Essay contest winner explores ways to address global hunger

March 28, 2014
Adam Krahn, a senior at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Ind., earned grand prize for his essay on global hunger in the MCC U.S. Washington Office annual essay contest. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Schools)

Adam Krahn, a senior at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Ind., earned grand prize for his essay on global hunger in the MCC U.S. Washington Office annual essay contest. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Schools)

Adam Krahn, a senior at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Ind., has earned grand prize for his essay on global hunger in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office annual essay contest.

In his essay entitled “Effectively easing global hunger,” Krahn analyzed the administration and effectiveness of U.S. international food aid. Krahn also described the role of nongovernmental organizations in eliminating global hunger and called for increased support of economic development and peacebuilding abroad.

Referring to the difficulty in reforming food aid in ways that benefit local economies rather than U.S. corporations, Krahn wrote, “As a nation, it seems our allegiance to capitalism trumped our better judgment. … U.S. food aid does help a large number of people avoid starvation. … But a supplementary program should be created to cover its shortfalls. … More specifically, the program would use funds raised in the U.S. to not only feed the hungry, but strengthen local economies and promote agricultural growth through local food purchases and education programs for farmers.”

Krahn’s home congregation is Yellow Creek Mennonite Church, Goshen.

In addition to the grand prize, national honorable mention prizes were awarded to Gabriel Eisenbeis of Freeman (S.D.) Academy, and Katie Hurst and Kinza Yoder, both of Bethany Christian Schools. Eisenbeis examined the topic of global hunger, Hurst focused on creating justice for the people of Haiti and Yoder wrote about addressing mass incarceration in the U.S. through the lens of restorative justice.

The essay contest highlights the perspectives of youth on significant public policy issues and promotes the involvement of young people in faithful witness to government authorities.

The annual contest is open to Anabaptist youth of high school age and to all youth who attend Mennonite high schools. Entries are judged on the participants’ understanding of the issues, clarity of argument and degree of creativity in crafting thoughtful policy positions. Grand prize is $300, and honorable mention winners each receive $100.

2013-2014 High school essay contest: Grand prize

March 28, 2014

Effectively Easing Global Hunger

Adam Krahn

Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, Indiana

Grade 12

Global hunger has always been a large problem, too big for any single organization or country to solve. About 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger, which kills more each year than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined (USAID). A federally-run United States food aid program has been fighting hunger for over fifty years. Approximately 300 billion people have benefited from its assistence (USAID). Although U.S. food aid is a valuable program, it will never operate effectively enough to alleviate global hunger; therefore, we must use a supplementary program to eliminate hunger and promote peace around the world.

U.S. food aid started in 1954 under President Eisenhower. Its original goal was to get rid of excess American produce that had sprung up because of federal agricultural stimulus programs (Bovard). But the program quickly evolved to support a process by which poor countries could obtain the food they lacked. This is still done today. American-grown food is shipped overseas to countries with citizens suffering from hunger.

The results of U.S. food aid have been very encouraging. Currently, the program is the biggest provider of food aid in the world (USAID). It supports American agriculture through a competitive process that determines which farmers can sell their produce to support the program. American shipping companies also benefit because of the large amounts of food that must be sent overseas. So aside from fighting hunger, U.S. food aid has given a substantial boost to the U.S. economy.

Yet certain aspects of U.S. food aid prevent it from fully succeeding. Many inefficiencies exist. For example, it takes months for food to reach its destination because most of it is shipped from the U.S. (Stockman). This leads to the unnecessary deaths of many people who cannot survive long after their food supplies have run out. It also costs the U.S. government 150 million dollars more in shipping costs, money that could have been used to buy more food (Stockman). Another inefficiency lies in the structure of the U.S. federal government’s budgeting rules. If the money budgeted for U.S. food aid runs out before the end of a fiscal year, no more food aid can be provided until that fiscal year ends (Lavelle). As a result, the government often cannot respond fast enough to meet immediate needs.

In addition, U.S. food aid sometimes harms the economies of the countries it seeks to assist. Often, the influx of American-produced food depresses agricultural commodity prices (Bovard). According to the Government Accountability Office, this hurts local farmers who cannot turn a profit at the lowered prices (Chavkin). And if these farmers cannot produce food, domestic hunger will increase.

U.S. food aid also supports monetization, a process by which the U.S. government gives free, American-grown produce to international charities, who then sell them or give them away in the markets of poor countries. These charities use the money they raise to support their anti-poverty programs (Nixon). Many critics say that monetization hurts local economies and is inherently inefficient. This is because it brings a plentitude of American produce into the markets of impoverished countries (Lavelle). And this lowers prices, hindering local farmers from profitably producing crops. Monetization is also financially inefficient. In 2011, the Government Accountability office released a report which estimated that the U.S. government has lost 300 million dollars due to inefficiencies in the monetization program (Nixon).

During the summer of 2013, President Obama tried to fix some of these problems by proposing a food aid reform to Congress. This proposal would eliminate some inefficiencies of the current U.S. food aid program by allowing more purchases of foreign food. Specifically, Obama’s proposal called for the utilization of forty-five percent of the budget to do this. With more money buying foreign food, less transportation would be needed. This would give the program a twenty-five to fifty percent savings and enable food to reach its destination eleven to forteen weeks faster (USAID). The proposal would also end the inefficient process of monetization.

If passed, Obama’s reform would also change how the U.S. food aid budget is set up. Over one billion additional dollars would be shifted to an emergency aid fund. And another new fund would be created which President Obama could use to meet immediate and urgent food needs as they arise (USAID). These budget changes could certainly allow U.S. food aid to be more responsive to worldwide food emergencies. Their immediate results would most likely be a substantial improvement. It has been estimated that with these budget reforms, U.S. food aid will be able to help four million more people avoid starvation (USAID).

Despite the advantages of this proposal, Obama’s reform was defeated in the House of Representatives. This was due to economic concerns. Obama’s suggestion of purchasing food from foreign countries would no doubt harm America’s economy. About twelve shipping lines and four large agricultural corporations get millions of dollars in business from U.S. food aid (Stockman). The loss of this revenue would also mean the loss of many jobs. In addition, many congress members opposed the reform because U.S. food aid’s current method of buying American-grown food helps their constituents in the Farm Belt sell all their produce (Lavelle). Finally, many congress members want to reduce the federal deficit. Passing Obama’s reform would just affirm spending on U.S. food aid and make it politically more difficult to eliminate it in the future.

Even if President Obama’s reform bill had passed, U.S. food aid would still be partially inefficient and ineffective. Fifty-five percent of the program’s budget would go toward shipping food overseas (USAID). And very little would be done to help local economies and agriculture thrive. In order for U.S. food aid to operate at its potential, as much food as possible should be bought from markets close to the people in need. The remainder of the food required should be purchased from other countries nearby whose agricultural economic sectors need support. Another method which supports local economies would be to give people money to buy their food. This would have the added benefit of eliminating unhealthy competition for other resources that may be scarce (Loyn).
If U.S. food aid was changed to support local agriculture, peace would most likely result. People who have their daily needs met would not have to participate in dangerous activities that could harm their society. For example, Afghanistan wheat prices collapsed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 because of the influx of cheap wheat imports (Loyn). As a consequence, farmers could no longer make a living growing wheat, so they began growing poppies to produce opium, which is a dangerous drug. This whole situation could have been averted if U.S. food aid had purchased Afghan wheat to give to the hungry (Loyn).

To be as effective as possible, U.S. food aid must be able to actively promote agricultural growth in the countries with chronic hunger problems. This could be done by giving farmers fertilizer and training them to use more advanced farming methods to increase production. The necessity for food aid would greatly decrease if this were done. Some farmers are already receiving this type of aid. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation is helping African farmers by giving them vouchers for fertilizer, and training them in more productive farming methods (Lavelle).

Sadly, U.S. food aid will never reach this level of effectiveness. Businesses that currently benefit from the program have ensured this. When Obama suggested reforming U.S. food aid, more than sixty organizations who would be affected by the reform wrote to his administration. They stated that his reform would eliminate many jobs that the program currently supported. The U.S. Merchant Marines were specifically cited as being especially dependent on the U.S. food aid for business (Nixon). Before the June vote, a group of maritime unions and shipping companies began to incessantly lobby congress (Chavkin). They argued that the reform would greatly damage their industry. And the majority of congressional representatives took heed and voted against the reform despite its massive political support (Chavkin). As a nation, it seems our allegiance to capitalism trumped our better judgement. There is nothing else that could easily explain the reform’s failure to pass. Yet the most discouraging part about this is that Obama’s reform was only a partial one. If congress will not pass a partial reform, they certainly will not pass a complete one. U.S. food aid will never be completely reformed, because our capitalist economy will always mandate that we profit from it.

Therefore, any organization able to efficiently fight global hunger must be independent from the U.S. government and economy. U.S. food aid does help a large number of people avoid starvation. It should be continued and reformed as much as possible. But a supplementary program should be created to cover its short-falls. To be effective, this program must not seek to raise money. It should selflessly meet the needs of people and countries who are not being helped enough by U.S. food aid. More specifically, the program would use funds raised in the U.S. to not only feed the hungry, but strengthen local economies and promote agricultural growth through local food purchases and educational programs for farmers. This would ease chronic poverty and hunger, as well as promote peace within countries and communities. And this is important, because fostering peace should be a major goal for every organization. So the ideal food aid program should provide for both the physical and social welfare of people worldwide.

Works Cited

Bovard, James. “How ‘Food for Peace’ Hurts Foreign Farmers.” Wall Street Journal. 30 Apr
2013: p. A.15. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 09 Dec 2013.

Chavkin, Sasha. “How shipping unions sunk food aid reform.” The Center for Public Integrity.
The Center for Public Integrity, 06 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Lavelle, Marianne. “Fixing the Food Crisis.” U.S. News & World Report 144.14 (5/19/2008):
36-42. Student Research Center. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Loyn, David. “How should the US deliver food aid?” BBC News. BBC, 05 Aug. 2013. Web.
30 Nov. 2013.

Nixon, Ron. “Obama Administration Seeks to Overhaul International Food Aid.” The New York
Times. The New York Times Company, 04 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Stockman, Farah. “Food Aid Fattens up Lobbyists.” Boston Globe. 11 Dec 2012: A.19. SIRS
Issues Researcher. Web. 27 Nov 2013.

United States. U.S. Agency for International Development. Food Aid Reform. USAID, 27 Nov.
2013. Web. Nov. 27 2013.

U.S. food aid to reach more people

February 28, 2014

An analysis of the new U.S. farm bill by Patricia Kisare in the latest Third Way Cafe.

The farm bill, which Congress is required to reauthorize every five years, is the main instrument through which the U.S. government directs its international food aid programs. Earlier this month, Congress passed a new farm bill, which included two major provisions that will make international food aid programs more efficient.

Learn more here.

MCC food programs

Mennonite Central Committee works with small scale farmers such as Nyiransabimana Seraphine, pictured above, to improve their food production.

Saving Lives in 1,000 Days

October 25, 2013

Patricia Kisare writes about U.S.-supported nutrition programs in the latest Third Way Cafe.

The U.S. government addresses the issue of malnutrition through the Feed the Future program and the Global Health Initiative. The number of children under five reached with U.S.-supported nutrition programs around the world has increased from nearly 9 million in 2011 to a little over 12 million in 2012. The U.S. can reach more people by increasing both material and human resources. This should include training more people, particularly women, in child health and nutrition; working with small scale farmers to produce more high-value crops; and reforming the way in which food aid is administered.

Read the article here.

Improving food aid

June 3, 2013

Patricia Kisare writes about proposed improvements to food aid in the most recent Mennonite World Review.

Mennonite Central Committee and other nongovernmental organizations have been advocating for reforms that focus on creating and supporting sustainable food systems that empower local farmers while creating a foundation for self-sufficiency.

As part of his Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, President Obama has proposed some changes that, if enacted by Congress, will allow the U.S. government to administer food aid in a more effective and efficient manner.

Read the entire article here.

Petition to President Obama asking him to protect funding for HIV/AIDS programs

February 14, 2013
BAN 07-02-097 (1)

Melissa Engle/MCC

In advance of President Obama’s release of budget requests for the 2014 financial year,we ask you to sign a petition calling him to preserve funding for HIV/AIDS programs.  We have 30 days to collect 100,000 signatures to garner response from the White House, so please take a moment to SIGN THE PETITION!

Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law Still Unfelt on the Ground

October 8, 2012

Photo: Annalise Romoser, Lutheran World Relief

A joint publication released in September 2012 by Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) estimates 360,000 families on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia have been forced from their land due to violence. Representatives from these organizations travelled to Colombia this June to assess progress of Colombia’s Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which aims to provide reparations to victims of conflict. This law is funded and promoted by the U.S. government. USAID states that although 15,208 claims have been made, no land has yet been restituted. Family displacement continues to take place today as large-scale corporations legally and illegally take over land.

Research carried out by LWR and LAWGEF reveals that local governments have little know-how and no resources for carrying out Victims’ Law implementation. Additionally, high risk of corruption exists in properly identifying victims, since it is determined by local authorities. These issues are compounded by the fact that victims lack legal assistance to help them defend their rights and access restitution.  Families without titles to their land such as many campesinos, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people, are especially vulnerable to reverse land reform. Read the rest of this entry »


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