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263. Preliminary Report of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger1



A. Why Should the United States Be Concerned?

The major recommendation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger is that the United States make the elimination of hunger the primary focus of its relations with the developing world—with all that implies for U.S. policy toward development assistance, trade, foreign investment and foreign affairs. In the Commission’s view, there are significant reasons for the United States to place the elimination of hunger at the top of its list of global concerns.

1. Moral Obligation and Responsibility

Moral obligation alone would justify giving highest priority to the task of overcoming hunger. Even now, millions of human beings live on the edge of starvation—in conditions of subhuman poverty that, if we think about them at all, must fill us with shame and horror. We see this now most poignantly in Cambodia,2 but it is a fact of life every day for half a billion people. At least one out of every eight men, women [Page 863]and children on earth suffers malnutrition severe enough to shorten life, stunt physical growth, and dull mental ability.

Whether one speaks of human rights or basic human needs, the right to food is the most basic of all. Unless that right is first fulfilled, the protection of other human rights becomes a mockery for those who must spend all their energy merely to maintain life itself. The correct moral and ethical position on hunger is beyond debate. The major world’s religions and philosophical systems share two universal values: respect for human dignity and a sense of social justice. Hunger is the ultimate affront to both. Unless all governments begin now to act upon their rhetorical commitments to ending hunger, the principle that human life is sacred, which forms the very underpinnings of human society, will gradually but relentlessly erode. By concentrating its international efforts on the elimination of hunger, the United States would provide the strongest possible demonstration of its renewed dedication to the cause of human rights.

Moral obligation includes responsibility. In the Commission’s view, the United States has a special capability and hence a special responsibility to lead the campaign against world hunger. The United States is by far the most powerful member of the world’s increasingly interdependent food system. It harvests more than half the grain that crosses international borders. Its corporations dominate world grain trade. Its grain reserves are the largest on earth. Because of its agricultural productivity, its advanced food technology, and its market power, the United States inevitably exerts a major influence on all aspects of the international food system.

Global interdependence in food means that two straight years of bad harvests in any of the major grain-producing nations of the world could precipitate another food crisis like the one that occurred in 1972–74. Recurrent crises of this nature could bring widespread famine and political disorder to the developing countries and would severely disrupt a fragile world economy already weakened by energy shortages and rampant inflation. U.S. policies will have a major role in determining whether or not this scenario will be played out.

American policies and resources also hold the key to solving that continuing world food crisis embodied in the swelling ranks of the chronically malnourished. To these hungry millions, it makes no difference whether such policies are made by choice or inertia, by acts of commission or acts of omission. In view of the undeniable influence that this nation’s actions will have on world hunger, the Commission urges immediate yet careful long-range planning to assure that U.S. policy truly helps rather than harms the world’s hungry people. Delay will only make the same ends more difficult and expensive to accomplish, and will not lift responsibility from the United States.

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The Commission does not mean to imply that the United States alone can solve the world hunger problem. All nations, including those of the developing world, must make the conquest of hunger a common cause. However, the Commission is persuaded that unless the United States plays a major role by increasing its own commitment and action toward this goal, no effective and comprehensive global program to combat hunger is likely to be undertaken in the foreseeable future. Moreover, once its own commitment is clear, the United States will be in a particularly strong position to encourage others to do more. The Commission believes that the United States is uniquely situated to influence the fate of millions who do not get enough to eat.

2. National Security

The Commission believes that promoting economic development in general, and overcoming hunger in particular, are tasks far more critical to the U.S. national security than most policymakers acknowledge or even believe. Since the advent of nuclear weapons most Americans have been conditioned to equate national security with the strength of strategic military forces. The Commission considers this prevailing belief to be a simplistic illusion. Armed might represents merely the physical aspect of national security. Military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.

Progress with stability has always been the basic goal of U.S. foreign policy. As relations between the industrialized and developing nations deteriorate and as political, economic, resource and environmental challenges to the present order steadily mount, the Commission is firmly convinced that a major worldwide effort to conquer hunger and poverty, far from being a gesture of charity to be offered or withheld according to temporary political whims, holds the key to both global and national security.

The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order. The developing nations now actively involved in international affairs are resolutely determined to move into the modern world and secure its benefits for themselves. But as the aspirations and expectations of the developing world grow, poverty within it remains prevalent and conspicuous—with hunger as its quintessential symptom. As a result, hunger has been internationalized and turned into a continuing global political issue, transformed from a low-profile moral imperative into a divisive and disruptive factor in international relations. Mutual suspicion and hostility between the “North” and the “South” have been visible, corrosive and counter-[Page 865]productive in international conferences or negotiations convened during the 1970s to address global problems.

Neither the cost to national security of allowing malnutrition to spread nor the gain to be derived by a genuine effort to resolve the problem can be predicted or measured in any precise, mathematical way. Nor can monetary value be placed on avoiding the chaos that will ensue unless the United States and the rest of the world begin to develop a common institutional framework for meeting such other critical global threats as the growing scarcity of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, environmental hazards, pollution of the seas, and international terrorism. Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals.

The Commission believes that stimulating an effective, cooperative campaign against world hunger would help the United States to break the impasse in “North-South” relations. For the foreseeable future, the United States is less likely than most other countries to suffer directly from a world food crisis. Despite—or perhaps because of—this fact, a concerted effort to eliminate hunger would enable the American people to demonstrate their solidarity with “the poorest of the poor,” and, at the same time, to contribute significantly toward raising living standards for poor people throughout the world.

It is the Commission’s view that hunger constitutes the central strand in the web of underdevelopment—poverty, powerlessness, low productivity, lack of education, unemployment, disease, and high rates of population growth. Malnutrition cripples the abilities of disadvantaged populations to help themselves, by preventing large numbers of citizens from working to capacity or performing effectively in school. But the reverse is also true: helping people acquire the means and skills for producing or purchasing their own food will necessarily require progress along the entire spectrum of development needs: creating more jobs in both rural and urban areas, improving basic health, and evolving higher degrees of social organization and political participation.

As both symptom and source of underdevelopment, then, hunger presents an appropriate and badly needed focus for America’s relations with the developing nations. The Commission believes that efforts stemming from this new focus would engender increasing cooperation by the developing nations in addressing the rest of the global agenda.

3. Economic Interest

The Commission also finds compelling economic reasons for the United States to focus on the elimination of hunger. The United States [Page 866]can maintain its own economic vitality only within a healthy international economy whose overall strength will increase as each of its component parts becomes more productive, more equitable and more internationally competitive. To sustain a healthy global economy, the purchasing power of today’s poor people must rise substantially, in order to set in motion that mutually-reinforcing exchange of goods, services and commodities which provides the foundation for viable economic partnership and growth.

The international food system is one important component of the international economic order. The United States depends on world markets to maintain its own strong farm economy: American farmers export two-thirds of their wheat, about half their rice and soybeans, and about a quarter of their corn and other coarse grains. Although farm output makes up only three percent of the nation’s Gross National Product (GNP), it provides 20–25 percent of the exports ($32 billion in 1979) that are so essential to the U.S. balance of payments position.

Paradoxical though it may seem, the United States will continue to reap these benefits as the developing nations step up their own food production. Rising agricultural productivity will form the foundation for Third World economic growth—and for the continually rising demand for American farm products this growth is bound to create. Even assuming the most ambitious increases in local production of cereals, fats and oils, the food import needs of the developing nations will continue to rise dramatically. Higher economic growth in the developing nations has already spurred enormous increases in the consumption of both imported and locally produced food. Third World imports of food from the United States rose from $2 billion to almost $10 billion during the past decade.

However, there are also limits to how much food the U.S. itself can produce. Since World War II, the world has become accustomed to relying on the United States to serve as a cushion when food was needed anywhere around the globe. The United States had two kinds of excess capacity: grain surpluses, and arable land deliberately taken out of production to stabilize domestic farm prices. Both forms of excess capacity are now sharply reduced. Consequently, although the United States is still “the breadbasket of the world,” providing over half of all the grain imported by other nations, North America can no longer be expected to keep on generating agricultural surpluses for the world.

Some dislocations will no doubt occur within the U.S. economy as Third World nations accelerate the development of their own agriculture and industry, since by actively promoting the process of economic development abroad, the United States is helping other nations to become more competitive with domestic manufacturers and producers. Most affected will be those industries which depend on skills that can [Page 867]be duplicated more cheaply elsewhere in the world, or U.S. export markets for goods which can be made or produced by former customers. The U.S. Government must anticipate and cushion these changes through trade adjustment and other programs on both the local and national level.

In long-range terms, significant efforts to improve the international economy as a whole, and measures to increase food production within the developing nations in particular, will benefit American consumers and producers alike. If higher productivity is not achieved in the developing nations, both they and the United States will pay the price in rising food costs and uncertain supplies. Recurrent disruptions in global food supply, on the scale of the 1972–74 food crisis, would cause further havoc within the international economy. Consequently all nations, including the United States, share a strong economic interest in assuring larger and more stable world food supplies.

B. How Should the United States Act in Light of Its Concern?

1. Overcoming World Hunger By Helping to Promote Self-Reliant Development

In the most immediate sense, of course, hunger can be eliminated by providing the needy with food. The Commission is convinced, however, that the long-term hope of eliminating hunger lies with prevention rather than with cure. Emergency relief programs, for example, are no substitute for the less dramatic, longer-term efforts required to make developing nations less vulnerable to catastrophe in the first place by transforming their agricultural production. Nutrition intervention and targeted feeding programs are no substitute for policies and actions that help people provide fully for their own nutritional needs.

In practice, the attainment of this goal for most countries would mean the optimal degree of domestic food production supplemented by adequate imports from other nations. Total self-sufficiency in food is seldom feasible, sensible or necessary. Few nations, developed or developing, are so favorably endowed that they can choose to remain outside the international food system. Each nation can, however, develop the political, economic and agricultural foundations to meet the basic needs of its own population. In asking the United States to make the elimination of hunger the primary focus if its dealings with the developing world, the Commission is not advocating that the United States should feed the world, but rather that the United States should help the world feed itself.

2. Broadening the United States Government’s Response to World Hunger

Current United States Government policies do not reflect America’s moral, economic and national security interests in ending [Page 868]world hunger nor this country’s genuine concern for hungry people. Although one can argue that the United States gave more than its fair share of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the end of World War II through the late 1950s, U.S. contributions have fallen off sharply since then as a percentage of GNP. The United States now ranks behind 12 other donor nations in this respect and would rank even lower if security supporting assistance, which is only incidentally for development, were not included in the U.S. totals. Moreover, compared to most other donors, the United States gives a lower percentage of its aid in the form of outright grants, and more in the form of debt-bearing loans.

The low priority accorded to the hunger problem is even more evident in U.S. policies and programs other than development assistance, which influence the possibilities for overcoming world hunger through self-reliant development. Development assistance flows will never amount to more than a tiny fraction of all U.S. economic interactions with Third World nations. In the long run, patterns of U.S. trade and private foreign investment, U.S. participation in international organizations, U.S. foreign policy, and domestic agricultural policies and programs are likely to have a much greater impact on hungry people than development assistance.

3. Mobilizing Public Support

The broad-based plan of action recommended in this Report cannot be carried out without a major reordering of this country’s national priorities. American concern for the hungry must spread to all spheres of Government activity if it is to obtain major results.

For such a marked shift in established practices and premises to occur, public support must be mobilized. The American public now is only dimly aware of what this country as well as others would stand to gain if people in countries which today receive foreign aid, could feed themselves, within dynamic, equitable and self-reliant domestic economies. Such a world would be characterized by a far greater degree of equity among and within nations than is apparent today. While few would oppose improving the lives of impoverished human beings, the benefits for those who are already affluent are less evident; indeed, at first sight the well-off may seem more apt to lose than to gain.

The costs and benefits of overcoming poverty and hunger are difficult to compare in conventional ways. The costs tend to be felt sooner than benefits are received. The Commission affirms its view that the long-term self-interest of the United States is linked to the fate of poor and hungry people throughout the world, that the very spirit of America is its national commitment to justice, equity and human dignity. Only in a world freed from hunger will the human community achieve the state of equality and brotherhood it dreams of now. A cam[Page 869]paign to overcome world hunger in which the United States plays a major role would serve as a focus for the idealism and generosity of those millions of Americans who seek a national purpose that transcends material success.

It is doubtful, however, that moral factors alone can hold popular attention, or command the long-term economic and political support required to sustain such a campaign. A major reordering of this nation’s priorities is necessarily involved, and that process itself must begin with nationwide efforts to educate the public about the realities of world hunger. Despite high food prices the average American still takes food abundance for granted. The majority of Americans have never known hunger. Only a small fraction of the population is now engaged in agriculture; urban, middle-class Americans associate their food supplies with supermarkets rather than with seeds and soil. Moreover, an opinion poll conducted by the Commission reveals widespread public overestimation of the level of U.S. participation in current efforts to combat world hunger and promote economic development.3

The governments of Canada, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands all support public education programs on Third World problems; and these education programs get results. The U.S. Executive Branch, however, is forbidden to use public funds to promote its programs among the public but it has been encouraged and funded to involve the public in deliberations of major issues like public safety and environmental protection.4

Private voluntary organizations experienced in hunger issues and programs devote most of their limited budgets to urgently needed direct-service, development and feeding programs. They are constantly engaged in raising the money to develop or conduct these oper[Page 870]ational programs, and can allocate little of it to educational efforts not connected to fund-raising.

The Commission believes that the Federal Government must now initiate a nationwide, long-term educational effort, if the requisite public understanding and support are to be marshalled to conquer world hunger. Such an effort should include resources sufficient to implement continuing and effective public education concerning the role of the United States in a hungry world.

C. Conclusion

There are compelling moral, economic and national security reasons for the United States Government to make the elimination of hunger the central focus of its relations with the developing world. However, neither current U.S. policies nor prevailing public attitudes demonstrate an accurate understanding of the problem’s scope, urgency, or relevance to America’s own national well-being.

Cast as the dominant actor within the world’s food system, the United States has a unique opportunity and responsibility to exercise its power for the common good. Such purposeful use of U.S. power would also focus and shape the idealism and generosity that is so indigenous to the American spirit.

What is needed to assure that the United States plays its proper major role in the worldwide campaign against hunger is a major reordering of national priorities. Additional resources must be mobilized, public understanding and support must be marshalled, and the government must organize itself in ways that will enhance the U.S. ability to address this critical issue.

The Commission is convinced that the best hope of eliminating hunger lies in persuading other nations as well to make that objective a top national priority, and in promoting a substantial increase in resources that flow from the affluent nations to the developing world.

Social justice is not simply an abstract ideal. It is a sensible way of making life more livable for everyone. Thus, for the developed nations to do more to assist the developing countries is not merely the right thing to do, it is also increasingly the economically advantageous to do.

Robert McNamara
President, World Bank
May 22, 1979
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[Omitted here is Section II: The Problem of World Hunger.]



I–203. The Commission shall develop recommendations designed to significantly reduce world hunger and malnutrition; and shall develop various options for harnessing available resources to carry out those recommendations, including policy options for improving the capacity of the United States to reduce the problems of world hunger and malnutrition.

Executive Order 12078. September 5, 1978

A. Introduction

The Presidential Commission on World Hunger believes that the 1980s must be a decade of concern for human life and wider participation in development. The Commission is also convinced that the most effective demonstration of that concern will be the intensification of worldwide efforts to overcome hunger and malnutrition and to stimulate self-reliant development. Of all the challenges facing the world today, agreement by the nations of the world on the actions required of all countries to eliminate hunger may be the most important, and may also provide the most promising basis for other international actions to assure world peace. By placing the elimination of hunger high on its national agenda, the United States will demonstrate a major commitment to undertaking one of the most important tasks facing mankind.

The establishment of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger is, in itself, evidence of this Government’s resolve to strengthen and accelerate its own efforts to assure an adequate diet for all. The Commission has carefully considered the reasons why the United States should be concerned about hunger. It has also analyzed the dimensions of world hunger, its causes and future implications, and the lessons learned from previous development and relief activities aimed at alleviating hunger at home and abroad. It has thoroughly reviewed other major policies and activities, such as international trade, debt, and food security. In this process, the Commission has also drawn a wide range of insights from various studies and strategies, national and international, to improve its understanding about world hunger and what is necessary to resolve the problem.

As a result of this analysis, the Commission concludes that the United States must make the elimination of hunger the primary focus [Page 872]of its relationships with the developing world beginning with the decade of the 1980s and that as a step toward this new focus, a major reordering of national and international priorities is essential. This focus can be most easily demonstrated in U.S. assistance programs and policies, but to be a reality, it must include all interaction with the developing world, particularly as a major component in the continuing “North-South” dialogue and as part of our contribution to the United Nations Third Development Decade.5

The U.S. commitment to overcoming hunger is based upon the belief that solutions to the problem of hunger represent the most fundamental assurance of human rights, and that through actions designed to help others feed themselves, the United States can make a major contribution to justice for all people.

B. Conclusions of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger

The Commission’s conviction, that the United States must devote immediate attention to the problem of world hunger and the goal of self-reliant growth, is reinforced by the following major conclusions:

The major world hunger problem today is the prevalence of chronic undernutrition—which calls for a political as well as a technical solution. It is qualitatively distinct from the historically familiar story of recurrent famines—the local, transient and visible tragedies brought about by drought, flood, pestilence, and other calamities. The extent of chronic undernutrition is global; it is an integral part of the overriding issue of world order in the decades ahead.

This world hunger problem is getting worse rather than better. There are more hungry people than ever before. Despite some encouraging signs of progress following the World Food Conference, at least one out of every eight people on earth is still afflicted by some form of malnutrition. Even after three successive years of good harvests, the world food situation is still precarious.

• World hunger has many interrelated causes, some of which result from scientific, technical and logistical problems. However, the central and most intransigent cause is poverty. Hunger, therefore, is primarily a political, economic, and social problem. The Commission concurs with the National Academy of Sciences that “in most countries social, economic and political measures not directly related to food are necessary to reduce malnutrition and improve health.”6 U.S. action has direct and indirect impact on many of the decisions about such measures.

A major crisis of global food supply—of even more serious dimensions than the present energy crisis—appears likely within the next 20 years, unless [Page 873]steps are taken now to facilitate a significant increase in food production in the developing nations. Such a crisis would have grave implications for all nations, including the United States; but those nations with the largest numbers of hungry people would suffer the most. Increased food production will not occur, however, without a market and will not benefit hungry people unless they acquire the purchasing power to enter that market.

Rising global demand for food must be met within resource limits—of land, water, energy, and agricultural inputs—which are at present little understood by most Americans. There can be no lasting solution to the world hunger problem if the world persists in current practices which have already led to increasingly serious degradation of soils, grasslands, water resources, forests and fisheries.

The task of overcoming hunger is long-term and will require special attention, year in and year out, on the part of the developing countries themselves, as well as the international community. Neither rapid increases in food production of developing countries, nor rapid increases in economic growth rates, nor the stabilization of world grain markets will, in themselves, cure widespread undernutrition.

• The challenge of overcoming hunger requires increasing the production of food on a self-reliant basis in the developing countries. More than increase in supply is required, however. While gains in productivity will become increasingly critical in the years ahead, they must neither be mistaken for nor subordinated to the goal of assuring more equitable access to food for all. To attain this goal will involve a continuing attack on the interrelated issues of poverty, population growth, food production and distribution, employment and income, in order to generate the effective demand that will spur production.

• The containment of world hunger will require specific responses to problems that arise within diverse countries, cultures and political systems. There is no ideal food, no perfect diet, no universally acceptable agricultural system waiting to be transplanted from one geographic, climatic, and cultural setting to another. Assistance programs from developed countries and international agencies must focus on self-reliant growth and respond to the needs of each country, and not be based upon a predetermined strategy which attempts to generalize needs and requirements.

In addition to action by the industrialized nations, decisive steps to build more effective national food systems must be taken by the developing countries, which produce most of the food they presently consume. Essential support from external donors will also be required to help attain this goal.

As the world’s largest producer, consumer, and trader of food, the United States has a key role and responsibility in this endeavor. No significant progress is likely to be made without the active and wholehearted participation [Page 874]of the United States. However, the United States cannot—and should not—try to shape the international effort unilaterally.

Efforts to eliminate hunger can succeed. The substantial progress achieved within the United States itself, as well as other countries since World War II, indicates that public awareness, appropriate government programs and increased income and productivity do reduce poverty and hunger. The techniques, methods and lessons learned from these examples are often replicable in other countries.

U.S. domestic and foreign economic policies, as well as private activities, sometimes hinder rather than help efforts to overcome world hunger. U.S. actions with implications for hunger overseas go far beyond the relatively small role that U.S. foreign assistance plays in the overall complex of U.S. economic interactions with the developing world. They include domestic agricultural policies and consumer practices, trade, and foreign investment, as well as arms sales to poor countries. While it would be unrealistic to assume that economic conflicts of interest can be eliminated entirely from international economic relations, the United States can take steps to reduce existing conflicts between its national goals and the needs of hungry people.

• Much progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in the United States over the past decade. However, some segments of the U.S. population, notably Native Americans and migrant workers, remain vulnerable to malnutrition and related diseases. Further, there is a clear and immediate need for the establishment of a permanent authority to collect, analyze and disseminate essential information relating to the nutritional status of the American population. Despite Congressional directives to Federal agencies to submit proposals for a comprehensive system for monitoring the nation’s nutritional status, little progress has been made to date.

Federal feeding programs such as the School Lunch; Women, Infants and Children; and Food Stamp Programs have been very successful in addressing the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the United States. However, inflation and fiscal austerity policies threaten the advances that have been made to treat the symptom of hunger. Despite the successes of Federal feeding programs, modifications to improve their availability to the poor, better mechanisms for reaching such groups as the elderly and rural poor and closer monitoring of local administrative practices could lead to increased participation by those Americans in need.

• The pervasive existence of chronic undernutrition throughout the world is still exacerbated by conditions of outright starvation and food scarcity, often man-made. While improvements have been achieved in the coordination and operation of relief activities, further effort is required. However, the major impediment to effective famine and emergency relief is often the unwillingness of the governments of affected [Page 875]countries to acknowledge the problem. Of critical importance is the prevention of relief assistance for political or military reasons, thereby using hunger and famine as a weapon of armed conflict or political repression.

The outcome of the war on hunger, by the year 2000 and beyond, will be determined not by forces beyond human control, but by decisions and actions well within the capability of nations and people working individually and together.

C. Preliminary Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger

In formulating its recommendations, the Commission has quite deliberately not restricted itself to those which are the most politically attractive and feasible. We have recommended actions which flow from an analysis that is by no means new, but which—though accepted in the context of international conferences and pronouncements—has not yet emerged in the decisions and actions of governments.

These recommendations are broad in scope and will require many implementing actions. In presenting its recommendations, the Commission has avoided a listing of detailed actions; rather, it has focused on the need for major decisions and policy changes. In this preliminary Report, the Commission presents only recommendations affecting the organization of our own Government, levels of development assistance, alleviation of famine caused by war, and domestic feeding programs. However, the Commission emphasizes that the focus of these initial recommendations is only a beginning. Later recommendations dealing with world food security, trade and corporate relationships, and other U.S. policies and approaches are equally essential to a strong and balanced effort to eliminate hunger.

In this context, the Commission’s major recommendation bears repetition, particularly in a world where the self-reliance goals of the “South” continue to challenge the policies of the “North” and as the United Nations embarks upon its Third Decade of Development. The United States is an integral part of these processes; accordingly:

The Commission recommends that the United States make the elimination of hunger the primary focus of its relationships with the developing countries, beginning with the decade of the 1980s.

The Commission believes that the 1980s, the United Nations Third Development Decade, can be a time of unparalleled opportunity for more constructive cooperation between the industrialized nations of the “North” and the developing countries of the “South.” A world partnership is essential to solve such global problems as hunger, energy needs and environmental concerns, whose ramifications span national boundaries and in which the entire world has an interest.

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Focusing on the elimination of hunger as a priority objective will make possible that progress towards creating a just and prosperous world economy, supportive of the self-reliant aspirations of both the developed and the developing world. The elimination of hunger is fundamental to the achievement of a just economic and social order. The United States and other prosperous nations must address the problem of world hunger through all available means, including development assistance, trade, investment and domestic economic policy. Prosperous nations must also address the problem of hunger within their own borders and act to assure their citizens adequate incomes by providing jobs or by making assistance available for those unable to work. The developing countries, for their part, will have to make long overdue changes in deeply rooted social and economic structures.

1. Organization of United States Development Assistance

Since chronic hunger is a symptom of poverty, in the Commission’s judgment, development assistance can be most effective as a catalyst for overcoming hunger in the poorest developing nations through focused efforts to increase local food production, to stimulate balanced and equitable economic growth, and to support local institutional means of increasing the purchasing power of the poor. While the major responsibility to use available development assistance resources is properly that of the recipient country, which must ensure that its own policies and infrastructure allow effective use of development aid, the organization and focus of donor activities are very important.

The Commission finds that current U.S. development assistance legislation is properly focused on areas of basic human needs by the “New Directions” approach.7 However, the effective implementation of Congress’ goals is seriously compromised by important institutional, financial and political constraints, either levied by Congress or complicated through administrative shortcomings.

U.S. foreign policymakers have frequently viewed “foreign aid” as an instrument for advancing short-term political interests. However, the countries most in need of development assistance seldom pose a direct military threat to national security. Consequently, the economic development of Third World societies is still not considered a priority goal of U.S. foreign policy.

Authority for the major development assistance programs—bilateral, multilateral, and food aid—is dispersed among diverse Federal bureaucracies, many of which do not have development as their primary concern. There is no voice within the U.S. Government inde[Page 877]pendent or powerful enough to defend long-term economic development goals against competing short-term political or military objectives. Hence, the relatively low priority accorded to the elimination of hunger and poverty overseas not only reflects, but also is perpetuated by the existing institutional governing structure.

The Commission is convinced, however, that raising living standards in developing countries is central to long-range U.S. political and economic interests as well as to a just world order, and that development assistance can play a more powerful role than military assistance in meeting the requirements of U.S. national security. In order to make credible the United States Government’s commitment to long-term economic development and to facilitate the full implementation of that commitment, clear authority will be required to uphold the goals of development assistance within the foreign policymaking process.

The Commission recommends that the Director of the International Development Cooperation Agency be accorded Cabinet-level status, so that the objectives of equitable economic development can be more effectively integrated into U.S. national security policy and planning.

The establishment of the International Development Cooperation Agency (IDCA) in October 19798 with authority only over the Agency for International Development (AID), the Institute for Scientific and Technological Cooperation, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (governed by its own Board), represents a step in the right direction but does not, in the Commission’s judgment, go far enough.

The IDCA Director should have Cabinet rank and should have direct access to the President. The Director should also have direct responsibility for U.S. participation in the multilateral development banks (still largely under Treasury Department control), U.S. voluntary contributions to those U.N. agencies still under Department of State aegis, and P.L. 480 (which at present is only partially within the jurisdiction of IDCA). Moreover, the IDCA Director should also have responsibility for formulating policy guidelines affecting the concessional lending programs of the International Monetary Fund, as well as U.S. trade, commodity and investment policies which affect the ability of Third World nations to carry out their share of the measures recommended in this Report.

2. Levels of United States Development Assistance

As another reflection of the low priority accorded to economic development overseas, inadequate funding for official U.S. development assistance and competing claims upon those funds further undermine [Page 878]this nation’s ability to maximize its potential contribution to eliminating hunger and poverty.

Although the United States is still the world’s largest aid donor in absolute terms (and is the world’s largest donor of private assistance), it ranks twelfth behind other Western donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in percentage of Gross National Product (GNP). The United States defines ODA as including the bilateral programs (AID development assistance and economic support funds, food aid, and the work of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Peace Corps), U.S. contributions to international financial institutions, and U.S. contributions to international organizations. At the peak of the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate post-war Europe, America’s ODA came to 2.7 percent of GNP. Over the past 30 years, that percentage has shrunk to 0.22 percent of GNP, or less than a tenth of its earlier level.

These reductions have the most adverse impacts on the very poorest (“food priority”) developing countries, which depend on grants or highly concessional aid for 80 percent of their development capital.

U.S. educational, scientific and technical institutions constitute a unique resource for global development efforts. However, budget cuts prevent AID from taking full advantage of these facilities. AID’s institutional capacity to deliver high quality technical assistance has been allowed to deteriorate dramatically, due to a shift to outside contractors and because the Agency has not dramatically shifted the composition of its personnel to implement the New Directions strategy. Although 60 percent of its development assistance program funds are for rural development, food and nutrition, only a small percentage of the Agency’s own staff is expert in these fields.

Moreover, research in the physical, biological and social sciences as related to development is seriously underfunded. While the reallocation of existing research funds would help to accelerate the production of basic food crops in tropical zones, the long-term need is to direct a far larger share of America’s research capabilities and research budget to the task of overcoming hunger and poverty in developing nations.

In addition, U.S. development assistance legislation is burdened with requirements that prohibit assistance to particular nations, or inhibit the development of certain industries in developing countries, even though these restrictions seldom have a development rationale. These restrictive legislative provisions have especially negative effects on U.S. participation in the multilateral banks and other international organizations. In the Commission’s view, measures that allow narrow domestic economic or political interests to interfere with development assistance objectives are ultimately counterproductive to the process of development and an obstacle to the elimination of hunger.

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In short, despite ringing rhetoric, legislative mandates and good intentions among development advocates, too small a percentage of U.S. resources potentially available in the war against hunger—whether in the form of capital, knowledge or food itself—actually serves to increase food consumption among the poor. Therefore, to assure that the United States accepts its fair share of the development effort:

The Commission recommends that the United States move as rapidly as possible toward the United Nations’ goal of 0.7 percent of Gross National Product as this nation’s net disbursement of concessional economic assistance. The Commission further recommends that this increase be limited to development (not security or military) assistance, targeted selectively at poor nations strongly committed to meeting basic human needs and rights through self-reliant development, and that appropriations for this purpose be funded on a multi-year basis, and “untied” from domestic economic or political interests.

In order to reach the target of 0.7 percent GNP as quickly as possible, the Administration must propose a substantial increase in its next fiscal year submission, with the intent of doubling economic development assistance within a few years. The Congress must be prepared to approve the request for increased funding. The Commission emphasizes that the increase must focus on the economic and technical aspects of development assistance and not on security assistance. Further, the increased funds must be targeted toward those nations willing to commit themselves to ending hunger through self-reliant development. The Commission believes that U.S. resources should be committed by using the broad intent of effectiveness criteria—the advancement of human rights and the meeting of basic needs—as overall guidelines for allocating foreign assistance, and that the bulk of U.S. funds should be specifically allocated for programs and projects designed to alleviate hunger. Such efforts should reinforce local initiatives that promote land reform, wider participation in decision-making, reduction in population growth rates, and control of damage to the natural environment.

U.S. assistance should also maximize benefits for development, including “untying” U.S. development aid from domestic interests. Moreover, as long as self-reliant development criteria are used, U.S. legislation should refrain from imposing limits on the countries or types of projects for which development assistance funds can be used. This applies not only to bilateral programs, but also to U.S. development funds allocated for international financial institutions and international organizations. In this context, continued support of such organizations as the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development is essential.

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As the National Academy of Sciences has noted, increased U.S. development assistance is badly needed to improve and expand Third World research and training programs in the physical, biological and social sciences. Particular attention should be directed at methods of inducing poor farmers to increase production, improving the management of water resources, reducing post-harvest losses in the field and in storage, and developing appropriate technology for small farmers. Further, the United States should make better use of its wealth of experience to help developing nations establish effective agricultural extension services and farmer cooperatives. In this regard, the Commission is highly supportive of the intent of the Title XII amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961,9 calling on U.S. institutions to devote greater effort to solving the food and nutrition problems of the developing countries.

3. Famine Relief and Starvation as an Instrument of War

The Commission recognizes that famines will occur in the years to come, despite efforts to alleviate world hunger. The international community must, therefore, maintain mechanisms to deal with unpredictable, short-term famine caused by weather, war or human error.

The Commission lauds international efforts in recent years aimed at improving the mobilization and coordination of international famine relief. However, the Commission is concerned over the lack of resources available to help disaster-prone nations develop the infrastructure and contingency plans necessary to mitigate the worst effects of famine before it occurs. The Commission believes that it is more cost-effective to invest in pre-disaster planning and prevention assistance than simply to give emergency relief.

The Commission also is concerned that large numbers of individuals face starvation as the result of war and political decisions, as in the case of Cambodia. The recent International Conference on Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflict adopted two Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Convention which, among other things, prohibit the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare (including denying sustenance to the civilian population by destroying or removing food supplies or other related objects indispensable to their survival), and [Page 881]require parties to the conflict to take various measures to facilitate relief actions designed to deal with shortages of food and other essential items among the civilian population.10 The Commission strongly believes that the starvation of civilians should be outlawed as a method of warfare, and that a method should be devised to deal with famine brought on by armed conflict. Therefore:

The Commission recommends that the United States Senate ratify the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Convention, adopted by the International Conference on Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflict.

4. Overcoming Domestic Hunger and Malnutrition Through Federal Programs

Recent findings indicate that there have been dramatic improvements in the nutrition of low-income citizens since the introduction of the Food Stamp; School Lunch; School Breakfast; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Elderly Feeding; and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Programs. Yet, lack of consistent nutritional information, inflation, and the rising real cost of food threaten these advances and others expected from wider access to these nutrition-support programs. Further, information on the nutritional status of American citizens is surprisingly sparse for all economic brackets, especially high-risk populations. Because the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a national effort, it does not disclose the full magnitude of the malnutrition problems for the elderly, the poor, migrant workers, or Native Americans. Although various Federal agencies gather supplementary data, there is no single coordination point in the United States Government to compile and analyze this information. Accordingly:

The Commission recommends that increased resources be provided to those domestic hunger programs which have a demonstrated record of success, and that a systematic effort to assess the nutritional status of Americans be undertaken.

Congress and the Department of Agriculture will have to take steps to assure that food assistance programs, particularly food stamps, respond to increases in inflation and unemployment. When food prices rise, food stamp allotments diminish in value. The Food Stamp Act currently requires that allotments be adjusted semi-annually in accordance [Page 882]with changes in food prices.11 Even this provision is not entirely adequate, as allotments are always 4–10 months out of date. Since food prices are subject to especially volatile shifts (as in 1973 when prices rose 22 percent in one year) a method to ensure prompt adjustment of food stamp allotments is essential. This will require Congressional action to assure necessary funding when required and flexible administrative arrangements to facilitate such adjustments promptly.

The WIC program reaches only a small percentage of those eligible. The major problem is inadequate funding for expansion to reach all potential participants. Those who have participated have shown significant nutritional improvement; however, WIC is not an open-ended entitlement program. It can serve only as many people as its funding permits. The Commission urges the Congress to assure that the legislative and financial support needed is available.

Finally, the Commission notes that existing Federal programs, however successful, do not address the primary causes of domestic undernutrition which, like its parallel in developing countries, is poverty. More far-ranging efforts will be necessary to assure adequate income and equity so that the basic human needs of all American citizens can be met.

D. Conclusion

By presenting its conclusions and initial recommendations in this preliminary report, the Commission wishes to emphasize the urgency of the world hunger problem and the necessity to begin actions directed towards the solution of that problem. Later recommendations and analysis will reinforce this view. However, action is required now and the Commission believes these findings can help to start that process.

  1. Source: Carter Library, RG 220, Presidential Commission on World Hunger, Subject File, 1978–1980, Box 16, Status Report of the Commission [2]. No classification marking. Under a December 7 covering note, Owen sent Brzezinski an agenda for the Commission’s December 10 meeting with the President, talking points, Linowitz’s December 6 cover letter to the President transmitting the report, and a copy of the report. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 93, Food: 1979–1980) According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met with members of the Commission in the Cabinet Room on December 10 from 11:46 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in order to receive a copy of the preliminary report. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) Upon receiving it, the President stated, “This is an opportunity for our nation to embark upon an exciting, challenging effort to alleviate world hunger. It is obvious that our nation is better off if hunger can be eliminated in nations not as fortunate as we.” (Thomas O’Toole, “Major U.S. Role Urged to End World Hunger,” The Washington Post, December 11, 1979, p. A–1) No memorandum of conversation of this meeting was found. In the NSC Global Issues Cluster’s December 10 evening report, Bloomfield commented, “Attended presentation to President of Report and subsequent press conference. The acting co-chairmen (Jean Mayer and Steve Muller) took me aside to plead that food not be used as a weapon in Iran.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Oplinger/Bloomfield Subject File, Box 37, Evening Reports: 9–12/79)
  2. See Document 261 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. A research firm surveyed 1,200 American adults during a 2-week period in November–December 1979. A subsequent press release reported: “Allowing for the immediacy of the intrusion of Iran into the world problem agenda, the problem of world hunger ranks behind only inflation and energy as a ‘top of the mind’ concern, a poll taken for the Presidential Commission on World Hunger reveals.” The release continued: “As supportive as they are of development assistance, Americans substantially overestimate the amount of money which the U.S. is actually spending in this area. They also strongly prefer to have ‘strings attached’ to development assistance funds. Almost everyone demands that those countries receiving aid guarantee that aid will get to the people who need it and that the recipient countries have friendly diplomatic relations with the U.S. Americans also express a preference for assistance funds to be administered by volunteer organizations rather than the U.S. Government or international organizations.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Special Projects—Hazel Denton, Box 56, Food: 5/78–3/80)
  4. Presumable reference to the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (P.L. 80–402), commonly known as the Smith–Mundt Act. Amendments to the Act in 1972 prohibited domestic access to information designated for overseas audiences.
  5. Planning for the Third UN Development Decade (1981–1990) began in 1979 in the Preparatory Committee for the New International Development Strategy.
  6. See Document 212.
  7. See footnote 10, Document 73.
  8. See footnote 17, Document 245.
  9. The International Development and Food Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 94–161; 89 Stat. 849) amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87–195; 75 Stat. 424) to include a Title XII provision, which called for efforts to strengthen the capacity of U.S. land grant universities to apply science to solving food and nutrition problems of developing nations.
  10. Presumable reference to the Diplomatic Conference on Reaffirmation and Development of Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts, which took place in Geneva February–March 1974, February–April 1975, April–June 1976, and March–June 1977.
  11. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 (P.L. 88–525; 78 Stat. 703–709), which Johnson signed into law on August 31, 1964, authorized a food stamp program (FSP) to provide eligible households with nutritious foods. Recipients received a coupon allotment and used the coupons to purchase foodstuffs from retail food establishments approved for participation in the FSP. The Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973 (P.L. 93–86; 87 Stat. 221–250), which Nixon signed into law on August 10, 1973, provided for the semi-annual adjustment of allotments to reflect the changes in food prices published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor, beginning with allotments issued from January 1, 1974.