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Let's address hunger in tough countries on World Food Day

October 15, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Najibollah received Mercy Corps' assistance with his peach orchard. Mercy Corps brought him saplings, which he will help grow into mature fruit trees, and then sell fruit in local markets to support his family. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Tomorrow — Saturday, October 16th — is World Food Day.

Two years ago at this time there were media reports almost daily about the impacts of the “global food crisis.” This year, the issue appears to have faded from the headlines. But the crisis hasn’t gone away.

There is some good news: the United Nations 2010 State of Food Insecurity in the World Report notes that the total number of undernourished people in the world fell from just over a billion in 2009 to just under a billion in 2010. But that’s still just about a billion people going hungry. And the total number of hungry people in the world is still higher now than it was before the food and financial crises hit two years ago.

This excellent UN report also highlights something that we at Mercy Corps have known all along: hunger is a political condition. The countries with persistent hunger problems are those where conflicts and natural disasters have stretched weak government structures beyond their capacity, limiting opportunities for people to build self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.

At Mercy Corps we know that all our efforts must begin with a long-term vision for change in mind. While we do sometimes distribute emergency food supplies to save lives, we transition our programs as quickly as possible into building back key agricultural infrastructure, providing income generating opportunities, addressing weaknesses in local institutions, and linking people with market opportunities.

This is not always easy. As the UN report highlights, despite the fact that 166 million of the world’s hungry live in fragile states, two-thirds of these countries receive less international aid per capita than more stable developing countries.

It’s easier for the international community to provide funding and get results in countries with stable governments and strong economies. The Obama Administration’s Feed the Future Initiative — which is positive and groundbreaking in the fight against global hunger — unfortunately falls into this same pattern by focusing only on a handful of countries where government capacity and will to end hunger is strongest. But as the UN report makes clear, underfunding the toughest parts of the world means shortchanging those most vulnerable to hunger.

Mercy Corps’ food security and agriculture programs are working — even in the toughest places on earth. If our talented national staff can build functioning economic value chains to produce and sell raisins effectively in the middle of a war in Afghanistan, then there is no reason and no excuse for policy makers to turn a blind eye to hungry people who just happen to live in places with bad governments.