234. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Cooper)1


  • Some Ideas for a World Hunger Campaign

As you requested, following are our suggestions for the State Department response to Peter Bourne’s World Hunger Working Group.2 In this memorandum we first examine the problem of “world hunger”; second, propose ways to make existing US policies more effective in responding to problems of world hunger; and third, propose a possible [Page 742]focus for a World Hunger Campaign: an attack on the pervasive world-wide problem of malnutrition.

Behind the suggestions in this memo lie several basic considerations:

—For a World Hunger Campaign to have any meaning or importance it must represent a distinct political initiative. Patting ourselves on the back for past policies or tinkering with current policies will not provide sufficient content or justification for mounting a new “campaign.” At the same time, however, any proposals we make must stand on their own substantive merits.

—Policies deriving from a World Hunger Campaign must be consistent with US agricultural policies, with US development policies, and in particular with our basic human needs orientation.

—Any new policies must strike a responsive domestic chord if they are to obtain adequate public and Congressional support.

—They must also be consistent with our domestic policies involving efforts to support the poor and, in particular, to overcome problems of hunger at home.

The Problem of World Hunger

A number of important factors bear on understanding and attacking the problem of world hunger.

—The world does not face a major problem of world hunger or starvation today; favorable weather and good harvests in most parts of the world over the last several years have replaced the shortages and hunger of 1973–4 with adequate and even surplus grain supplies in many countries. Nor is the world facing a Malthusian3 specter of being unable to feed itself over the coming years or decades. With normal or favorable weather conditions the world can produce more grain than it can consume in any one year. Evidence of this are the near record grain stocks building up in the US and other major grain producers (including India).

—However, the world food system is a fragile one where low stocks and only slight drops in production can send grain prices skyrocketing, as was proven in 1972–3 when world grain production fell by only 2%. Thus, while grain supplies are plentiful now and prices relatively low and stable, even a small drop in production, as could happen in an exceptional year, could lead once again to problems of hunger and starvation, particularly if stocks prove inadequate or are ineffectively controlled.

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—Underlying the problem of hunger is the problem of effective demand among groups of people and individual countries. In periods of shortage and high prices poor people often cannot afford adequate food; in normal circumstances, they often cannot afford a nutritionally adequate diet. Poor countries often have difficulty finding the foreign exchange to finance sharply increased food import costs in periods of world shortage or when crops fail at home; and they must find expanded sources of foreign exchange to finance the expected increase over the coming decades of their grain import needs.

—Growing out of the problems of effective demand, and occasionally exacerbated by ignorance or cultural traditions, is the widespread and chronic problem of malnutrition world-wide; it is concentrated in poor countries but it exists often in large pockets in middle income LDC’s and in rich countries as well (including the US).

To these important considerations in any attack on world hunger must be added one further element: none of the problems of world hunger can be isolated from the broader context of world poverty and income distribution. Rapidly growing populations increase the need for expanding food production and distribution. An inadequate social and physical infrastructure prevents the operation of an efficient and low cost food distribution system. Agricultural pricing policies in developed and developing countries alike often discourage an expansion in food production and efficient world trade in agriculture. In addition, several regional problems exist, such as the fragile and deteriorating ecosystems in many countries (e.g., the Sahelian countries which face an ever expanding desert) where food deficits are most pronounced; or over-population in other countries (e.g., the Andes) where land tenure systems and the climate limit increases in agricultural production.

In short, the recurrence of hunger in the world and the pervasive and chronic problems of malnutrition are enmeshed in a complex of other problems which must be part of the background of an effective attack on hunger itself.

Making Existing Policies More Effective

The US has a variety of policies which are addressed to the disparate problems of world hunger. To meet the problems of instability in grain supplies and price, the US has proposed establishment of an international system of nationally-held grain reserves.4 If they can be negotiated and operated effectively, these reserves should help stabilize world grain prices and supplies. However, this reserve would not take care of the problem of production shortfalls in individual LDC’s, and the sudden and often sharp strains on LDC foreign exchange re[Page 744]serves for financing needed grain imports would remain. This problem could be dealt with through the provision of food aid used countercyclically to offset crop shortfalls in LDC’s and thereby relieve pressure on scarce foreign exchange resources. The Bourne World Hunger Campaign paper might include an examination of how US food aid could be used more effectively in this way.

If an effective grain reserve system is not established, then the US could consider proposing the negotiation of a grain reserve specifically for LDC’s designed to offset world price increases for grain as well as domestic grain production shortfalls in LDC’s. (Preliminary calculations suggest that a reserve for this purpose would require around 15 million metric tons of grain—compared to estimates of 60 million tons for a world-wide reserve.)

Through its foreign assistance programs the US is also making an effort to foster growth with equity in LDC’s, with greatest concentration on expanding LDC agriculture. However, the widespread concern with the effectiveness of US aid suggests that a special effort be made to assess the past effectiveness of US assistance in fostering the expansion of LDC agriculture. Specifically, what is needed is

—a methodology for assessing effectiveness

—an examination of past experience in the context of this methodology

—establishment of regional or country agricultural growth targets for measuring future effectiveness.

Other US policies specifically aimed at expanding agriculture in LDC’s might include:

Developing the knowledge and techniques for greater agricultural productivity world-wide: Agricultural experts have been troubled for some time at the apparent slowdown in productivity gains in agriculture and believe there is a strong case for greater government finance of basic research in this area. (This was also a conclusion of the recent World Food and Nutrition Study.)5

Delivering the research to LDC’s: This involves the time consuming task of adapting research improvements made in the US to conditions in individual countries or regions within countries abroad. A number of LDC’s do not even have the agricultural facilities to undertake efforts at adaptation. Perhaps the 1979 Science and Technology Conference6 could focus on improving the delivery of agricultural technology to LDC’s and facilitate its adaptation there.

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Delivering the adapted seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and techniques to farmers in LDC’s: Few LDC’s have efficient agricultural extension services, often reflecting their own budgetary and personnel constraints but also the low priority many governments place on raising the standard of living of their rural populations. There may be opportunities for AID, perhaps together with the Peace Corps, to do more in undertaking and financing the development of agricultural extension services in particular LDC’s. (This is being done to some extent already but whether it might be undertaken more widely and with closer AID/Peace Corps cooperation, could be usefully examined.)

Finally, the United States has a variety of policies aimed at helping LDC’s expand their exports, which they must do if they are to earn the foreign exchange to finance the large quantities of LDC imports projected for the coming decades. These policies include the generalized system of preferences,7 and the current MTN negotiations, aimed at reducing trade barriers generally—and in particular to products of importance to LDC’s.8 Even with these policies, however, a considerable gap is expected to develop between LDC food production and desired food consumption levels. Projected LDC grain import needs by 1985 range from 75 to more than 100 million tons, compared with just 30 million tons of LDC grain imports in 1973–4. The Bourne study could examine projected LDC grain import needs for 1985 to obtain as accurate and up to date a picture as possible of these requirements and their implications. The study could also consider how these needs might be factored into US trade and agricultural policy and whether planning future food aid programs in particular might take account of these future needs.

A Focus on Malnutrition

Food is the most basic human need. Though there is at present no widespread famine in the world, many millions of people (estimates range between 400 million and 1 billion) do not have a nutritionally adequate diet. Malnutrition reduces the mental and physical capabilities of these people, and makes them more susceptible to disease; and when it occurs before the age of 4, malnutrition can result in irreversible damage to a child’s physical and mental development.

The world-wide malnutrition problem is largely one of the inadequate income levels of the world’s poor. This problem is likely to continue as long as widespread poverty exists, unless direct action is taken [Page 746]to improve the diets of the malnourished. An attack on malnutrition offers a logical focus for a world hunger campaign and is consistent with our aid strategy of addressing basic human needs in all countries. Moreover, it would appeal to the humanitarian instincts of the American people and generate widespread public support at home and abroad.

The major elements in a world hunger campaign focused on malnutrition should be:

1. Obtaining better information on the extent of malnutrition world-wide. Special efforts should be made to obtain accurate data in countries believed to have the most widespread and chronic problems of malnutrition, such as those of South Asia, the Sahel, the Andes or Haiti.

2. Developing targets for the improvement of nutritional levels. As a pilot project of this sort, we might want to concentrate on particular countries and especially vulnerable groups (pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 4) in those countries.

3. Expanding the delivery of high protein blended foods to target groups. (The US now provides nearly 1 million tons per year of grain and other foods for nutrition intervention programs as part of its Food for Peace Title II program).9 This would require greater cooperation with private voluntary agencies which now manage most of US supported nutrition intervention programs abroad. It would also lend itself to training and utilizing locally available labor, thus minimizing the American presence in the field.

4. Involving recipient governments to a greater extent in nutrition intervention programs, with the objective of having these governments eventually take over entirely these programs. There might be especially promising prospects of the US acting as this sort of catalyst in middle-income LDC’s with pockets of malnutrition (e.g., Brazil; and its northeast states) where governments could be expected to take over their own feeding programs in the near future.

5. Transferring available technology and providing necessary financing to LDC’s for developing their own high protein blended foods, based on locally available grains and other agricultural products. These countries would then avoid having to rely totally on importing such foods (often at relatively high unit prices and costly in foreign exchange) from the US.

6. Ensuring that the necessary infrastructure for nutrition intervention programs—particularly in remote areas—is adequate. Required are transport facilities, vehicles, storage, and distribution and cooking facilities.

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7. Combining nutrition intervention programs with education in family planning. (This is already done to some extent; any expansion in nutrition intervention programs should be accompanied by expansion of family planning where ever possible.) Education in improving general health and nutrition standards would also be important.

8. Developing and implementing techniques for evaluating the effectiveness of nutrition intervention programs, including weight charts for recipients, incidence of disease and other longer term indicators of the impact of improved nutrition.

9. Finally, seeking the cooperation of developed and developing countries alike—including Socialist countries—to attack malnutrition problems wherever they occur. The Chinese, in particular, might have some valuable insights in combatting malnutrition based on their own experience.

A program attacking problems of malnutrition at home and abroad involves a number of difficulties and these should be well examined before any decision is made to proceed.

—Such a program can be quite expensive in terms of donor and recipient resources per unit of food delivered. It is particularly costly in terms of labor and administration.

—Many LDC governments have assigned a low priority to fighting malnutrition in their countries and it may be difficult to persuade them to allocate their own scarce resources to fighting malnutrition.

—Nutrition intervention programs while responding to improving basic human needs, may make less a contribution to recipient country economic development than traditional AID activities with a heavier investment orientation. The potential trade-off there between long-term growth and immediate improvements in the welfare of the poor should be thoroughly studied before a decision is made to proceed.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director: Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, Box 3, TL, 10/15–10/31/77. No classification marking. Drafted by Lancaster. Copies were sent to Christopher, Benson, and Hormats.
  2. The Department of State’s contribution to the World Hunger Working Group is printed as Document 236.
  3. Reference is to 18th-century English political economist Thomas Robert Malthus, author of An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 225.
  5. See Document 212.
  6. The UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) was scheduled to take place in Vienna, August 20–31, 1979.
  7. The Trade Act of 1974 permitted the President to establish a Generalized System of Preferences, which eliminated tariffs on some products imported from LDCs. Such a system promised to expand imports and improve the economic sustainability of these nations. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 223.
  8. The Tokyo round of multilateral trade negotiations was underway in Geneva.
  9. See footnote 2, Document 232.