Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
With food prices at historic highs, shortages are hitting the world’s poorest. Traditionally, assistance from the U.S. came in the form of direct food aid, but a new approach focuses on self-sufficiency and support for local farmers. The former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture joins us to explore these programs, and how budget cuts would affect efforts.
- Dan Glickman Co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council; Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Congressional Program; Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1995-2001.
- David Beckmann President, Bread for the World
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs provided these photos of scientists, aid workers, and others who are working on food security issues around the globe:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, a local brewery opens in Washington. It's been decades since the last one was in operation here. Not just one opening, but two. But first, we've seen all the headlines. Food prices are at historic highs and the grain surpluses that many countries enjoyed for decades may be gone for good. And while it's having an impact on many people here in the U.S., for many of the poorest around the world, it can be devastating.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFood aid from the developed world has long helped those hardest hit. Although that aide, often in the form of large amounts of donated surplus grain, has also hurt local agriculture by distorting some markets. The former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture is working on a new approach with a focus on developing self sufficiency and local agriculture in the world's poorest countries. Dan Glickman joins us in studio. He is co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's also the executive director of the Aspen Institutes Congressional Program. He was the U.S. Secretary for Agricultural from 1995 to 2001. Dan Glickman, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAN GLICKMANIt's great to be here.
NNAMDII'd actually like to start by having a brief conversation with Reverend David Beckmann. And, Dan Glickman, feel free to join that conversation. David Beckmann is President of Bread for the World. He is also the 2010 World Food Prize Laureate. He joins us by telephone. David Beckmann, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID BECKMANNThank you and good to talk with Secretary Glickman.
NNAMDIYou called for a fast last week protesting budget cuts proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tell us why?
BECKMANNWell, quite a few people are fasting and praying and working to form a circle of protection around federal programs that help hungry and poor people in our country and around the world. The programs that Secretary Glickman and I care so much about in terms of helping poor farmers in poor countries. But a very broad range of programs are -- people are threatened. The -- I'm -- just yesterday, the House of Republicans released their budget. So they are pushing for immediate cuts in everything from who -- headstart to food aide to any kind of assistance to poor people around the world.
BECKMANNAnd then in this -- in the budget that they released yesterday, they're making very deep cuts in government spending, but 2/3 of their cuts are in programs that help poor and hungry people in our country around the world. I -- So I think, you know, it's -- the prayer part is real because there's a group of -- the tea party people in the house are just adamant. They will not compromise. They're ready to shut down the government.
BECKMANNIt's not clear that our national leaders will be able to come to any kind of agreement, let alone a good one. So I think that's perfectly appropriate to pray to God to guide our nation at this time and to protect hungry people.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of different organizations participated in the fast, including both Jewish and Muslim. Mark...
NNAMDI...Mark Bittman, the Op-ed columnist for the New York Times joined the fast. He's been blogging about it. But the cuts, as you pointed out, are to programs, both in the U.S. and abroad. Secretary Glickman, emergency food aid is one of the programs that David Beckmann is concerned about. What would be the effect of cutting that aide?
GLICKMANWell, it will be on the table in terms of these cuts. And, you know, if you have a crisis as a result of a natural disaster or just general hungry and starvation and malnutrition and famine, it would be a really disaster to see further cuts take place. Fortunately, through the efforts of David Beckmann and others, over the years we've been able to protect those straight humanitarian assistance programs overseas from dramatic cuts.
GLICKMANWe'll see how things go this year. The President and -- there are a lot of folks in bipartisan on both sides of the aisle that want to protect those programs. And David is quite right. All these programs are in great jeopardy. I just came back from Tanzania and Mozambique, where I took a...
NNAMDIWe'll talk about it.
GLICKMAN...an oversight trip to look at the programs as well. And, you know, underlying all of this, is that we have the highest food prices -- will have the highest group of food prices in history. And the days of big surpluses are probably over with in the developed world, like the United States. So it's going to put people all over the world, but particularly in the developing world, at much greater risk in jeopardy.
BECKMANNIn -- the House is proposing, in the current year, right away, to cut the food aid budget for this year by half. So I think it means millions of people, desperate people, you know, in refugee camps and all -- millions of people would have their -- the foods that they're depending on, cut off right away. And U.S. assistance to help poor farmers in poor countries become more productive would be cut by 30 percent.
BECKMANNThey're coming after everything. And they are ready to shut the government to get their way.
NNAMDIDavid Beckmann, if these cuts go through, could they also have a big impact on development aide that helps small farmers around the world?
BECKMANNYeah, the cut in that is 30 -- their proposed cut is 30 percent. So that's why we're calling on people of faith and conscious across the -- this is not a small matter. We're asking people to fast and to pray to God to guide -- to be more fully present in our lives, but also the life of our nation. And then to form a circle of protection around all the programs that help hungry and poor people. It's not that big, if you include the domestic -- the cut -- the programs that help poor people in our country or hungry people in our country, it's still not a big part of the federal budget.
BECKMANNThey did not cause this step and so we think that there should be bipartisan agreement that those programs should be protected. If some of them aren't as effective as they should be, we will campaign with others to make them effective. But we -- there are lots of other places in our lives and in our government budget or on the tax side. We can make changes that...
NNAMDISpeaking of effect...
BECKMANN...will bring down the deficit without hurting hungry people.
NNAMDISpeaking of effect, do you have any indication yet whether the fast has had any effect on lawmakers, either sympathetic or unsympathetic?
BECKMANNWell, I think we've -- it's a group of religious and humanitarian leaders who have done it. And, I think, we have, in fact -- there's been remarkable responsiveness. We now know of 26,000 people across the country who've told some of our organizations that they'll fast with us. If you add up the audiences of the radio and TV and newspapers, that the fast has been featured in, it comes to over 200 million people have been reached.
BECKMANNNancy Pelosi called us in a couple days ago for -- she met with us for 90 minutes. I was really stunned. I mean, the leader -- the majority -- the minority leader in the House does not have 90 minutes for anything. But she was, you know, she was really interested. She was really asking for -- she was really asking for advice on what she should do. I...
NNAMDIIt's an issue that we'll be following fairly closely, especially given the possibility of a partial government shut down, come Friday. But David Beckmann, thank you so much for joining us.
BECKMANNYeah, it's not just, you know, republicans fighting democrats, how much are they going to cut, are they going to shut the government down. It's what kind of nation and world do we want in five years?
NNAMDIReverend David Beckmann is President of Bread for the World. He's also the 2010 World Food Prize Laureate. Once again, thank you for joining us. Still with us is Dan Glickman, co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council and Global Affairs and executive director of the Aspen Institutes Congressional Program. He was the U.S. Secretary of Agricultural from 1995 to 2001.
NNAMDIYou mentioned, Dan Glickman, that you have just returned from Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania. What were you doing there?
GLICKMANWell, we went to basically do some oversight over our U.S. government programs, to see how programs were trying to build small farms, self-sufficiency or working, to see if we can increase yields, to see if we can improve the economic plight of individual small farmers especially women farmers to see what, you know, the U.S. government is -- provides a lot of assistance. So does our foundation. So does corporations in the private sector.
GLICKMANWe went to kind of take a look at this because we've been involved for a couple years now trying to push the U.S. government, particularly the Agency for International Development, into making its assistance more effective, more practical.
NNAMDIIndeed there is a push toward a new approach to aide, talk about that.
GLICKMANThe new head of that agency, Dr. Rasha and others, the President and many in Congress, wanted to have our aide -- that -- encourage these much more self-sufficiency in agriculture. To date, the U.S. government in the developed world have largely helped people through food assistance. So during humanitarian crises, if that's necessary, we're not talking about doing away with that, but we are trying to say that we haven't encouraged self-sufficiency in that process.
GLICKMANAnd so there's great amounts of arable agricultural land all throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And what's needed is technical capacity, fertilizer, seeds, a whole host of transportation infrastructure efforts to make these countries self-sufficient and in doing so we're more likely to reduce poverty and bring political stability as well.
NNAMDII was about to ask, how do you encourage self-sufficiency? You seem to be suggesting that there are a number of both infrastructural and other elements that can be used to motivate people to be more self-sufficient.
GLICKMANWell, it's tough. I mean, listen, you're talking about places where there are not a lot of good roads, where the legal structure isn't necessarily very good and, you know, it's sorts of problems. But there's a lot of progress being made, the foundations, the Clinton foundation, Ford foundation, Gates and others are very active along with the U.S. government and the private sector in trying to keep -- teach tools. For example, we saw evidences of places where farmers are using more modern seeds, modern fertilizer.
GLICKMANThey can increase their yields rather dramatically. The use of cooperatives is a way to get farms -- farm to markets so you can get goods actually distributed and manufactured and given and sold out to much greater numbers of people. Those are things that worked in the United States 150 years ago and can work in Africa as well. So there is a lot of potential there but a lot of it depends on resources, too. And, of course, I agree with David, a lot of those resources are now in some degree of jeopardy.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. What do you think is the best way to provide food aid to developing countries, 800-433-8850? Do you think increased productivity can offset the growing demand for food around the world? You can also go to our website kojoshow.org or send us a tweet at Kojoshow. Women are important in the plan for more self-sufficient agriculture in the developing world. Can you tell us why?
GLICKMANWell, in most parts of the developing world, it is the women that are actually doing most of the work on the farms. And we met a lot of women who formed their own cooperatives, their own businesses. And that isn't to say that their husbands or men aren't doing it but the majority of work is done by women. And women are almost -- often the most vulnerable in these parts of the world, subject to sexual abuse and higher degrees of poverty.
GLICKMANSo a lot of the efforts are given to give women the tools to become more self-sufficient and the other thing is to try to keep girls in school longer. And the more we can keep girls in school and there are a lot of feeding programs that are geared to doing that kind of thing because if girls can have meals in schools, they'll tend to stay there longer. The more they're likely not to go out and have children and then go into the cycle of poverty that's taken place in -- over the years.
GLICKMANAnd we have found all sorts of evidence to the effect that school feeding programs and similar programs have a great impact in terms of the economic prosperity and stability of these areas.
NNAMDIWhy is it that we maybe have -- we may have seen the end of the era of grain surpluses that we can send overseas from developed countries?
GLICKMANWell, you know, I was a congressman before I was an Secretary. And I remember all the years I was in Congress, the key agricultural issue was surpluses. We always produced more than we consume. Big surpluses in America, corn, wheat, cotton, soy beans, rice, you name it. And the agriculture programs were geared to paying people not to produce, to reduce surpluses. And in many cases, our humanitarian programs became an avenue to get rid of a lot of our surpluses.
GLICKMANSo they were very popular in agricultural circles. But several things have happened. One is, we have a huge amount of economic growth in places like China and India. The population's going to double in the next 30 years. We're going to have two China's in additional population over a period of time.
GLICKMANThere's a lot more demand for food. There's a lot more stress on food production by climate change and those related things. and so it's all making it so we're less likely to have these big surpluses in the years to come. It also means higher prices.
GLICKMANNow, in the U.S. higher prices are a problem but we pay a fairly small percentage of our income, anywhere between 7 and 10 percent on food. But if you go to Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania, wherever, they may pay 40 to 50 percent of their disposable income on food. So you see, food prices just have an enormous effect on the less developed world.
NNAMDIForty years ago, experts predicted that population growth would lead to massive food shortages by the end of the 20th century. The population did grow, but increases in productivity offset that. Can that happen again?
GLICKMANWell, we hope so, but productivity increases have flattened out to be honest with you. And they have grown far less than we projected them. Of course, population grew less than we projected as well. But the figures now are pretty clear. We're going to have to double productivity.
GLICKMANWe're going to have to vastly increase food production in order to meet both the increased population generally but also the increased diets of people in China and India, who are getting wealthier and they want better food to eat which means more meat, which means more grain that's fed to animals.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Chris, in Poolesville, Md. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISWell, I'm finding this dialogue very academic and not particularly practical. I think it's important to note that until and unless we here in the U.S. and all around the globe find new ways to drive energy that the methods that are being advocated for export are heavily reliant on fossil fuels and their derivates, including genetically modified seed and fertilizers. And I think that anything we do to try and export knowledge should focus on things that are more 150 years old and see where the population can get. That's my point.
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand when you say things that are 150 years old and see where the population can get.
CHRISWell, specifically the farming methods that rely upon the fertilizers and so forth that are being used so prevalently in conventional farming, as we describe in this country, are not conventional unless you're looking at only 100 years of history. That's my point.
NNAMDILet me hear Dan Glickman on this.
GLICKMANWell, first place, we can make major advances in yields and productivity in underdeveloped places, like the places I visited in Tanzania and Mozambique, without using vastly modern technology. A simple improvement in seed technology and seed utilization that's out there, they're buying a lot of these seeds already and an improved use of fertilizer can be done without exceptionally modern techniques.
GLICKMANAnd that would, even that would increase yields rather significantly as well but let's make no mistake about this, if you're going to have a world with great climate change, with volatile weather and rainfall patterns; if you're going to have a world that will probably have greater drought and greater pests, then you're going to have to use newer technologies in order to feed the world. Now, some of them are older, some of them newer but we can't do this without technology.
NNAMDII was about to ask how global climate change factors into what people are able to do in developing countries?
GLICKMANWell, it will probably hurt them more than hurt us in America because we have the capability of shifting production and moving it around this great geographical area that we've got. But let's look at the three areas. Water, about 75 percent of the water in the world is used for irrigation now. We have people moving from rural areas to urban areas where there's greater and greater demands for water.
GLICKMANSo water, we have water shortages because of climate change it will impact agriculture rather dramatically. The same thing is true with land and the same thing is true with pests and disease. Those are big outcomes of climate change and so all of that means is that the world is in this together.
GLICKMANNot just the developing world of sub-Sahara and Africa, but also the United States and Europe and the developed world, that we are all going to face challenges as a result of global climate change. We can meet those challenges if we expend the resources and we put the necessary research into effect.
NNAMDIHere now is John, in Bethesda, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNAfternoon. My question is whether, and I guess generally with a commentary like this ends up be overly narrowly focused, if you are going to try and improve feeding the world, should you not only be talking about improving methods of agricultural and, you know, trying to control issues like global warming but should also include things like family planning and birth control. There are just so many facets to this discussion.
NNAMDIPopulation growth, Dan Glickman?
GLICKMANWell, first of all, the population of the world is going to grow by two China's over the next 30, 35 years. That's almost 3 billion people so that's obviously a big part of it and, but the biggest factor, the biggest factor, in the whole issue of food insecurity and health problems like AIDS and malaria is poverty, okay.
GLICKMANSo, the gentleman has a good point in this but, you know, you got to start somewhere and what we're finding is that in these areas of the world, 70 percent of the people are involved in agriculture, that's what they do for a living. They produce food and most of it's in smallholder agriculture. So the best thing we can do to alleviate poverty is try to improve the economic conditions of producing food and that will have some spin-off in terms of the other issues that he talked about.
NNAMDII'm thinking about the situation in Bolivia where quinoa has become a popular health food. It's now quadrupled in price so locals can't afford it. When poor countries export food, it can sometimes become too expensive for their own people to buy.
GLICKMANThat's true. But I can tell you that if you look at the area south of the equator and Africa, that's kind of an academic problem right now. Right now, they produce maize, they produce corn, they produce areas of fresh fruits and vegetables. They can be consumed indigenously and domestically. They just need to do a better job of producing it and producing more of it. And that will require technical assistance and it will require newer technologies in many cases.
NNAMDIFood security is important for more than humanitarian reasons, is it not? As we've seen, food prices are related to political stability in a lot of countries.
GLICKMANWell, as I said, when you got a country that's got about a half of their disposable income going into the purchase of food, if you get prices going up 10 or 15 percent, you know, it's a monumental economic and political issue and to some extent the instability we saw in North Africa, particularly in Tunisia, but in other places like Yemen, I mean, it's just going to be exasperated greatly if we see the price of food go up significantly.
GLICKMANSo the two do relate to each other, that is, food prices (word?) is even more important than prices because if you spike, go down, go up in big quantities that gets people agitated and that causes political instability and that's why the United States needs to see this issue in more than just a humanitarian context. This is also very much involved in our political and economic security as well.
NNAMDIDan Glickman, from the world of motion pictures back to the world of agriculture. Thank you so much.
GLICKMANThank you very much and glad to be here. And next time you can ask me about that as well, you know?
NNAMDIWe will indeed. Dan Glickman is co-chair of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He's also the executive director of the Aspen Institute's Congressional Program. He was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001 and the head of MPAA for, what, years?
GLICKMANAbout six years, from the years 2002, in 2004 to 2010.
NNAMDIThe Motion Picture Association of America, we'll make sure we ask you about that the next time around.
GLICKMANI'll be waiting.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, more on "Food Wednesday," as commercially produced beer comes out of Washington once again. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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