By Thomas Hellauer
DES MOINES, Iowa – Former World Food Prize Laureate and president of Bread for the World, Rev. David Beckmann, expressed optimism on the status of global food security and poverty. “Since 1990, the number of people in extreme poverty has decreased from 2 billion to 1 billion. That’s something to be proud of,” he said at the Downtown Marriott Hotel on Thursday.
This is in part due to programs such as the U.S. Feed the Future initiative started by President Barack Obama, Beckmann said. In the program’s short tenure, it has experienced several successes.
In three years of activity in Ghana, childhood stunting has decreased 33 percent. In three years in Guatemala, the average income of participating farmers has increased 55 percent and an estimated 36,000 Guatemalans have escaped extreme poverty.
Beckmann credited this effectiveness to an expanding private sector, G8 and developing country investments, as well as a rare show of bipartisanship from Congress. “For five years in a row, Congress has increased the budget for international aid. Global poverty issues seem to incite cooperation with our country’s leaders.”
Despite little opposition, the existence of the program is in jeopardy. The Global Food Security Act, the act in which Feed the Future and other, similar programs have come to exist, is awaiting Senate approval. Beckmann is concerned that if it is tabled for a future session the next president could decide to spend the money elsewhere.
“There is a deep convergence in interest in U.S. agriculture and hungry people,” Beckmann said. “The USDA estimates that half of U.S. agricultural exports goes to developing countries.” Encouraging robust demand seems beneficial to U.S. agriculture, but many farm states have not joined the discussion.
“Iowa is a large part of the global food system and none of the 88 co-sponsors of the act in the House or the 10 in the Senate are from Iowa,” Beckmann said. Beckmann believes that Iowans are not opposed to the measure, but rather uninformed.
Beckmann hopes more coverage and attention is given to domestic hunger issues as well. “Nixon was the last president to…make domestic poverty and hunger a top issue. The U.S. has not dedicated a real effort (to domestic hunger) since the ’70s,” said Beckmann.
During those years, “Many other developed countries have made significant strides while we have not.” Beckmann believes that U.S. interest will increase with the renewed relevancy of a Congress vote.