This year a billion people are expected to go hungry as the global economic crisis swells the ranks of the desperately poor. President Barack Obama, whose father was from a village of mud huts in Kenya, has a unique perspective on the plight of hungry people. And he is using the power of his office to nudge leaders of the developed world to help in a more rational way.
Expected today are details of a $15 billion agricultural investment by the United States and other rich Group of 8 nations. The funding would strive to increase productivity of the world's 500 million struggling farmers. This is precisely what experts say is most urgently needed to provide lasting relief from food insecurity. Now the money needs to be contributed as promised — always a challenge with international aid. And Congress needs to advance this program without letting parochial politics get in the way.
The United States has always been a generous supplier of emergency food aid. For more than 50 years, it's sent food to feed millions of people around the world. But the international food assistance programs have long been bogged down by farm-belt politics. A patchwork of laws and rules still requires that most food aid commodities be grown in the United States and shipped on U.S. flag vessels, a slow and expensive way to aid the hungry.
Obama is suggesting focusing more resources on helping farmers increase their yields. This initiative, with America's share reportedly $3.5 billion over three years, would subsidize fertilizer and high-yielding seeds for small-hold farmers and provide training and agricultural extension services. The effort could help farms double or triple their output, growing much needed supplies near hungry regions and boosting rural incomes.
International agricultural support has dropped 75 percent over the last 20 years as health initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases received more attention and resources. But with food prices jumping last year and spurring food riots, the issue has taken on a higher priority.
Amid the challenges of the economy, two wars and health care reform, Obama is taking the time to try to improve the odds that the children of the world have something nutritious on their plates. That leadership is commendable.