April 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Food for All: Tackling Hunger and Malnutrition | Commentary

Every five seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases, and nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night.

That is too many. There has never been a greater need for a comprehensive and sustainable approach to tackling hunger and malnutrition. A growing world population, volatile food prices, natural disasters and human conflict make it increasingly difficult for people to feed and nourish themselves. And in a tough budget climate, we must maximize the effect of our aid dollars. Impact is about efficiency, effectiveness and commitment.

The United States has long been a leader in responding to hunger crises, helping more than 3 billion people in 150 countries. We should be proud of these achievements, but we should strive to be better. Our food aid system is outdated and constrained by decades-old policies that require commodities to be purchased in the United States and shipped overseas ó even when food is available nearer the crisis. This means aid is slow, taking an average of more than four months to reach people in need. Food purchased locally could arrive almost two months faster. Thatís efficient. For a malnourished child, thatís potentially a lifetime.

Requiring that we purchase and ship U.S. commodities also means as much as half of funding is spent on transportation and administrative costs rather than food. With the scope of emergencies and food crises growing in places such as Syria, we need to make every penny count.

President Barack Obamaís food aid reform proposal is timely and essential. The more flexible plan enables the United States to reach as many as 4 million more people every year ó faster and without increased spending. American farmers will continue to play a vital role in our response to hunger. In areas of crisis where food is not available, the United States will continue to transport American commodities. However, when food is available closer to the area of need, the United States can purchase it locally or enable hungry populations access to the market, supporting local farmers growing their incomes and their own resilience to crises. Thatís efficient.

Food aid reform is a critical component of an efficient approach to tackling hunger and malnutrition, but we also need an effective approach. That means addressing emergency food and nutrition needs and hungry familiesí long-term ability to grow their own food and raise their own incomes. Effective means investing in women, the majority of smallholder farmers, and in nutrition during the critical 1,000-day window from conception to a childís second birthday.

But it isnít enough just to feed a family; families must also have adequate nutritious food. Not only does malnutrition contribute to one-third of childhood deaths, but, should a child survive, the negative effect on a childís cognitive development and economic potential is often irreversible. Nutrition is a smart and effective investment ó for every $1 invested in reducing undernutrition, we see a $30 return on investment in terms of increased health, schooling and productivity. Thatís effective.

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