Ending hunger seen as shared responsibility

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The need for collaborative public and private sector approaches to ending hunger was a theme of World Food Day 2009 addressed by food industry executives and senior officials of the Obama administration.

World Food Day 2009, Oct. 15, was marked in Des Moines, Iowa, with the presentation of the World Food Prize to Gebisa Ejeta of Ethiopia, whose sorghum varieties resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed have increased the production and availability of sorghum, which is a principal food grain for millions of people.

At the 2009 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue held in Des Moines the day before the award ceremony, food industry executives presented their views on the role of the private sector in ending hunger.

Patricia Woertz, chairman and chief executive officer of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., said efforts to meet world agricultural challenges must begin with extending advances in seed technology and farming practices that already dramatically have increased the productivity of global farmlands. Working to improve yields on existing cropland "would dramatically enhance the availability of key crops for food, feed, fiber and fuel uses," Ms. Woertz said. "And when you combine them with new efficiencies in crop processing, feed utilization and biofuel production, the prospects for achieving benefits that would extend to all humankind are even more pronounced."

Protecting crops already harvested through investment in research and infrastructure also is critical to ensuring the world food supply, Ms. Woertz said.

"While investment in basic infrastructure is the responsibility of government, we in the private sector can play an important role as well by making infrastructure investments that help build global markets and create economic opportunity," she said.

Ms. Woertz also pointed to ADM’s partnering with companies and organizations in countries in which it operates to develop new methods to increase agricultural production in an environmentally responsible way.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., asserted, "Hunger is a problem that can’t be contained by international boundaries. We have come a long way, but time is short and the need is great."

Ms. Nooyi, who was born and raised in India, said, "I well remember standing in line for very poor quality rice and wheat. But between 1965 and 1970, wheat production doubled in India. The quality and quantity of food improved, and I was a beneficiary of Dr. Borlaug’s work in India."

The World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue is named after Norman E. Borlaug, a 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the World Food Prize.

Ms. Nooyi said food companies may play a major role in fighting world hunger because of their skills and their advanced distribution networks and by making foods more nutritious.

Separately, in a joint teleconference in connection with World Food Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack outlined the Obama administration’s approach to enhancing world food security that emphasizes investment in developing nation agriculture. Secretary Clinton said, "We are very pleased to be part of a commitment, along with other nations, of more than $22 billion over three years to spur agriculture-led economic growth."

Mr. Vilsack said the Obama administration was pursuing a comprehensive approach to ending hunger in which humanitarian assistance in the form of donations of U.S. farm commodities would be only one among several tools.

"We’ve got to make farmers around the world more productive," he said. "And frankly, when we do that, they’ll get to a point where they are in a position to trade their surplus, which we believe will ultimately result in the capacity of those countries to purchase goods and services from America on a value-added basis, which will help our economy."

Ms. Clinton said in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, much more of the U.S. aid dollar went to support agriculture in developing countries than in recent years, which saw more of the aid dollar going to meet urgent humanitarian food needs.

"We’re seeking to close the gap between development and humanitarian assistance by dedicating development resources to engage the poorest in the growth process and to support community development," Ms. Clinton said. "There will always be humanitarian disasters because of climate and conflict. But we want to build a stronger base of sustainable agriculture so people will be able to pursue that which will see them through the good times and more of the bad times, while we try to fill the gap where it still exists."

Asked what role biotechnology will play in efforts to end world hunger, Ms. Clinton said, "We believe biotechnology has a critical role to play in increasing agricultural productivity, particularly in light of climate change. We also believe it can help improve the nutritional value of staple foods."

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