunger and poverty. Their pivotal roles as farmers, mothers, and caregivers have immense implications for improving livelihoods, food security, and the health and nutrition of their families. But inequalities in education, economic empowerment, political participation, and access to basic health services have a strong impact on hunger and malnutrition.

See "Gender, Nutrition, and Agriculture," Bread’s new fact sheet on the critical role of women in fighting poverty.

Hunger in the News

Today's top headlines:

Big Food Push Urged to Avoid Global Hunger
. With the world's population soaring to 9 billion by mid-century, crop yields must rise, say the authors -- yet climate change threatens to slash them. [BBC] 

With Cheap Food Imports, Haiti Can't Feed Itself. The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food. [The Washington Post]

U.S. Government Asks Congress to Sanction $370 Million. The Obama administration has urged Congress to release $370 million for humanitarian projects in the areas where Pakistan was conducting military operations against the militants. [Dawn.com]

Euro Trashed. The European Monetary Union, the basis of the euro, began with a grand illusion. [The New York Times]

U.S. Consumer Spending Growth Slows. U.S. consumer spending rose in February at its slowest pace since September last year, providing further evidence of a fragile economic recovery. [BBC]

Free Advice on Money for Those with Little. For three years, Juan Maldonado worked in a sleek skyscraper in Midtown, reconciling stock trades at a Lehman Brothers subsidiary that managed $216 billion in assets. [The New York Times]

An Economic Puzzle Bernanke Can't Solve. It's a mystery that has puzzled even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke: if the U.S. economy is growing rapidly, why isn't it creating jobs? [ABC News]

Climate Change/Environment
World Deforestation Decreases, but Remains Alarming in Many Countries. World deforestation, mainly the conversion of tropical forests to agricultural land, has decreased over the past 10 years but continues at an alarmingly high rate in many countries. [Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations]

Peru Hails Western Carbon Offsetting Programmes. Nestle Waters France wants to offset emissions from its factories in the West by buying trees in a rainforest thousands of miles away. [BBC] 

Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone? When the financial crisis first hit about 18 months ago, many politicians claimed "green jobs" would be the answer to reviving economic growth. [BBC]

All Efforts Great and Small

After the passage of the health care bill, doing the big and historic is again possible in politics.

On the international front, the equivalent is President Obama’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, popularly known as Feeding the Future. Ending hunger through agriculture development, particularly in Africa, would be both very big and supremely historic.

The challenge is enormous: 1 billion people in our world are chronically hungry. That’s an historic high in absolute numbers. And with the population growing and demand for food increasing, we’ll have to double food production by 2050 if we’re to make any permanent reduction in the ranks of the hungry.

The president is asking Congress for $3.5 billion over three years to fund the U.S. commitment to the food security initiative, which is part of a larger $22 billion three-year pledge from the world’s rich countries. These sums sound big, but in present-day political spending terms, they’re veritable chicken feed. Last summer, Congress came up with $3 billion and spent it in a couple of months on the Cash for Clunkers program. Surely Congress can scratch up the same amount of money to make a big dent in the world hunger problem and stimulate the lives of the bottom billion as it did to get some wheezing gas-guzzling cars off the road and stimulate the auto industry.

But let’s not be daunted by the enormity of the job. For success in this big, historic task will require many small efforts. And these small wonders are happening daily.

Opportunity International, a leading micro-finance organization in Africa, updated its accomplishments at a board of governors meeting last week. In 2009, it was managing an African loan portfolio of more than $87 million, with 261,749 active loan clients. The average first trust-group loan was just $183; three-quarters of the loans were made to women. It was also overseeing 495,817 savings accounts with deposits valuing $44,604,077. That’s an average savings balance of $90.

Small and huge at the same time. For these loans and savings accounts are enabling a legion of peasant farmers across the continent to obtain the better seeds and fertilizer vital to producing harvests big enough to feed their families and perhaps yield a surplus for added income. At the same time, Opportunity International’s micro-insurance net is spreading, now covering nearly 600,000 lives. Less than 10 percent of people living in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa have access to comprehensive financial services.

The organization also recently received $16 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation to bring access to savings accounts to 1.4 million people, most of them in rural areas in countries like Malawi and Ghana. Opportunity International will deploy an array of financial services common in the rich world but rare in rural Africa: satellite bank branches, mobile vans, ATMS and little banking kiosks.

Loan officers are also beginning to more closely tailor loans to the situations of the individual farmers. They are mapping the agriculture production area to better estimate yields, and composing household profiles to better understand the dynamics of each family, measuring such things as food consumption, labor potential and costs for things like education and health care. With this information, the loans can be targeted to guide the families from the planting season when costs are high through to the harvest time when income increases and beyond to the lean months as the household food surplus begins to decrease and additional food needs to be purchased. The goal is use the loans not only to help the farmers grow more food but also to keep their families from hunger before the harvests come in.

Seed companies are also going small. A consortium of African agriculture entrepreneurs noticed that manufacturers of consumer goods like detergents, lotions, and mobile phone scratch cards have been moving toward smaller packages with cheaper prices to fit the needs of their customers. So they too are designing smaller packets of higher-quality seeds that can be bought for less than $1. Farmers are more likely to take the risk of trying new seed varieties if the initial investment isn’t so high. After all, the farmers depend on these seeds to feed their families.

“Adopting a new seed variety is a risky proposition for small-scale farmers. Making new seeds available to farmers in small packets and allowing them to see the crop growing in their area can reduce this risk and help open millions more farmers’ eyes to the importance of planting improved seed,” says Joe DeVries, the director of the seed development program of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which is a partnership of the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations.

DeVries was speaking at a meeting of seed experts, entrepreneurs, and relief organizations this week in Nairobi. In some African countries, according to AGRA, as few as 4% of small-scale farmers use improved hybrid seed varieties to boost their harvests of corn, beans, and peas. Continent-wide, fewer than one-third have access to high-yielding, locally adapted seeds of staple food crops.

“A whole new seed economy is growing in Africa that is based on the needs of the majority -- poor, small-scale farmers who up until recently were completely in the shadows of agri-business,” he added.

Fertilizer has normally been sold in 50 kilogram bags that might sell for upwards of $40, putting it beyond the reach of many small farmers. And seeds are packaged for larger commercial farmers, not for the farmers with just one or two acres.

“Small packages could unlock Africa’s farm potential,” AGRA’s George Bigirwa told the gathering.

And unlocking Africa’s farm potential, so badly neglected in past decades, would be big and historic.

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Get Your Church Involved in Bread’s 2010 Offering: 10 Tips

by Robin Stephenson, Ricardo Moreno, Tammy Walhof, and Larry Hollar

“The water for which we thirst is God’s grace, but God gives us the job of hauling it with our own buckets.” —Evelyn Underhill

Looking for ways to get your church more involved in this year’s Offering of Letters campaign? Here are some tips we’ve found effective in our organizing work throughout the country:

Create relationships with other groups in your church. See if you can get some cross-pollination. For example, if you get Sunday school kids working on letters to send to their Congress members, they will show them to their parents, which might encourage them to get involved. If your church has an art group, work with participants to create an art and social justice program that could accompany education about this year’s Offering of Letters. You could display the art during the letter-writing workshops or on a table or bulletin board in the church.

Don’t get discouraged if you only get a few letters. Tammy remembers that during one congressional visit with Bread members, a staff person told them, “We’ve had a lot of mail on that issue.” When Bread folks asked how much mail, the staffer said, “Oh, at least 20 letters!” The Bread activists were surprised to hear that 20 letters counted as a lot, and found that very empowering. Each letter is considered to represent several constituents back home.

Have coffee with your pastor or priest. It’s always good to make sure she or he knows when you’re holding an Offering of Letters. They may want to use that weekend to prepare an advocacy-focused sermon. Ask them to write a letter themselves. If you’re having trouble with pastoral support, tell your pastor why you think the Offering of Letters is important; get feedback on how he or she sees the church’s role in advocacy.

Consider giving your pastor or priest a copy of Art Simon’s book, How Much is Enough. Follow up later to get his or her reaction to it. Sometimes a good dialogue is the beginning of a collaborative relationship. But don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of input. Sometimes it takes time.

Start a series of adult forums or a book group on the biblical basis for hunger justice. Hold meetings prior to your scheduled Offering of Letters. Bread has ideas about books that make good accompaniments to the OL campaign, so ask your organizer for suggestions. Or use the Christian Study Guide in Bread for the World Institute’s 2010 Hunger Report to prepare for the Offering. The study guides are easily structured and contain great activities. Invite the pastor to attend. Hold a poverty simulation night or a hunger banquet.

Try a gimmick. Provide fresh baked bread, a homemade cookie, or a pen (Bread has pens) to letter-writers. Or make stickers on your computer that say something like, “I wrote a letter to speak up for the most vulnerable.” Sunday school children might want to work on a craft to give away, such as bookmarks containing justice-themed Bible verses. Get creative.

Invite someone who can share a story. Individual stories put a face on hunger and poverty and are much more powerful than policy talk. Or create a three-minute play with others on your outreach/justice team to convey the story. Plays can educate and catch the attention of the parishioners. Get the youth group to act something out.

Personal pleas. Talk to friends before the Offering and ask them to write a letter and invite a friend to do the same. Make it as personal as possible.

Prayer. Ask your taskforce to pray in the weeks approaching the Offering -- that God may work through your hands and your community.

Most of all, remember that you are doing this in relationship with God. You are living out your faith by advocating for the poor and hungry, as Christ calls us to. It’s the action that is important. Find comfort in the words of Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:9-11).

Robin Stephenson, Ricardo Moreno, Larry Hollar, and Tammy Walhof are organizers with Bread for the World.

Oscar Romero: A Light for the Poor

Oscar_Romero Today marks the anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador and a powerful champion of the poor. He was killed 30 years ago while presiding over Mass in a hospital chapel in El Salvador.

Romero was an outspoken advocate for those on society’s margins -- the poor, the victimized, those who suffered the effects of unjust economic and social systems, as well as the brutality of El Salvador’s death squads and corrupt government institutions.

His advocacy cost him his life; he suspected it would. But the death threats and assassination attempts didn’t stop him from pursuing the way of Jesus.

In his Aug. 6, 1977, pastoral letter, Romero writes:

The church, like Jesus, has to go on denouncing sin in our own day. It has to denounce the selfishness that is hidden in everyone's heart, the sin that dehumanizes persons, destroys families, and turns money, possessions, profit, and power into the ultimate ends for which persons strive. And, like everyone who has the smallest degree of foresight, the slightest capacity for analysis, the church has also to denounce what has rightly been called 'structural sin:' those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that effectively drive the majority of our people onto the margins of society. When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.

The QDDR is Coming...

It’s got an unwieldy name -- the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review -- but the results of this study could help make U.S. foreign aid assistance more effective in promoting development and reducing poverty. This was the goal of Bread’s Offering of Letters campaign last year.

Conducted by the State Department, the QDDR takes a look at all aspects of U.S. development policy; the goal is to harmonize the work of foreign assistance programs that are currently scattered across the U.S. government. The complete review will be finished this summer, but initial results are expected soon.

If you’d like to keep tabs on the QDDR, as well as the impact its results may have, check out the new blog series from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a coalition of international development and foreign policy organizations.

In the series’ third installment, David Beckman, Bread president and co-chair of MFAN, writes that unless the United States has a strong development agency that can think clearly about what’s good for poor people, our foreign assistance is unlikely to reduce poverty effectively. “Reducing poverty around the world is important to U.S. national security,” he writes, “but our government will not be as effective in reducing poverty if our self-interest motives are mixed into the planning at every step in the process.”

For MFAN’s quick short takes on foreign assistance reform (140 characters or less), sign up for their Twitter updates.

Tax Day: Good News for Poor People?

Most of us remember that Sunday school tune about Zacchaeus -- “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see ....”

Zacchaeus is the wealthy tax collector in Luke 19 who climbs down the tree to welcome Jesus into his home. That meeting changed Zacchaeus’ life; he had been part of an oppressive tax system that enriched itself at the expense of others. But after encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus sang a different tune: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:1-9).

When the tax system meets Jesus, good things happen for poor people.

As we approach the April 15 deadline for filing our taxes, it’s a good time to think about how our tax system works and how it can benefit poor people. To help with that, Bread is encouraging churches to observe Sunday, April 11, or Wednesday, April 14, as “Tax Day.” We have a variety of resources to help you and your congregation in that effort:

Observing “Tax Day” is also great preparation for Bread’s 2010 Offering of Letters, which seeks changes in tax policies that address the growing poverty in the United States. Specifically, Bread is urging Congress to protect and strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. These tax credits are critical to helping families make ends meet, but they will expire this year.

Please contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to adopt changes to U.S. tax policy that increase the resources low-income families have to meet their basic needs, including food.

Join us in calling for tax policies that bring good news to poor people in your community.

Impatient Optimists

Bill Gates calls himself an “impatient optimist.”

Would that we all shared his optimism and, especially, his impatience.

Testifying last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he injected a dose of urgency into the task of improving global health and agriculture development:

“I am optimistic because aid works. I am also impatient. We know how to save lives, we have low-cost tools, but children are still dying because we can’t reach them all with the interventions that we have. Solutions won’t solve anything if they can’t be delivered. Every human life is precious, and every death is tragic, and this gives me a sense of urgency to create and deliver what is needed.”

His testimony was welcomed by Sen. Dick Lugar, the committee’s ranking member and co-author, along with Sen. Robert Casey, of the Global Food Security Act. That bill, which would provide the political support and financial backing for the Obama administration’s ambitious Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, was first introduced in 2008 and passed by the committee, but it has languished in the legislative land beyond, overshadowed by the domestic health care debate and an array of foreign policy “hot spots.”

But can there be any more urgent task for the world than combating the rising hunger problem and securing enough food for the future? Sen. Lugar has his own surplus of impatience, an urgency to strike while the White House and State Department press American leadership in the fight against hunger. Opening the committee hearing, he prodded:

“I believe we have an opportunity in the coming months to achieve something close to a consensus and pass a global food bill that would have major benefits for international health and stability, as well as for U.S. foreign policy.”

Another volley of warnings of the need to move quickly was unleashed yesterday with a new batch of studies by the Global Harvest Initiative on necessary agricultural innovations to sustainably meet growing food demand.

It is certainly not an academic exercise. With more than 1 billion people chronically hungry today, hunger and malnutrition are already the biggest risk to health. And the roll call of the malnourished is constantly increasing. Projections on the growth of population (from less than 7 billion to more than 9 billion people) and prosperity (a six-fold increase in households with annual incomes above $16,000, meaning much more money spent on food consumption) point to food demand across the world nearly doubling by 2050.

One of the studies in particular presents a sober assessment of what’s at stake if we don’t act now. In “Agriculture from 2000 to 2050 – The Business as Usual Scenario,” Jason Clay, senior vice president of market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund, explores the agriculture and food production systems needed to achieve food security by 2050 and still have a livable planet.

He asks, “What will happen if we do nothing between now and 2050 that changes the basic trajectory of food production?” And then he adds, “We know that humans will adapt … but without concerted effort it is unlikely that those innovations will permeate to the extent and in the time frame necessary to make any real difference in overall global performance by 2050.”

In his introduction, Clay highlights the stakes:

“Global food demand is expected to double by 2050. The question is whether there will be enough food to realize this demand. If sufficient food is not available, the question then becomes what that does to global food security. More importantly, if there is insufficient food, who will get it? At the individual level, will there be a rise in infant mortality and malnutrition, an increased number of children who do not achieve the mental capacity they would have had with adequate nutrition, and an increase in the incidence and severity of disease because of the compromise of people’s immune systems? At the level of societies more broadly, will development be held hostage to food shortages; will further social equity gains be held hostage by efforts of a few to maintain their consumption levels; and will social conflict, famines and food refugees increase?

“The challenge of feeding more than nine billion people is daunting. If global consumption doubles as many predict, the challenge is even greater. From an environmental perspective, what may or may not have been sustainable land use and farming practices with six billion people will certainly not be sustainable with more than nine billion. At the level of farming, the challenge is just as daunting. Today, half of the world’s billion farmers cannot feed themselves. The remainder produce enough surplus to feed 10. By 2050, as many as three-quarters of farmers could well not feed themselves, but the remainder will need to feed 20, each consuming more than twice the levels at this time.

“However, if current trends continue, by 2050 there will not be enough food to meet the expected needs of the combined demand posed by anticipated population and consumption increases. If this happens, either population or consumption will not increase as anticipated, or the number of people who are malnourished will increase. Moreover, if insufficient food is produced or if it is not distributed equitably, then the environment will suffer. The deterioration of key environmental parameters will reduce, in turn, the ability to produce food in the future. The chronic erosion of the resource base required to produce food creates a vicious cycle. The question is how do we prevent this from occurring?”

The answer: We have to get moving. With the government and philanthropists and corporations and grassroots organizations all bringing a focus on reducing hunger through agriculture development, we have arrived at a moment of great opportunity. Or, rather, potential opportunity. Congress needs to act, to support the lead of the administration.

And we all need to crank up our impatience to bring the concerted action to the farms, particularly the small farms of Africa, that will generate the momentum and the optimism that this can be the singular achievement of our generation.

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Calling All Videographers

Want to make a short video about your work with Bread for the World? Folks at the ONE campaign -- one of Bread's partners -- have teamed with YouTube to highlight organizations working on global development issues. The needs of hungry and poor people all over the world are great and there is much more work to do, but we’re making progress and there is good news to share.

That’s where you come in: Create a three-minute video about your work with Bread for the World and how it’s making a difference in the fight against hunger and poverty. Submit it by midnight March 26 and it might just be promoted on YouTube – in front of millions of eyes. The top three videos will be featured on YouTube’s homepage at the end of this month.

Be creative, be funny, be faithful, be visual. Let us know when you send your video to YouTube – and send it to us, too. We’d love to see them.

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