Creating the 'Give-a-Damn' Army
DES MOINES, IOWA — To honor this year’s winners of the World Food Prize, this column will go easy on the outrage and heavy on the inspire.
That’s not to say David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Jo Luck of Heifer International aren’t fueled by a high level of outrage. They most certainly are, for they have been shouting the loudest from the ramparts that hunger in the 21st century is totally unacceptable and that nearly 1 billion people going to bed with an empty stomach every night is the shame of our civilization.
But above all, they are about inspiration. They and their organizations inspire us to do better. And they provide the inspiration that individuals can and do make a tremendous impact in the fight against hunger. Particularly when those individuals get together and join forces. Bread, through its army of advocates who won’t let the legislators of this country forget about the world’s hungry, both at home and abroad. And Heifer, through its vast legion of contributors who help poor smallholder farmers climb another rung or two out of poverty through animal husbandry—be it silkworms or llamas or heifers or water buffalo.
The awarding of the World Food Prize to David Beckmann and Jo Luck illustrates that advocacy and activism matter. The work of the previous winners of the World Food Prize—most of them agriculture scientists, disciples of Iowa plant breeder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, who established the prize—can’t be as effective as possible in fighting hunger without the clamor to make the general public and the politicians care enough to put their achievements into action. Dr. Borlaug knew this was true.
The winsome and eloquent Rev. Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor, calls it creating the “give-a-damn.” By mobilizing Bread’s faith-based constituency to rise up and engage elected officials, he has led successful campaigns to reduce the debt loads of the world’s poorest countries, to increase funding for child nutrition programs, and to realign U.S. foreign aid to focus on reducing hunger through agriculture development.
In accepting the award, he said, “I’m grateful to all the good citizens who pressure the politicians to remember the hungry of the world.”
For, he said over and over in Iowa this week, “The binding constraint is weak political will …. The fight against hunger begins at the grassroots.” Winning the war against hunger means winning the battle against political apathy.
The coming election in November, he noted, is a good pressure point. One standard for awarding your vote, he suggested, is asking, “Who’s going to be good news for the hungry people?”
Who’s in support of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program, who’s in favor of increasing spending for agriculture development, who puts ending hunger at the center of their political values?
But the election is only a starting point. The coming years will be crucial for prodding the politicians—of the U.S. and the world—to make good on their recent pledges to increase spending on agriculture development in the poorest countries of the world. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, exhorted the World Food Prize audience to “build a durable domestic constituency” for ending hunger.
Jo Luck, a dynamo who leads with equal measures of determination and humor, raises the clamor like few others. “We’re here together to make a difference,” she encouraged the grassroots troops mustered in Des Moines. “We’re really going to do something this next decade.”
She winked a “Just you wait and see” wink. The “give-a-damn” army was ready to march.
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.
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