World Food Day: Much done, more to do

The 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world live in different places and have different faces. One characteristic they share, though, is their extreme vulnerability in the face of high food prices, a struggling global economy, the challenge of adjusting to climate change and public policies that harm rather than help them.

Woman hoeing potatoes
Biseny Akena harvests her sweet potatoes in the village of Amuca, Uganda.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT

By Lesley Crosson/CWS

The 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world live in different places and have different faces.  One characteristic they share, though, is their extreme vulnerability in the face of high food prices, a struggling global economy, the challenge of adjusting to climate change and public policies that harm rather than help them.

World Food Day (Oct. 16) is an annual call is to individuals, agencies and governments to help provide the tools, training, programs and advocacy necessary to help poor, hungry people improve their lives.

The Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO of Church World Service, says, "Fighting hunger and poverty has been the work of this agency for more than six decades.  We view access to nutritionally sufficient food as a human right and we work to assure that as many people as possible indeed do have that access."

Church World Service works throughout the world to empower poor people to confront and conquer both the conditions and the forces that have kept so many generations of people--particularly in developing countries--mired in poverty or permanently teetering on the edge.

Through a combination of training and support for sustainable agriculture programs in parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Europe and the Middle East, emergency relief and advocacy, CWS is working to empower people to use the few resources at their disposal to improve food security for themselves and their families.

"We have to focus even more on empowerment of individuals and families," says Rev. McCullough.  "I don't think that you can solve the problem of hunger through a series of governmental services or relief services.  We also need to empower people with education and training and tools so that they can control their own destinies."

In Kaikungu, Kenya, villagers seem to have embraced that idea. 

The words “Give us food, we are hungry,” was the villagers' initial plea to staff of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Church World Service's partner in the region. People had been surviving on food distributed by government and relief agencies in the wake of nearly three seasons of crops destroyed by drought. 

Village elders said more than 80 percent of the 5,000 villagers faced starvation.  Now, after training in effective farming techniques and construction of sand dams to capture water to use in irrigation, the people of Kaikungu--still poor, but now convinced that they are not entirely captive to the whims of nature--have changed their request to, "We need food, but we want to use the resources you [CWS and partner] will give us to change our lives so that the drought does not affect us so much next year."

Across the developing world, suffering and struggling for survival is a fact of life for poor people.  Each day almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes.  That's one child dead every five seconds.  And even those children who survive can be permanently affected by childhood malnutrition.

In Indonesia, for example, CWS is working with rural farmers to reverse the ravages of two decades of failed crops through nutrition programs and training. In regions where infants and toddlers have critically high malnutrition rates, there is a danger of lifelong stunting of their physical and mental development.  CWS is working with partners to provide nutritional supplements and to improve the nutritional quality of food available to children and their mothers. The program also helps people identify locally grown vegetables that previously had not been eaten, but that can be used as food.

McCullough emphasizes that the educational component is a key part of combating the problem of food insecurity.  "What people also need is good information, so that they can make good choices about what food is available to them."

The Gran Chaco region of Latin America stretches across 400,000 square miles of central South America, including parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Church World Service is working with indigenous people of the region to help them learn techniques to defend their rights to ancestral lands. 

Discrimination against native peoples has left them vulnerable to greed and exploitation by national and transnational companies anxious to control the region's abundant natural resources. With training through CWS-supported programs, indigenous communities are claiming--and winning--titles to ancestral lands on which they can hunt, fish and raise cattle for both food and income.

McCullough says, "Advocacy is a very important part of our work at Church World Service, domestically and internationally, because it's the way that we, or anyone, make our voices heard in places where decisions about how resources will be deployed are made and that means not just in the halls of government, but also calling industry to corporate responsibility."

The American face of poverty and hunger

Hunger, malnutrition ands poverty also has an American face. 

In the United States, Church World Service annually sponsors CROP Hunger Walks involving some 2,000 communities to help fund programs around the world--and to help stock the food pantries and soup kitchens that feed some of the more than 37 million Americans living in poverty in the U.S.  We also advocate for public policy reforms to help struggling small farmers in the U.S. and abroad and to improve access to nutritional food for poor people.

"Here in the U.S. there are government supplements to help people buy food, but we also have to look at limitations on that assistance and how those limitations affect the choices people can make about what foods to buy with very limited money that can only go so far."

The more than a million people malnourished people that inhabit the Earth are the embodiment of the huge gulf between where we are and where we need to be in terms of responding to dramatically increased hunger in our neighborhoods and our world, but McCullough remains optimistic. 

"The problem of hunger is still with us, but tremendous collective efforts are being made and we need to honor the efforts put forward even as we continue finding new ways to insure a more just distribution of resources so that everyone has a fair opportunity to improve their economic situation."


Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table
Facts Have Faces: Hunger in a World of Plenty PDF icon

How to help 

Your support for Church World Service, CROP Hunger Walks and the CWS Blankets+ Program helps to end hunger and sustain lives.  And we need your prayers and gifts for this vital work now more than ever.  Please give online, by phone (800.297.1516), or by mailing a contribution today to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.  Thank you!



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