Pointing to the growing number of conflicts globally, a group of World Food Prize laureates on in October came together to call on the United States and other countries to provide “generous funding” for foreign food and agricultural development.
Eleven people who have been awarded the World Food Prize for their work reducing hunger and improving agriculture and nutrition joined together to release a statement at the Norman Borlaug International Dialogue on food in honor of the Iowa-born wheat breeder whose work was recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
Governments around the world “are likely to increase military spending in response to these increasing conflicts around the world,” wrote the laureates, a collection of scientists, nutrition and humanitarian leaders.
They added, “These appropriations must also include generous funding for food aid and agricultural assistance to people struggling with hunger and malnutrition. Neglect of misery often breeds yet more violence.”
The laureates opted to craft a letter to government leaders when they gathered earlier last week.
“The prize is not meant to be put on a shelf. This is a moral responsibility from my perspective, to plant the roots of peace on Earth,” said Heidi Kuhn, the 2023 laureate, who was recognized for her work helping remove land mines and rebuilding agriculture in those regions.
The laureates cautioned world governments in their letter, “Hunger and conflict are inextricably linked, just as food and nutrition are with peace.”
David Beckmann, founder of Bread for the World and the 2010 laureate, said the call to action for food security couldn’t be more timely given the outbreak of war between Israel and Gaza, and the threat of a wider war in the Middle East, along with the continuing war in Ukraine.
“The world really is on fire and we’ve got to act,” he said.
A major risk is that those conflicts will further increase poverty in other regions as food prices increase and exports are restricted, either from conflict or government policy. Jan Low, a 2016 laureate who works in sub-Saharan Africa, said countries in that region are facing historically high food prices and energy prices because of supply chain disruptions.
“We’re seeing the spillover effects everywhere, even in countries without conflicts,” Low said. She added there is a lot of discontent that isn’t being reported on globally, including local worker strikes and protests over food and fuel prices.
“We really need to move and help these nations get the support that they need to get through this period and bring these food prices down as fast as we can,” Low said.
The World Food Program has noted that acute forms of food insecurity have surged from 145 million people in 2019 to roughly 345 million people now.
In the U.S., a new USDA report showed food insecurity increased 30% from 2021 to 2022, affecting roughly 44.2 million people, or 13.5% of all Americans. The number of people considered food insecure in the U.S. was the highest since 2014. A big driver in that change was the decline in pandemic-era food-aid benefits to lower income families.
Still, the laureates recognized they are struggling to get their message out about the current state of food insecurity. Beckmann, though, said one of the most effective ways church groups and other humanitarian groups highlight these topics is to bring them up with members of lawmakers when they are back home.
“Members of Congress listen to people back home, especially when you are talking about food,” Beckmann said.
The statement by the laureates on food security comes after USDA on Oct. 24 announced $1 billion to temporarily boost international food aid and another $1.3 billion for U.S. farm organizations and others to increase trade promotion activities.
The White House on Oct. 27 also released a proposed aid package for Congress to consider that includes another $1 billion increase in USDA’s Food for Peace program.
Beyond the laureates’ call for food and agriculture, others at the Borlaug Dialogue also pointed to some government policies such as export restrictions that have helped drive up food costs as well. David Laborde, a researcher and division director with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said some major grain exporters may have lifted export restrictions on products, but a lot of smaller countries maintain limits on a variety of products. That’s especially true in parts of Africa and Asia.
“All of these restrictions exacerbate food prices,” he said.
In a keynote speech earlier in the day, Suzanne Clark, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also pointed to trade restrictions as one of the biggest contributors to food instability globally. In 2008, export restrictions led to the spikes in commodity prices that “plunged millions into hunger and poverty,” Clark said. Those restrictions then reappeared after the Russian invasion.
“We need governments worldwide to renew their commitment to reject export restrictions on food in addition to fighting against misguided policies that would negatively impact global food security,” Clark said.
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