Farmers feed the world, but growing food is only one part of the hunger equation. Once food is harvested, it must make its way to consumers, whether they shop at the local roadside stand or at grocery stores on the other side of the planet.
Success requires effective channels of distribution–everything from competitive markets to sound infrastructure to free-trade agreements. Yet sometimes it also depends on the heroic efforts of humanitarians.
This year’s World Food Prize recognizes a pair of grassroots warriors who have made it their mission to fight hunger through charity. David Beckmann of Bread for the World and Jo Luck of Heifer International will share a $250,000 award for advances in food production. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the announcement on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Beckmann and Luck will formally accept their honors this October at an annual conference in Des Moines.
The World Food Prize usually goes to research scientists or more rarely to public officials. As leading members of non-governmental organizations, Beckmann and Luck are different kinds of laureates–but they’re also critically important partners in the ongoing struggle to feed impoverished people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that 1 billion people suffer from chronic hunger.
Nebraska native Beckmann is a Lutheran pastor who has led the Washington, D.C.-based Bread for the World since 1991. His Christian organization mobilizes activists on behalf of the hungry. Under his leadership, more than 72,000 active members who represent 5,000 local church congregations have leveraged the volunteer efforts of more than a million people. They’ve rallied public support behind increasing U.S. efforts to reduce hunger and fund development efforts in poor countries.
“Bread’s army of citizen advocates has engaged an ever-expanding network of concerned people urging support for legislation to change the policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist,” says a statement released by organizers of the World Food Prize.
Jo Luck of Arkansas became CEO of Heifer International in 1992. From its offices in Little Rock, she took a group with about 20,000 supporters and a budget of $7 million and turned it into a $130 million organization with half a million backers as well as a global presence. Last year, Heifer International supplied food to more than 1.5 million needy people around the world. Earlier this year, she stepped down as Heifer’s CEO but will remain president until 2011.
“A strong impact of Jo Luck’s legacy as the leader of Heifer is the binding together of people emotionally and economically, enabling them to envision and create a better life for themselves and their children,” says a World Food Prize release.
In addition to sharing our food and resources with the less fortunate, we must share our knowledge as well. Clinton made this point explicitly at the State Department: “Using science to feed the world is not only an imperative–it is a thrilling opportunity.”
Norman Borlaug certainly understood this sentiment. The “Father of the Green Revolution,” who died last year at the age of 95, founded the World Food Prize in 1986. His efforts to improve crop varieties as well as access to fertilizer and pesticides have allowed farmers to feed untold numbers of people who otherwise would not have had enough to eat.
As we transition from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution, (with Borlaug’s support), we’ll need to share our science and technology with people in developing countries. If we’re to realize the goals of groups such as Bread for Life and Heifer International and truly eradicate hunger, then we’ll have to make sure that farmers in nations with poor food security have the ability to take advantage of the world’s most promising agricultural methods.
One of them is biotechnology. Millions of farmers already make use of it–but millions more could still benefit.
This is the very best kind of humanitarianism: helping people help themselves grow the food they need.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer
Council of Advisors Emeritus for the World Food Prize Foundation and
Chair of Truth About Trade & Technology