*EPF221 04/01/2003
Text: Persistent Hunger One of the Most Significant Development Challenges
(USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios Testifies Before Congress) (4660)

"Persistent hunger continues to be one of the most significant global development challenges we face today," with more than 800 million people being seriously malnourished worldwide, warned Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In testimony before the Committee on International Relations in the U.S. House of Representatives April 1, Natsios said "Most hungry people live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, although there are groups in all regions that are vulnerable to under-nutrition, either continuously or during specific seasons."

Most of the hungry are farmers, he said, who are unable to produce adequate food and income to ensure their families' well-being. "Under constant stress from poverty, malnutrition, and disease, these vulnerable people can be pushed over the edge to famine by drought, unwise government policies, or conflict," he warned.

Concurrent food crises are now under way in Afghanistan, southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and North Korea, he warned, along with a convergence of what "The Economist" magazine calls the double curse of HIV/AIDS and food insecurity.

"In these difficult times," Natsios said, the international community must act now to meet critical food needs around the world, while also addressing the causes of food insecurity to prevent future famines.

At the World Food Summit in 2002, Natsios said, the United States committed with other donors to cutting hunger in half by 2015. He then went on to chronicle for the lawmakers what the United States is doing to combat hunger worldwide.

Following is the text of the Natsios statement:

(begin text)


Chairman Hyde, Members of the Committee: It is an honor to be here today to discuss the status of worldwide food security, the role of U.S. food aid programs, and the increasingly difficult issues that the United States and the international community face trying to meet the humanitarian food needs of people around the world.


Persistent hunger continues to be one of the most significant global development challenges we face today. More than 800 million people, three-quarters of whom live in rural areas, are seriously malnourished. Most hungry people live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, although there are groups in all regions that are vulnerable to under-nutrition, either continuously or during specific seasons. Most of the hungry are farmers, but they are unable to produce adequate food and income to ensure their families' well being. Under constant stress from poverty, malnutrition, and disease, these vulnerable people can be pushed over the edge to famine by drought, unwise government policies, or conflict.

Today, we are confronted with concurrent food crises in Afghanistan, southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and North Korea. We are also witnessing, for the first time, a convergence of what "The Economist" magazine calls the double curse of HIV/AIDS and food insecurity. In these difficult times, the international community must act now to meet critical food needs around the world. But that is not enough. We must also address the causes of food insecurity, or we cannot prevent famines in the future.

At the World Food Summit in 2002, the United States committed with other donors to cutting hunger in half by 2015. That commitment means addressing access to food, availability of food, and improvements in agricultural productivity; it means ending famine, and improving nutrition. In order to make progress in this effort, we need to deepen our understanding of food insecurity and famine. Fortunately, we continue to learn lessons from our experiences using food and non-food resources in complex food insecurity problems.

One of the most important lessons that we have learned is that food aid and humanitarian assistance alone will not prevent these crises from re-occurring, even in the short term.

Famine is an economic crisis in which large numbers of people experience starvation and associated mortality. Most famine scholars and practitioners would agree that the understanding of famine and its complexity has grown enormously over the past half century. This research tells us that famine is a process, not an event. It is a process that provides us with early indicators (i.e., pre-famine indicators) of its onset. Despite this research, too many people attribute famine to drought conditions, when the reality is much more complex. We now recognize that regressive agricultural policies, failed markets, and destructive conflict drive famine more than drought alone. These characteristics of fragile, failed, and failing states, particularly when combined with a drought and high rates of HIV/AIDS, are the conditions that allow famines to occur. Only by addressing the root causes of these failures with the appropriate tools can the international community expect to prevent famines from occurring.

Because multiple crises occur simultaneously, the task of accurately identifying and addressing the root causes of famine is far more complex today than when drought was thought to be 'the only' famine problem. Furthermore, the potential costs of responding with the wrong tools, at the wrong time can be terrible, particularly given the cost of 'last resort' interventions such as airdrops of food aid.

As the President's Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance, I have visited famine-prone situations throughout the world and have watched vulnerable people cope with multiple famine threats. I am convinced that the best way to provide assistance to vulnerable families is to provide relief that also contains the seeds of their recovery.

When we see early indicators that may lead to famine, we need to intervene in ways to support the economic structures on which vulnerable families' survival depends. We are most familiar with using food aid to respond to situations approaching a famine. In many cases, this is the correct response, particularly in the short term. In other famine conditions, however, the total availability of food is not the primary issue. Where sufficient food is available for the local population - yet widespread food insecurity and hunger exists - we need a broader range of non-food famine prevention tools that can effectively address those factors that limit access to and utilization of those food resources.

Ethiopia's present food crisis is an example of a supply-driven famine. The country does not produce nearly enough food to feed its people, and it lacks the economic reserves to import sufficient food to fill the gap. In situations such as this, food aid, and more specifically imported food aid, is the appropriate short-term response.

Food aid alone, however, is clearly not the long-term solution for Ethiopia. The crisis in Ethiopia today is just the most recent in a series of food security crises that have devastated the country over the last twenty years.

The United States will provide more than $300 million worth of food aid this fiscal year. During the same period, we will provide $4 million of agricultural development assistance. While the Ethiopian government has taken a leadership role in responding to the famine, it has been reluctant until very recently to embrace the policies that will stimulate growth and investment in its agricultural sector to avoid future famines.

Unless the donor community invests in recovery and prevention initiatives while promoting good government policies, these periodic shocks will continue and so will the associated costs in lives and resources. The donor community must allocate more resources toward famine prevention activities such as those in the agricultural sector. At the same time, unless the Government of Ethiopia embraces accountable and open governance and enacts market and trade reforms necessary to increase the capacity of local producers, Ethiopia will remain in a chronic state of hunger. It is critical that we all do our part to put the systems and policies in place that will prevent the next food security crisis in Ethiopia from occurring.

In Afghanistan during 2002, the international community was faced with essentially a demand-driven famine. The countries surrounding Afghanistan had plenty of surplus food available, thus ensuring price stability, to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Unfortunately, approximately eight million people in Afghanistan did not have the purchasing power necessary to buy enough food. In this case, the United States and the international community both responded primarily with imported food aid. However, the tools did not exist for the U.S. Government to respond more effectively and, possibly, at lower cost to the taxpayer. Donors recognized that a more effective response in some cases would have been to create employment-generating opportunities that would have put cash, rather than food aid, into the hands of the poorest people who are most vulnerable in any famine. Cash would have allowed the people to meet their food needs and simultaneously stimulate markets and trade, thereby further promoting agricultural and economic development.

It is not just the humanitarian and developmental community that recognize the importance of employment and income-generating initiatives in promoting market and trade development. Gary Martin, the President and CEO of the North American Export Grain Association, recently said in a speech to the Capitol Hill Forum, "...that the best, most sustainable way to stimulate the growth of U.S. farm exports is to provide for income growth in developing countries."

The Southern Africa food crisis is the result of a major drought complicated by disastrous government policies in Zimbabwe. First, the Government of Zimbabwe implemented price controls for staples, such as corn, which inhibit production and trade. Second, it has backtracked on the liberalization of grain marketing, bringing corn back under the control of the grain marketing parastatal and creating a monopoly that prohibits open commercial trade. Third, the government's irresponsible expropriation of land from commercial farmers has decimated the most productive part of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector. As a result of these political actions on the part of the government, Zimbabwe has lost its position as a net exporter of grain.

Early reports do suggest that this year's maize crop in Zimbabwe may be slightly better in the northern parts of the country due to improved weather. Notwithstanding this improvement, however, this will still be far below the five-year average production for maize of 1.8 million metric tons (MT) due, not only to erratic rainfall, but also to flawed government policies.

Crop assessments in other parts of southern Africa report marginal improvements for Zambia, though not significant enough to prevent a third year of serious food insecurity, particularly in southern areas of the country. In Malawi, increased crop production due to better weather conditions will help to improve the overall food security situation. The Famine Early Warning System, or FEWS, has issued a food security alert for Mozambique, stating that, "A serious deterioration in the food security status of vulnerable populations in southern and central Mozambique is occurring and is expected to worsen over the next twelve months. A near-total crop failure in some zones, following a poor harvest last year, has been the primary cause of the current situation."

Southern Africa is also struggling with high rates of HIV/AIDS, which have exacerbated the effects of the political errors of the regional governments. With the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, Southern Africa has 28.1 million people living with the disease. In many cases, the disease is killing the most productive members of society, most notably in the agricultural sector. The economic impact is massive as investments are depleted and human resources are lost. HIV/AIDS is causing the collapse of social safety nets for families and communities, thus undermining the ability of both to weather economic downturns.

Efforts to promote an economic recovery in southern Africa must focus on addressing the economic and market policies that have tied the hands of the private sector while simultaneously providing critical assistance to vulnerable groups, in particular those infected with HIV/AIDS: The donor community, in this case, plays only a supporting role in the recovery of southern Africa, as the critical initiatives and actions related to economic reform must be driven by the governments of the region.


The problem of hunger in Africa is large and getting worse. The impact that this has on the prospects for current and future generations of African children, women and men is devastating, and highlights agriculture's contribution to reducing hunger and the consequences if we do not succeed.

Projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations indicate that hunger in Africa will increase, given current trends of economic performance, agricultural growth, conflict and limitations of existing policy. At present, one third of the entire population of sub-Saharan Africa falls below the poverty line and goes to bed hungry each night. By 2011, an estimated 50 percent of the world's hungry will reside in sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot wait until then to take action.

In Africa, meeting the Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half means reducing the estimated number of hungry from 206 million as of 2000, to approximately 103 million people by 2015. This is achievable, if progress can be made to accelerate agricultural growth, improve health and education, and reduce conflict.

If the conditions are created for agricultural growth to accelerate, the prospects for rural households in Africa are very promising. Per capita incomes can triple. Recent analysis by the IFPRI indicates that it is possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half. Specifically, the analysis shows that it is possible to make significant improvement in the incomes of the rural majority in Africa.

Investing in an integrated agenda to increase agricultural growth and rural incomes not only reduces the number of hungry; it can also reduce and save emergency food aid costs significantly. By 2015, at current projections, it is estimated that emergency food aid costs worldwide will be approximately $4.6 billion per year. Fostering agricultural recovery in famine-prone countries can create substantial savings in future emergency assistance. If we invest now and increase agricultural growth and rural incomes, it is estimated that food aid costs will drop to approximately $2 billion per year. This is a net reduction of over $2.5 billion per year.

While agriculture alone is not sufficient to end hunger or eliminate famines, hunger cannot be reduced or ended nor famines mitigated or prevented without agriculture playing a large and driving role in the development effort. In agriculture-dominated economies, including many African economies, agriculture accounts for greater than 40 percent of the impact (more than any other sector) on efforts to reduce hunger. Recent studies have shown that a 1 percent increase in agricultural productivity could reduce poverty by six million people in Africa.

If agricultural sector and rural incomes do not grow, however, the future prospects are bleak; rural households could be poorer in 2015 than they were in 1997.

A New Agriculture

Over the next five years, USAID is renewing its leadership in agricultural development assistance. This new agricultural strategy reflects adaptation to major emerging opportunities, including:

-- Accelerating agriculture science-based solutions, especially using biotechnology, to reduce poverty and hunger;

-- Developing global and domestic trade opportunities for farmers and rural industries, in particular by strengthening rural markets and increasing incentives to produce;

-- Extending training for developing world scientists and agricultural extension services to third world farmers; and

-- Promoting sustainable agriculture and sound natural resources management.

These new agricultural initiatives provide the framework for our future activities. Under each initiative, the Agency proposes to launch a set of activities that broadly signal a shift in USAID leadership in this sector and may leverage new commitments and funding from others.

Equally important, agricultural development is now seen as part, not the whole, of the solution. Investments in infrastructure, health, and education both reinforce and are made more viable by investments in agricultural growth.

U.S. Commitment to Reducing Hunger

Mr. Chairman, the United States retains its strong commitment to reducing hunger around the world. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, an Administration initiative to End Hunger in Africa was announced. This 15-year initiative is committed to the concerns of agricultural growth and building an African-led partnership to cut hunger and poverty. The primary objective of the initiative is to rapidly and sustainably increase agricultural growth and rural incomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

Congressional support for agriculture has also been strong. In FY 2000, Congress passed revised Title XII legislation restating the United States' commitment to the goal of preventing famine and freeing the world from hunger. This legislation provided USAID with a new and more positive legislative framework that supports the emergence of a "new agriculture" in developing and transition economies.

Global Food Aid Needs and Availability

The U.S. Government will be taking the steps I have just described to help address the long-term causes of food insecurity and famine. For the foreseeable future, however, significant levels of food aid will still be needed to provide an international safety net for the world's food insecure. As I mentioned previously, the world is currently faced with a series of large-scale food security crises. These crises have pushed international food aid requirements to their highest level ever. Global food aid availability, however, has dropped to its lowest level in more than five years. According to some estimates, global food aid requirements will exceed more than 12 million metric tons in calendar year 2003 - over 3.0 million tons more than the past global average. Needs in sub-Saharan Africa alone are expected to exceed 5.0 million metric tons.

Global food aid availability has been seriously reduced by a number of coincidental factors. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global cereal production declined more than 3.1 percent in 2002 when compared to 2001. More alarmingly, global cereal production was more than 80 million metric tons below consumption requirements.

In other words Mr. Chairman, the world consumed more grain than it produced last year.

Only through the availability of carryover stocks, primarily in developed countries, is the world avoiding a global food shortage. Because of the reduced global grain production, prices rose significantly for most major grains. Early in 2003, U.S. wheat and corn prices, for example, rose more than 39 percent and 25 percent, respectively, although some commodity prices have begun to decline. All of these factors, when combined with declining donor food aid contributions, are expected to reduce global food aid levels to no more than 8 million tons this year. With needs approaching 12 million tons and estimated food aid contributions providing perhaps 8.0 million tons, a food aid shortfall of more than 4.0 million tons is expected - the annual food requirement of approximately 20 million people.

U.S. Commitment to International Food Aid

Mr. Chairman, the commitment of the United States to use its agricultural abundance to help the less fortunate around the world is stronger today than ever. President Bush mentioned U.S. food aid programs during his State of the Union address on January 28th of this year when he noted with pride that, "Across the earth, America is feeding the hungry; more than 60 percent of international food aid comes as a gift from the people of the United States."

Congressional support for U.S. food assistance programs also continues to be very broad and bipartisan. The Consolidated Appropriations Resolution for 2003, which was signed by the President on February 20, provides $1.44 billion for P.L.480 Title II activities. This level of funding will again position the United States to be the largest, most responsive food aid donor in the world.

U.S. Food Aid Programs

Mr. Chairman, the United States has a number of food aid programs that it uses to meet a variety of food, market development, and food aid requirements. These programs, which include P.L. 480 Titles I, II, and III, Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949, the Food for Progress program, and the McGovern/Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (FFE) are administered either by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Title I, Section 416(b), Food for Progress, and FFE) or by USAID (Titles II and III). These programs are projected to provide a combined total of more than 4.0 million metric tons of international food aid in FY 2003.

The largest of the U.S. food aid programs, and the program that exclusively addresses the nutritional needs of vulnerable groups, is the P.L.480 Title II program ("Title II"). The Title II program is administered by USAID's Office of Food for Peace and is the flagship of U.S. humanitarian food aid efforts overseas. On average, the Title II program has provided more than 2.0 million tons of U.S. agricultural commodities per year, with a value of more than $850 million. With the $1.44 billion that the President has just approved for Title II, we estimate that the program will provide in excess of 3.0 million metric tons this year.

During FY 2002, the Title II program supported activities in approximately 45 different countries, in partnership with international organizations like the World Food Program (WFP) and the leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like CARE, Catholic Relief Services, and World Vision.

These types of activities bring direct assistance to more than 61 million people annually in both non-emergency and emergency response activities.

In addition to our appropriated food aid resources, the United States continues to maintain the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust. The Emerson Trust is a critical humanitarian reserve that remains available to meet urgent and extraordinary food needs. It is my hope that other donors, both traditional and new, will do their fair share to meet the needs of the world's most vulnerable people and thus obviate the need for the United States to draw from the Emerson Trust.

At the urging of the United States, in an effort to address famine and food security issues including current crises and prevention of future crises, a Contact Group of G-8 officials met informally in New York on March 5. The Contact Group discussed these issues with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, WFP, FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. This meeting provided a forum for the WFP to again share with the donor community the fact that there is a 4.0 million metric tom shortfall in food aid availability.

East Africa

In the fall of 2002, the Government of Ethiopia issued its first appeal for a looming crisis that could affect as many as 15 million people under a worst-case scenario. As a result of low and erratic rainfall during both the major and minor rainy seasons in 2002, Ethiopia was faced with an anticipated food deficit of more than 2.3 million tons. The drought, which followed just two years after another serious drought, exhausted the coping mechanisms of millions of pastoralists and subsistence farmers, making them completely dependent upon international food assistance for their survival.

Since the first Government of Ethiopia appeal, the United States, through USAID's Office of Food for Peace, has pledged more that 715,000 metric tons (MTs) of food aid to the people of Ethiopia with a value of approximately $320 million. This assistance totals approximately forty percent of the 2002/2003 food aid requirement in the country.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia will face renewed food shortages beginning in July, unless the international community provides further, significant contributions of food.

A near total crop failure in Eritrea has led to shortfalls there of 280,000 - 350,000 metric tons. Thus far, USAID has committed to supplying 100,000 MTs of that need, and another 33,000 MTs is planned. Together, this will raise the total U.S. contribution to Eritrea to $60 over million for 2002-2003. USAID is also providing 4,000 MTs of food assistance to refugees from neighboring countries now living in Djibouti.

Conclusion: Gaps and Future Challenges.

Mr. Chairman, as I have just reported, global food insecurity is complex and dynamic. There is no standard recipe of assistance that will solve all of the country or regional crises that I briefly described above. Each food security crisis must be addressed based upon the unique causes of that particular situation. The international community must develop a set of tools that are flexible enough to address the unique causes of each particular crisis. Those tools, together with the recipient government's attention to good governance and sound policies, will enable the global community to provide truly effective assistance.

The U.S. food aid programs that I described above are clearly the most effective in the world. This Administration, from the President and the Secretary of State down through the foreign affairs agencies, however, recognizes that food aid programs are just one tool among many that are necessary to address the complex needs of the least developed countries in the world. To meet these complex needs, the President has proposed a number of new initiatives that will give the United States the capacity to assist in both the prevention and mitigation of food security crises around the world. Let me briefly describe each initiative:

In his 2004 budget, the President has announced a new humanitarian Famine Fund. The President's Famine Fund is a $200 million contingency fund for dire, unforeseen circumstances related to famine. Use of the fund will be subject to a Presidential decision and will be disbursed by USAID, modeled after the International Disaster Assistance funds to ensure timely, flexible, and effective utilization.

The Famine Fund is intended to support activities for which other funding is either not available or not appropriate. It will increase the flexibility of the United States to anticipate and respond to the root causes of famine. Potential uses might include:

-- Leveraging non-traditional donor contributions through "twinning."

-- Supporting cash initiatives where "access" to food, rather than "availability" of food, is the barrier to food security.

-- Supporting initiatives that leverage broader donor support for famine prevention.

The President's FY 2003 supplemental and FY 2004 budget request includes funding for a new U.S. Emergency Fund for Complex Foreign Crises ($150 million in the FY 2003 supplemental, $100 million in the FY 2004 budget). These proposals will assist the President to quickly and effectively respond to or prevent unforeseen complex foreign crises by providing resources that can be drawn upon at the onset of a crisis. This proposal will fund a range of foreign assistance activities, including support for peace and humanitarian intervention operations to prevent or respond to foreign territorial disputes, armed ethnic and civil conflicts that pose threats to regional and international peace, and acts of ethnic cleansing, mass killing or genocide. Use of the Fund will require a determination by the President that a complex emergency exists and that it is in the national interest to furnish assistance in response, similar to the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) Fund.

Mr. Chairman, there are clear limits to what U.S. assistance can do to promote peace, stimulate development, and prevent and mitigate crises. Without the combined efforts of the donor community and, more importantly, the recipient governments themselves, progress will be limited. By combining our established tools, like our outstanding food assistance and disaster assistance programs, with new initiatives designed to focus on prevention and mitigation activities in least developed countries, we can significantly increase the possibility of either preventing a crisis from developing or, at least, reduce the severity of a crisis that does develop.

I urge Congress to support these critical new initiatives that have been proposed by the President.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any of your or the Committee's questions.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Return to Public File Main Page

Return to Public Table of Contents