Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

56 posts categorized "2014 Offering of Letters"

Ebola Crisis Expected to Become a Food Crisis

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Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. (David Benafel, USAID FED)

By Robin Stephenson

Rice farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County were celebrating a rice surplus earlier this year, helped by a U.S. funded program to increase agricultural productivity. The small-holder farmers, who previously produced just enough to consume themselves, were able to sell 125 bags of rice through their cooperative.

Front Page Africa wrote, “The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers.”

It may, but not because of a banner year for rice.

2014 will go down in the history books for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. More than 1,000 Liberians have been infected and more than half have died since May. The World Health Organization expects the number to increase by 12,000 in the next six months. But Ebola is only the beginning. The collateral damage from the outbreak is hunger, without increased interventions of food assistance. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone face a similar narrative. Now Nigeria and Senegal are also reporting cases of the virus.

Liberia is still struggling to recover from years of civil conflict. Rebuilding the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy economy as well as an effective public health care system takes time. Poverty rates in the West African country remain high and chronic malnutrition stands at 36 percent.

Rice harvests in Liberia, which occur September to December and are expected to be above average this year, will help mitigate hunger in the short term, but the outlook for the next hunger season is bleak. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is predicating increased food insecurity throughout March of 2015 due to market disruptions and labor shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that the majority of Ebola victims are between the ages of 15 and 45, which will reduce household incomes for hundreds of households.

Investments in projects focused on poverty before the outbreak will lessen the need for assistance later, but it won’t be enough. The WFP is bracing for more humanitarian need throughout the region.

Food insecurity in West Africa will just add to an already over-taxed food assistance system. Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and people threatened by looming famine in the Central African Republic and neighboring South Sudan are already in need of precious food aid resources.

It sounds overwhelming but we can do more with some of the resources we already have. By creating more flexibility in the U.S. food aid program, we can reach more people. Pilot reforms, such as those that buy food near a disaster instead of shipping commodities from the United States, have helped get food to millions more people and build resilience against future disasters.

If Congress passes the Food for Peace Reform Act (S.2421), we can reach 9 million more people and, during emergencies, deliver food two months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Smarter food aid can do more than reach more people. It can build on progress already made. Liberia has worked hard to make progress on hunger, with help from foreign donors like the United States. Sending commodities will help deal with hunger today, but buying locally will help strengthen their economy tomorrow.

When the last case of Ebola goes into the history books, smart food aid means Liberia can return to making progress on ending hunger.

The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.

 

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

Capitol
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

An expiring budget, food aid reform, and a humanitarian crisis at the border await Congress. After hearing from the voters, will Congress return from a five-week recess on September 8 ready to act on these connected issues?

Asked if it is possible, Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World’s deputy director of government relations, answers emphatically. “Absolutely. If they have the political will and make ending hunger a priority, they will work together.”

“These issues are too important for Congress to sit on any longer.”

The 2014 budget expires October 1. Congress has only 11 working days to pass a temporary extension before going on another break or face a government shutdown.

In addition to simply extending the budget, Congress should protect funding for WIC and maintain a strong safety net as the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession. As the economy slowly improves, further cuts could sink more Americans into deeper poverty.

Looming famine in South Sudan, drought in Latin America, and Ebola in West Africa are wreaking havoc with global food security – not to mention the millions of conflict-displaced families needing help in the Middle East. Efforts to address global hunger today mitigate food prices and global security concerns in the future.

Boosting poverty-focused development assistance is an investment that will decrease hunger in future food emergencies. Programs like Feed the Future, which take a long-term approach to building food security, are saving lives and building resilience in countries like Tanzania.

There is an opportunity to make our U.S. food aid—programs that respond to global disasters—do more with reform. Senators can build momentum for even more flexible and efficient food aid by cosponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) and holding a hearing during this session.

Funding smaller reforms passed in the farm bill will free up the funds needed to help more people now and expand programs that are already working. For example, Guatemala has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the countries children are fleeing for the U.S. southern border. Catherine Pascal Jiménez, who is featured in the 2014 Offering of Letters, can keep her children at home thanks to a U.S.-funded food-aid program.

Ignoring the humanitarian crisis at the border or criminalizing children who flee poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America will not stop the flow of migrants. Funding global anti-hunger programs that can address economic stability in the sending countries is a first step in stemming the tide of hungry people seeking refuge. Congress must act quickly with emergency funding on its return to Washington.

Swift action may be a tall order, and there is certainly a reason to be pessimistic with this unproductive Congress. However, this is a democracy, and as Kegan points out, “Members who don’t listen to voters don’t stay in Washington.”

Kegan says faithful advocates need to make a lot of noise as Congress returns to the nation’s capitol next week. “If enough people demand action, they will act.” 

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Flexible Food Aid Meets People Where They Are

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Reforms to make U.S. food aid more flexible will benefit farmers, like the one pictured from El Salvador, and local economies  to build resilience against future food insecurity. (Jim Stipe)

By Arnulfo Moreno

Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish? We all have that innate feeling to help someone when disaster strikes. Children should not have to go to bed hungry because a tsunami happened to hit their neighborhood or because they were living on a fault line. At the same time, aid should not destroy local economies in order to provide temporary relief. As this article highlights, the key is flexibility.

Most of the federal government's programs that deliver food aid were created in the 1950s, but many of the administrative policies haven’t changed since then. The global population in 1950 was 2.5 billion people. In 2010, the year most recent data is available, the population was more than 6.8 billion people and growing. The rigid restrictions on food aid did not take into account such growth or changes in agriculture technology and transportation, as well as cultural and political changes.

The most important thing that we can draw upon from this past half century is experience. We know that flooding a market with free food can paralyze local economies and has adverse effects on populations when the food is not common to the region. We have seen that having the flexibility to purchase food locally or to issue food vouchers benefits not only those receiving the assistance but also local farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurship.  

We can continue to invest in people and future trade partners by making food aid more potent. By allowing food to be purchased locally, we help those economies devastated by disasters, both natural and human-caused, and ensure that they become self-sufficient.

As a taxpayer, I want to make sure that my money is used to help those who need it, not to line the pockets of the shipping industry or other industries. Allowing food-aid programs the flexibility to choose the best transportation method and food-allocation method helps bring costs down and grants our government the ability to help millions more with no additional cost to taxpayers.

If we set aside money to help our brothers and sisters around the world, then we have to make sure that every penny is used as efficiently as possible. Food aid should have the flexibility to meet people where they are. Give people a fish and/or show them how to fish, depending on their circumstance—not on a rigid set of our outdated policies.   

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

Act Now: Let's Get Food Aid to 9 Million More People

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The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421) will reform U.S. food aid and feed more people at lower cost. Mothers and children, like these in South Sudan, will benefit from targeted nutrition. (USAID)

By Eric Mitchell

A future free of hunger will require good ideas. I want to share with you a really, really good idea.

Picture this: Our federal government provides life-saving food assistance to 9 million more people around the world who experience hunger every year. What’s more, during emergencies, we deliver food 2 months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s called the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421), a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

So what's the problem? In short, time. The clock is ticking on this Congress.

Nine million people can't wait for congressional inaction. Will you take a moment to email your U.S. senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill?

Bread for the World has a long history of winning reforms for food aid. Bread members helped improve the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust in 1998. That fund will help with the current famine threatening South Sudan.

And yet, we can and must do better. The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Won't you please take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill right now?

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Famine Looms: United States Announces Food Aid for South Sudan

14407911395_021caa6586_kBy Robin Stephenson

There has been a lot of bad news in the world lately.  Though it is not always reported, many of the grimmest stories also involve hunger.

The innocent in Iraq evade death on mountaintops where the lucky find food aid dropped from the sky. Elsewhere in the Middle East, families huddle together in refugee camps and pray for peace. Children who flee poverty and violence in Central America arrive at our southern border hungry and traumatized. And in South Sudan, where the atrocities of civil conflict drive families from their homes, hunger is about to get worse.

Famine – a human-made obscenity – looms over the landlocked country of South Sudan in northeastern Africa. The world’s newest country, South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 but internal conflict has led to widespread food-insecurity. The United Nations is already struggling to feed an estimated 100,000 civilians. Sixteen-year old Nyiel Kutch, her mother, and five siblings made it to a Ugandan refugee camp in December of last year. She told The Guardian, “The place here is good, but the food is not enough for us.”

A hunger crisis becomes famine when four out of every 10,000 children die every day. Experts predict that South Sudan will qualify as early as December. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters that 50,000 children under age five were at risk of dying of malnutrition in the coming months.

Yesterday, the United States announced it will send $180 million in emergency food aid to address the crisis. The funds will be distributed from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust. The trust is a food reserve set aside and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to respond to unexpected food crises in developing countries.

Your advocacy efforts in the past are helping to feed hungry people in South Sudan today. Bread for the World was instrumental in the expansion and restructuring of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust as part of the organization's 1998 Offering of Letters campaign, Africa: Seeds of Hope. Advocacy work started even earlier – 1977 and 1978 – when Bread activists began lobbying their members of Congress to establish the legislation.

In front of us is yet another opportunity that will pay dividends in the future. Changes in U.S. food aid policy can build resilience against future catastrophes. Food aid that takes into account the quality of food and not just quantity can stem the tide of needless deaths from malnutrition. The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421).

We can unlock food aid from archaic policy. By increasing program efficiency, flexibility, and improving the nutritional value of food aid, we can help 9 million more people – people like 16-year Nyiel Kutch – who deserve a future free of hunger.

While the news today may be overwhelming, as people of faith called to end hunger and love our neighbors. We must rise to the challenge and act for tomorrow. Urge your senators to cosponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act.

Learn more about food aid reform here:  www.bread.org/indistrict

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

Photo:  South Sudan. (Stephen Padre/Bread for the World)

Seeing Hunger - and Christ - on Children's Faces in Guatemala


Last year Bread's multimedia manager Joseph Molieri travelled to Guatemala where he saw hunger and solutions to hunger up close. He filmed Catarina Pascual Jimenez,and tells her story in the short video, Food for the Future.

By Joseph Molieri

Reading the news stories of a surge in child migration from Guatemala does not surprise me. Last year I was there, and I saw the devastation that hunger can cause. 

In Guatemala City, the street life is alive with the calls of vendors selling their wares, congested streets, and bustling pedestrians. I took a taxi to a rural region just north of Huehuetenango, about a 200-mile drive from Guatemala City, where life was slower but harder. We had come to Guatemala to observe the impact of food-security programs, which are partially funded through grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and to gather stories for Bread’s Offering of Letters in these western highlands of Guatemala. 

As we traveled farther into the countryside, a palpable feeling of coldness grew stronger.  About halfway into the trip, we pulled over and got out to stretch for a few minutes. The indigenous locals walking by glanced nervously at us before pulling their children to the other side of the road. Roberto, my driver, said this area saw a lot of fighting during the civil war. I knew this, but I was only beginning to see and feel it. 

For many years, the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala has lived in extreme poverty, exacerbated by a political system at times designed to disenfranchise them.  The Mayans have also experienced exclusion from development and wealth. Guatemala has made headlines in recent weeks as the country with the worst malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hotspots where children are leaving to migrate to the United States. During my visit, I began to get a glimpse of why this might be.

At our destination I met Catarina Pascual Jimenez, a mother of four children. Her oldest son, Antonio, now 17, left when he was 15 to work as a migrant laborer. Opportunities and access to nutritious food are severely limited in her remote village. Her youngest children, Roni and Shelia, given their age at 17 months, would become two more statistics of malnourishment and stunting without the USAID program.

As we met with more mothers, we heard similar stories. These women and children had a small opportunity to overcome hunger because of the USAID nutrition program. However, for this one village with the program, there were countless more without it, where children might suffer all their lives as a result of malnutrition.  The issues these women face, like many others in Latin America, are not isolated incidents of a poor economy but rather the result from years of political unrest, bad policies both from their own government as well as neighboring countries, and racial discrimination. 

Matthew 25 asks me when I saw Christ hungry. I saw hunger in Guatemala.  I also saw that when we invest in programs and give people a hand up, we not only live out the Gospel call to “do for one of the least of these” but we alleviate conditions that cause people to migrate for survival. I called my member of Congress, and I invite you to join me.  Children like those I met are desperate and coming to the United States on dangerous journeys because they are hungry. We cannot turn our back on them. What we can do is try to change the circumstances they are fleeing.

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Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.

Joseph Molieri is the multimedia manager at Bread for the World

Smallholder Farmers Key to Ending Hunger—But They Need Support to Do It

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Martha Togdbba of Kpaytno, Liberia, grows vegetables, including tomatoes and chili peppers. She irrigates her small farm with water from a nearby stream that she walks back and forth to with a watering can. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

In a recent interview with Devex, Roger Thurow says a key ingredient to global food security is the smallholder farmer. “Smallholder farmers haven’t been at the center of agriculture development efforts.” We have programs today that can change that.

Thurow is a senior fellow on global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.

Thurow says reversing the pattern of neglect is a major challenge of our time if we want to face a food-secure future. “These smallholder farmers who have been so badly ignored and neglected by a kind of collective us… [they] are now really indispensible to our future of feeding the planet.” Deficiencies in global agriculture become even more urgent when factoring in climate change and population growth, which will put increasing pressure on global food resources in the future.

Evidence suggests that agriculture-led growth is a key to ending hunger and poverty. Faustine Wabwire writes that the missing link is women. In A Global Development Agenda: Toward 2015 and Beyond, Wabwire, senior foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute, takes a closer look at the composition of smallholder farmers, the majority of which are women. In sub-Sahara Africa, women produce up to 70 percent of the food for their households and markets.  She writes, “An estimated 12 percent to 17 percent reduction in global malnutrition could come from enabling female farmers to match the yields of male farmers by allowing them equal access to resources.”

USAID has been leading the charge with a new kind of development that addresses smallholder agriculture and women as change agents. Programs like Feed the Future are already charting a course toward self-sufficiency. Investing in and reforming U.S. food aid to allow flexibility, improve nutrition, and build long-term resilience is also critical to a future free from hunger. 

Congress must make these investments a priority in their 2015 spending bills if we are to end global hunger.  However, appropriators in the Senate have approved a $100 million cut to Feed the Future in the State-Foreign Operations bill. Investments in food aid reform, although minimal, have been proposed for House and Senate Agricultural appropriation bills and pushed through with the help of persistent urging on the part of anti-hunger advocates. We will continue to support amendments that allow U.S. food aid to reach more people.

The nightly news shows us we face daunting problems: children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, Somalia on the brink of famine, the incomprehensible human suffering of refugees in South Sudan – the list goes on. At the root of each of these crises is hunger and poverty.  Solutions that address root causes are solutions that last. Looking at smallholder farmers as the engine for poverty reduction can help end what Thurow calls a medieval affliction of our time – child malnutrition.  He asks, “Why in the fourteenth year of the 21st century are we still afflicted by all these problems?”  Why indeed.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

The Great American Dream: To Breathe Free

By Arnulfo Moreno

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

My dad learned this famous Emma Lazarus quote last year as he prepared to take his citizenship test. He emigrated from El Salvador in 1974 to escape a life of poverty and an eventual civil war.

WeddingMy dad is the second youngest of 11 children. When he was a child, his father was killed in a local dispute. Shortly after, my dad’s older brother, Rafael, left for the United States in search of work in order to support the family. Tensions were rising in El Salvador between a growing Marxist presence and a militaristic government backed by the United States. Jobs were scarce, so my father followed his brother to the United States so that he, too, could help the family by earning and income.

My dad was 17 when he crossed the border. A bad economy forced my dad to leave his home country; a violent civil war made him to stay in the new one.  

Rafael helped my dad get his first job here in Washington, D.C. He worked odd job after odd job, sending as much money back as possible to support his mother and siblings. Rafael also helped him adapt to the American way of life, introducing him to hotdogs and hamburgers and showing him how to drive a car.

After years of hard work, the company my father worked for sponsored him so he could receive permanent residency. He was finally able to breathe free. My dad was also finally able to go back home and see his mother. He was 34.

I vividly remember my first trip to El Salvador in 1992, a year after the civil war ended. My dad is from a small mountain farm village that reminded me of spaghetti westerns. Everyone carried a gun. Trees were littered with pieces of uniforms and field equipment from unlucky soldiers who had stepped on well-hidden landmines.   

I have visited El Salvador only a few times since then, but my father continues to go every six months without fail. Like his brother, Rafael, my dad had always hoped of retiring in El Salvador—a dream most immigrants have. On my last trip back in 2000, I met Rafael, who had become a pastor, and I saw the empty lot where he planned to build a community center. With the civil war behind them, Rafael felt his community had also earned the right to breathe free.

Last year, Rafael was killed, shot seven times at point-blank range in front of the community center. It reminded us of the violence that still ravages my dad’s country. It reminded me that not everyone has the luxury of breathing free. My dad wasn’t able to tell him that he had finally become a citizen of his adopted country. My dad’s dream of retiring in his home country seems less likely as violence continues to devastate his motherland.

My dad calls his mother every day. She continues to live in the mountains, carrying a six-shooter for security, refusing to come to the United States. El Salvador is her home.  

* * *

Tens of thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are attempting to flee violence and extreme poverty today. We as people of faith must act to address the root causes of this humanitarian crisis

Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

Photo:  Arnulfo Moreno (pictured far right) with his father (pictured far left) at his sister's wedding.  (Courtesy of Arnulfo Moreno)

CNN’s 'Why Won’t Washington Work' Spotlights Food-Aid Inefficiencies

11468858775_8d91cb856b_zBread for the World has worked for many years to call for better ways to get life-saving food to hungry people around the globe through U.S. food aid. Now major media outlets are catching on to the problem as well.   

A recent report on CNN highlights the inefficiencies of the current system and the costs—both in financial terms and in lives put at risk by the inflexibility. As part of a series “Why Won’t Washington Work,” CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper spent time with Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) discussing food aid. Current requirements that food largely has to be purchased in the United States and then shipped on U.S. cargo carriers means that 65 percent of the money for the aid program is spent on shipping and business costs, rather than food.

This requirement also delays food delivery by months - and at critical times. “It actually takes us about three months to buy food here, and ship it, and get it to, say, the Philippines after a disaster,” Shah told CNN. “It takes two to three months to get that done.”

Shah estimates that if there were flexibility with the program and food could be purchased locally, closer to where the need is—as Bread’s Offering of Letters calls for this year—the program could feed 8 million to 10 million more people, and within days, versus months.

But political connections, rather than humanitarian concerns, are one of the things obstructing these changes to the program in Congress. Shipping companies and unions, who benefit financially from the program as it is, are opposed to any change in the current system. And they wield clout in Congress in a way that hungry people do not: According to the Center for Public Integrity, the two leading maritime unions gave more than three quarters of a million dollars to House members in the 2012 election cycle. As CNN noted, members of Congress receiving that money, Republicans and Democrats both, voted against Shah's efforts to reform the program, 83 to 29.

As CNN’s report notes, U.S. jobs and companies are important priorities. But that’s not what this money for life-saving food aid is meant for, not where it should be directed.

Even “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” knows that the shipping companies are not really the most vulnerable among us.

Photo: Lutheran Development Service distributes food to people affected by drought in Swaziland in 2004. Many distributions of U.S.food-aid items are carried out by private relief and development organizations, many of them supported by U.S. churches. (Stephen H. Padre/Bread for the World)

Food for Peace Turns Sixty Years Old

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Catarina Pascual Jiménez poses with her twins in Guatemala. Read about how a U.S.-funded nutrition program has helped her family on the 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid site. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

By Robin Stephenson

On this day, 60 years ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 480 and created the Food for Peace program – the first permanent program in the United States to respond to global hunger. For six decades, the program has helped approximately 3 billion people in 150 countries.

Ganet Gelgehu is one of those people. A Food for Peace program administered by Catholic Relief Services in Gelgehu’s village of Gubeta Arjo in Ethiopia has helped turn her listless and malnourished twin sons Joseph and Isaac into the active two-year olds they should be. Drought has led to chronic food insecurity in the region. The program provides Galgehu and more than 300 mothers like her whose children are malnourished with a porridge that is easy to prepare and provides the nutrients necessary for healthy development. "When I compare my older children at this age with the twins, I see a difference," Gelgehu tells CRS’s regional information officer Sara A. Fajardo. "They were not this strong. They were not this healthy."

Gelegehu’s story also highlights how the Food for Peace program has transformed over the past 60 years. Targeting mothers and children with programs that focus on nutrition is a recent development – and one that can build long-term resilience against food insecurity. Research shows that every dollar invested in nutrition generates as much as $48 in better health and increased productivity.

Bread for the World celebrates our own milestone this year, marking 40 years of advocacy to end hunger. During that time we have advocated for the Food for Peace program and its transformation as we learn better and new ways to fight global food insecurity.

The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) recently introduced in the Senate could provide needed flexibility to deliver food aid, making the program more efficient. We are urging Bread for the World members to encourage their senators to become cosponsors of S. 2421. Today, Food for Peace faces funding challenges as Congress works on the 2015 budget.  We must continue to urge appropriators to adequately fund some of the reforms we won in the farm bill. We also must guard against provisions that would decrease food aid by increasing transportation costs by shipping more food from the United States.

So today we give thanks for the Food for Peace program on its 60th birthday—and for all the birthdays it has enabled children around the world to celebrate, like Joseph and Isaac.

 

 

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