A World Hungry for Food and Solutions: Why We Need Food Diplomacy

The above photo by “Ashley” is part of a PBS series “Hunger Through My Lens” which has a dual mission: to empower people who are living in poverty and to promote awareness about hunger issues. Sponsored by the non-profit group Hunger Free Colorado, the program gives digital cameras to food stamp recipients and asks them to chronicle what it’s like to be hungry in America. The author caption is: “I took this photo of a community garden in Denver. This small plot of land helps provide food for people who don’t have enough money to buy fresh produce. There is so much land available in this country for gardens like this. Why don’t more people have have access to it?”

If there is one truly global issue that unites people and divides them it is food. Food security—or lack thereof, is today on the top of every nation’s priorities including our own. Simply put: There is not enough food to go around in a world that is likely to house 9.6 billion people by 2050. Food insecurity—where someone in the household literally has to reduce food intake—affects people in the United States, Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East.

The Worst-Hit States

In 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children. Ten states had significantly higher household food insecurity rates than the national average:

It is shocking to read a recent USDA report on food insecurity in New York. Yes, New York has food insecurity that has grown statewide by 40% over the last decade. And it is not alone.  In many American cities and rural areas we find people who are not able to put enough food on the table. The same is true in Europe where the United Kingdom reports reduced food security along its coastal towns and farm due to severe flooding.

US Average 14.7%
Mississippi 20.9%
Arkansas 19.7%
Texas 18.4%
Alabama 17.9%
North Carolina 17.0%
Georgia 16.9%
Missouri 16.7%
Nevada 16.6%
Ohio 16.1%
California 15.6%

Far away, in China, the top national priority is managing food supply. The African Union has declared 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security.  And throughout Latin America, economies are stunted in growth because of poor farming and food insecurity.  In Haiti, 600,000 Haitians continue to live in severe food insecurity.

The problem is global. The answers are global.

Fortunately, governments, universities, foundations, and industry are forging partnerships and putting projects together to address the food crisis. In May the Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosts its annual Global Food Security summit which convenes the world’s experts to address the nexus of food, water, environmental degradation, and energy. The forum is one of many key leadership opportunities for nations to map out the global food systems and advance solutions to the challenges posed by changing weather patterns and other factors that limit food production and distribution. George Washington University hosts Planet Forward—a network of schools and students using multimedia to inform audiences about sustainability issues and create innovative solutions that can be shared globally.

In the end, only teamwork can ensure food security.  We need the best minds combined with resources, technology, and robust partnerships.  This is the moment for all nations to work together.

Tara Sonenshine is a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and served as U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

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