As we approach World Food Day on October 16, a day dedicated to increased awareness of global hunger issues, Bruce White, CRS’ Policy Advisor for Food Security and Hunger, talks about what food security means and how budget cuts may affect our fight against hunger:
When many think of food aid, they think it involves simply handing people free food. Is that the right concept?
No, it’s not. When we use the term “food insecure,” that means people who can’t be certain of having enough to eat. They might have enough today, maybe tomorrow, maybe even next week – but what about a month from now? Or maybe they will have enough in a month or two months, when a harvest comes in, but what about now, when they have nothing because their stocks from the last harvest have run out? So when CRS helps people with their food issues, first we determine what their individual problems are. Maybe it’s a matter of better seeds for the soil and climate. Maybe it’s education to improve their agricultural yields. Maybe it’s connecting farmers to markets, getting them to grow crops that are in demand so that they can have incomes to supplement the food they grow. Maybe it’s helping them to find other ways of generating income so they can be more resilient if rains don’t fall and a harvest fails. Maybe it’s reducing erosion or increasing irrigation. You could go on and on. Usually it’s a combination of factors far beyond handing out food. Each community is different. Their needs are different, so the solutions are different. We try to work on the local level to match the solutions to the needs.
But sometimes you do have to hand out food?
Certainly that is the case. In East Africa right now, we have a drought that requires a lot of supplemental feeding. In Ethiopia, a consortium of humanitarian groups led by CRS is feeding more than 1 million people. But the situation is much worse in Somalia because we have not been able to work in many areas of that country. We have not been able to bring them the kind of help that would have developed the resilience to withstand a missed rainfall or two. Where we have been able to work, many people are doing much better and need less supplemental food.
What is the situation with food and agriculture aid amid the calls to cut the federal budget in Washington?
The cuts on the table particularly in the House of Representatives could do real harm to our fight against hunger. It is not simply a matter of less food to give to people – though the proposed cuts to those programs would do severe damage – it is also a matter of cutting the kinds of agricultural assistance programs I was just talking about. The irony here is that those programs are good investments. By getting people and countries on their feet agriculturally now we save a lot of money down the road because we don’t have to help them as much when a drought or other disaster hits. This is such a tiny portion of the budget that eliminating it completely would have little effect on our debt problems. But this small amount of money helps so many people that it would be a real tragedy for the world, and for the United States, to see these cuts go through.
Bruce White is available for interviews. Media contact: Michael Hill.