HR1567 is better known as the bill that came out of the House of Representatives dealing with Global Food Security. Congressman Scott Perry (R, PA) is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I was a co-sponsor of the bill,” says Perry, “and it’s hard to get these things together. What it does is to codify the ‘whole of government’ strategy for U.S. global food and nutrition security.” Essentially, ‘whole of government’ means that everyone is working together toward one thing. Often you see one agency doing this and another doing that, seemingly working at cross-purposes. People then tend to think that there should be someone coordinating such programs lest they be deemed as too many fingers in a single pie; “so the food that we’re sending doesn’t end up with the bandits as opposed to the people that need it,” Perry said. “Where’s the State Department in this? And why are we sending to this country and not that one? What we really want to do is to help people feed themselves.”
Why is it important to get the Feeding the Future program kicked into high gear during this Congressional session? “We have two years to get it done or we have to start all over again,” said Perry, an edge of frustration to his voice. “Priorities change. It is important that while we have this opportunity – the House has passed it and Senator Robert Casey is moving it through the Senate – to come together and get something accomplished for everybody’s well being.”
Hannah Smith-Brubaker is not only a farmer but also a Deputy Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture. “Opposed to always coming from the perspective of ‘how do we feed the world,’” she says, “we can discuss ‘how do we tackle this problem together?’ In Pennsylvania, where there is such a diversified food system, many small, diversified farms are working with low inputs and struggling to get the product to market. Having those discussions with farmers internationally who have those same issues is a really important piece that we don’t want to forget.” Smith-Brubaker cited some of the main problem areas – creative strategies for getting product to market, infrastructure issues, market access, being prepared for regulatory issues, here in the U.S. the Food Safety Modernization Act, and access to credit.
“Here we might have the availability of micro-loans or some of the USDA programs. Again, those of us operating as diversified farms are often coming up with strategies for cooperative growing agreements; ways to aggregate in our community.” In another age it was popularly called share-cropping. “I know on our farm,” she said, “when our customers wanted us to start growing in the wintertime, they bought shares in our farm for 10 years. ‘Give me vegetables for 10 years and I’ll help you put up that high tunnel.’” Also on her farm, Smith-Brubaker says, they have a community fund so that regardless of someone’s income level they can participate in sharing the harvest.
“These are all things that speak to the nature of family farming,” she says, “whether here in the U.S. or abroad.” The issue intensifies when the question of how do you grow enough food is accompanied by the question of how access is provided. “We know that in our world women grow most of the food. We don’t actually do quite as good a job here in the U.S. because most of the farmers whose primary income is from farming are men. Thirty percent of women are in that category. Yet women and children are those who are most often hungry.” Across the world, 1 in 9 people are hungry. In the U.S. that figure has flirted with 1 in 7 plus 1 in 5 children.
Food insecurity is a conflict multiplier. The primary focus of this program, according to Perry, is on the first 1000 days of a child’s life, because that is the most vulnerable period. If the program can get them past that point by giving them the nutrition they need, they have a fighting chance of growing up to be productive citizens; that image is preferable to horrific photos of starvation seen in too many magazines and newspapers. “It establishes Congressional oversight and reporting requirements because often we don’t know where the money is going or how it’s being spent,” Perry says. “It also disaggregates it so we know how much of the aid is going toward a specific target. Let’s say we want to disaggregate that by gender so we can see how many women in these countries are actually doing the work for the family and producing the food. Then we can target our resources so they are more effective.”
Much of what we’re talking about here involves third world countries in Africa, places like Malawi. It has been estimated that 800 million people in countries south of the Sudan are hungry to the point of not knowing where the next meal is coming from. That includes countries in Africa and in those latitudes around the globe.