Vice President Joe Biden spoke last Monday at the World Food Program USA award ceremony. He praised this year’s winners, Bill Gates and Howard Buffett, who have dedicated their talents to fighting hunger around the globe.
But Biden also made an admission of guilt—for being optimistic that we can win the struggle against global hunger. This battle is now ongoing in the famine zones of East Africa, drought-ravaged Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and numerous other regions.
Biden said, “I am often accused of being an optimist. I plead guilty, because I believe strongly in the human capacity—and desire—to build a better world. But I am particularly confident in our ability to feed the future because we have done it before.”
Biden urges Congress to think ahead when planning the new budget. He said, “Investments made to ward off food insecurity and prevent its recurrence can prevent the vicious cycles of rising extremism, armed conflict and state failure than can require far larger commitments of resources down the road.” (WFP/Rene McGuffin)
Biden said, “Beginning in the 1950s, we provided agricultural support—research, training, and partnerships with American firms—to South Korea, which was one of the poorest countries on the planet. Today, it is the world’s 15th largest economy, and a major trading partner responsible for hundreds of thousands of American jobs.”
This is a long way from the South Korea that U.S. Army major Charles Arnold saw in 1951 during the Korean War. Arnold, who led a UN Civil Assistance team, said children arrived at feeding stations and “greeted us by rubbing their stomach and saying hungry.” After regular meals from Arnold’s team, the children took on a new, healthy look. They began to smile.
South Korea was also a country that benefited from the famous CARE packages that fed so many hungry people in Europe after World War II. President Truman urged Americans to send these CARE packages to feed those hungry and displaced by the Korean conflict.
As time went on, South Korea gained from agricultural development projects, similar to those Biden praised in the current “Feed the Future” campaign. South Korea was also one of the beneficiaries of the U.S. Food for Peace program started under President Eisenhower and expanded during President Kennedy’s administration.
George McGovern was Food for Peace director under President Kennedy. He writes that about two million South Korean children were receiving school meals under this hunger-fighting initiative. These meals made children healthier and better educated. This is a contrast to Afghanistan today, where low funding for the UN World Food Programme has meant that many impoverished children have lost their school meal ration.
In addition, proposed budget cuts to international food aid, including Food for Peace, will mean school feeding, Feed the Future, and other aid projects will face cutbacks. This is a severe threat to peace.
Biden also said, “We will continue to support your work, by urging our friends in Congress to resist the urge to slash foreign aid budgets, because long-term solutions now can reduce the cost of massive relief efforts and instability later.”
Hunger-fighting programs currently make up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. So slashing them does virtually nothing to eliminate the debt. Funding cuts would devastate U.S. foreign policy, though. It is virtually impossible for countries to develop and have peace when generation after generation of children grow up malnourished and stunted in mind and body.
Biden finished his speech on Monday citing Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who saved millions from hunger through his agricultural innovations. Borlaug said: “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.”
This is a message Congress needs to hear again and again as it makes crucial decisions about our foreign policy. The Food for Peace tradition of the U.S. is very much at stake in the current debates on the federal budget. What they decide in the coming days will have major implications on whether the struggle against global hunger can be won.
View a video of Biden’s speech: