Friday, March 27, 2009

US Senate hearing on food security

Here is a look at what took place on Tuesday's hearing on food prices and food security. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the hearing to see what impact hunger has on national security, and it has a large one.

Deborah Tate from the Voice of America tells us why committee chair Senator John Kerry called the hearing.

The chairman of the committee, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, says hunger is one of the greatest diplomatic and moral challenges the world faces.

Kerry says the problem affects some 850 million people and is particularly acute in Africa.

"One in three people are malnourished, and food security today is worse than it was in 1970. Conflict, poor governance and HIV/AIDS have all reduced basic access to food. Now drought, aggravated by climate change, makes the situation even more desperate," he said.

The hearing comes as the Obama administration reviews U.S. development aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton submitted a letter to the Foreign Relations Committee, saying she hopes to make food security a priority for U.S. development programs.

The top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, has reintroduced legislation, the Global Food Security Act, that would make long-range agricultural productivity a major goal of U.S. development programs.

"I believe the food security challenge is an opportunity for the United States. We are the undisputed leader in agricultural technology. And a more focused effort on our part to join with other nations to increase [crop] yields, create economic opportunities for the rural poor and broaden agricultural knowledge could strengthen relations around the world and open a new era of United States diplomacy," he said.

Political scientist Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College in Massachusetts expressed concern that the United States has reduced its agricultural development aid to Africa during the past quarter century, as agricultural production on the content declined.

"The per capita production of maize has actually dropped by 14 percent since 1980. The average income of these farmers is less than $1 per day and one-third are chronically malnourished. But to make things worse, over the last 25 years, the United States government has essentially walked away from this problem. Since the 1980s, the United States government has cut its official development assistance to agriculture in Africa by roughly 85 percent. The staff at USAID [the United States Agency for International Development] that handle agriculture has been cut by nearly 90 percent. So as things have been getting steadily worse in Africa, the United States government has curiously been doing steadily less," he said.

Paarlberg says that because African farmers do not have access to fertilizer, irrigation or powered machinery, agricultural production in Africa has lagged behind population growth for most of the last three decades.

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