Can We Solve World Hunger? Reflections on Global Food Security

On February 22, 2017, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres addressed a press briefing, pleading with UN member countries to help fight the humanitarian crisis that has resurfaced in North-East Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. This crisis, which has been developing for decades, is at a critical turning point and gaining international attention. Twenty million people in the Middle East and Northeast Africa are facing food insecurity, which often leads malnutrition, starvation, and death. Guterres urged members to remember, “In our world of plenty, there is no excuse for inaction or indifference.” This issue will not resolve itself and the global community needs innovative and creative solutions to address food insecurity. It is the responsibility of the current and incoming generation of world leaders devote more time and resources to combating an issue that will shape the health and stability of the growing global population.

What is the crisis?

World hunger finds itself on a list of cliché phrases that makes it into speeches and reports by organizations and speakers aiming to garner attention for their mission, or support for a larger cause. But what is world hunger?

Although there are many ways to define hunger in its literal sense, the Hunger Project describes hunger as a symptom of the problem of poverty, dependence, and inequality. This holistic understanding brings light to all parts of hunger, not just the physical aliment. Understanding that hunger is result of many underlying issues has helped improve the quality of responses to the issue, but the sense of urgency surrounding this issue has dwindled in the past few decades. The numbers show an increase in people affected by hunger and malnutrition, and a decrease in funding to help combat this issue. The UN is calling this “the greatest humanitarian crisis” since 1945.

Source: BBC 

Why is there a surge in world hunger?

Food insecurity is hitting North Africa and the Middle East the hardest. There are many factors contributing to this widespread food shortage, including some that did not exist until recently. Conflict and fighting prevent the neediest populations from accessing food because of large-scale displacements and reductions in the flow of resources. Additionally, unstable governance leaves little structure to get food to those who need it, and federal money may not make it into the hands of the people who can do the most to help. Finally, poor infrastructure, like unpaved roads and a lack of vehicles, makes the distribution of resources near impossible. The list goes on, and the situation continues to disintegrate.

This crisis is certainly on the minds of those working on food security issues on a global stage. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, a list of tasks to achieve worldwide by the year 2030, lists Goal 2 as “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” This is no small undertaking, especially because the global population is expected to grow to 9 million by 2050 and the demand for food will grow. There are ways we can work towards achieving this goal, but it will require a better understanding of the causes of food insecurity.

Reflection on the future of food security

After recently attending the 2017 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition on Food Security, along with nearly 400 other graduate students in public policy and management from around the world, I can reflect on this global food crisis through a new understanding of the challenges we face to achieve the UN goal.

This one-day immersive computer simulation asked us to use our background in policy and administration to advance global food security by creating and implementing local and national level projects. Each hypothetical project would affect each region in different ways, but ultimately would increase or decrease our overall food security score. At the end of this experience, the largest takeaway was clear: there is no one cure for food insecurity.

Food supply and demand play a large role in the global hunger crisis, but these are affected by agricultural conditions, natural disasters, economic incentives, land area, and more. Each time we chose a project that would target one area of insecurity, it would have an unintended consequence on another area; sometimes positive and sometimes negative. As our frustrations grew, we became aware of the challenges world leaders face to solve this dilemma. Although we may not have solved world hunger that day, we were able to present a few targeted solutions based off our research and simulation:

  1. Funding of crop-specific investments and innovation: This is important to help increase the value of the crops being produced worldwide, in order to prevent disruption to production already in place. This empowers farmers to take more ownership of their crop and consider ways to produce at a higher rate through innovative techniques with less resources, or find new ways to use crops. Farmers need encouragement and incentives to produce in a more market friendly way and prevent additional waste from misuse.
  2. Diversification of Infrastructure: Every region of the world has different infrastructure needs and should be addressed in a strategic and specific way. Investments in infrastructure will make a significant difference over time and, specifically, investments in diversification will help to improve access to land and increase non-farming employment.
  3. Community Based Access: Buy-in is very important for new food security initiatives, and it is essential to include vulnerable populations, like women, families, and indigenous people. Programs that increase access to best economic practices education through community based organizations will lead to these communities being able to produce more, which in turn will increase household incomes and reduce poverty.

It is through more programs like this, and more access to resources on food security, that attention will shift to the root causes of hunger. However, change also comes down to funding. Without the appropriate amount of funding for projects in developing countries, hunger will continue to strike, and the death rates will rise. Current efforts to cut funding to global organizations that are working on behalf of the UN’s mission are concerning. Without developed countries like the United States taking a serious role in funding innovative global food projects, those countries struggling to save vulnerable communities may be without options and this crisis will continue.


Image Source: Vocative

What is Our Obligation? The Refugee Crisis and the U.S. Elections

This election cycle has been a whirlwind of high emotions and increased division in our country. As the rest of the world watches our presidential election in astonishment, we have admittedly been less concerned with the issues facing the rest of the international community, in particular, the refugee crisis. Starting in the Middle East, this crisis has permeated through a large portion of Europe, but it has fallen on the back burner in U.S. policy.  With the continued violence in Syria, North Africa, and other parts of the Middle East, the migration of refugees and asylum seekers has increased and is already reaching the boiling point. Without the resources and the public will to solve this issue quickly, this will be a crisis that will shape the rest of this decade. Although we are a country unified by the principles of liberty and freedom, there is a schism growing among the American population perpetuated by the recent terror attacks and platforms of our recent presidential candidates. Before the Paris terror attack last November, a CNN poll found that 83% of Americans supported the U.S. providing direct aid to refugees. After the attack, 53% of Americans were in favor of closing off refugee settlement completely in the United States. This interesting polarization, developing from a sense of fear about national security and xenophobia, begs the question: Do we have an obligation to this crisis? And if so, what obligation do we have as a country to bring refugees into our country?

A Hand in the Crisis

For some Americans, the past plays an important role in determining how we deal with global crises. The belief that we, as citizens of a country founded and built by immigrants, feeds another belief that we should accept those seeking freedom from persecution. For others, the fear of homegrown terrorism outweighs the humanitarian interests. They favor protecting our country by cutting off those who could bring it harm from the inside. According to a November 2015 study by Gallup, this type of response is not new. In the past, during global humanitarian crises, Americans have generally opposed accepting refugees into the country for fear of bringing in potential terrorists or criminals. However, there is new evidence that shows this kind of fear is highly over-exaggerated, and draws away from the real problem at hand.

Alexia Fernández Campbell of The Atlantic writes in her article “America’s Real Refugee Problem” that “Refugees face an exhaustive screening process by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that can take years.” The argument that groups like ISIS have planted members in refugee groups to attack other countries is debunked by research that shows recruitment for ISIS focuses on bringing fighters to Syria, not sending them away. Research coming out of the Brookings Institute argues that “The refugees themselves, fleeing war and extremism, are not strong supporters of the most violent groups: if they were, they would have stayed in Iraq or Syria.”

Many in the field agree that the best way to protect Americans from homegrown terror attacks is to integrate refugees into the economy and the community. Campbell states that the hardest part of refugee resettlement is dealing with a system that provides no support. She claims, based on her interviews at a refugee community in Minneapolis, that our concern should not be with “extremist” refugees entering the country, but with them struggling in poverty from the isolation they face in American society, where they are largely on their own after entering the country. A well-funded, and properly implemented integration system will be integral for the United States dealing with the refugee crisis. However, this sort of integration process has not been at the forefront of the discussion of refugee policy in this election. On the debate stage, the issue is at a standstill between whether to accept or deny acceptance of refugees into the country.

The Election and the Crisis

Both Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton have offered policy proposals to deal with the refugee crisis, but it is very clear that each comes from a very different perspective on the role of the United States in this global issue. The crisis speaks to who we are as a country, who we want to be in the future, and what our role in international crises will be from this point forward. Trump’s platform on this issue relies heavily on the wave of fear that has come with the increase of terrorist attacks worldwide. According to the BBC, Donald Trump “has called for the US to suspend resettling refugees until ‘extreme vetting’ procedures can be implemented, including ideological tests to screen out extremists.” In contrast, Hillary Clinton “has pledged to welcome Syrian refugees and allow refugees and asylum seekers ‘a fair chance to tell their stories.’ She proposed to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees to help alleviate the crisis created by the Syrian war.” However, neither candidate has discussed the bigger picture: developing our national integration policy. In this last year alone, the Pew Research Center states that the United States accepted 85,000 refugees, and that number is still growing. What will be important as we continue to address the refugee crisis is that we need to provide adequate programs and sources of assistance to help them rise out of poverty, in order to truly repair this humanitarian crisis.

In light of Donald Trump’s recent victory and his stance on the refugee crisis, the future of the United State’s humanitarian efforts are uncertain. However, as a world leader and a current participant in this crisis, it is our obligation as a country to help those who settle here participate in the economy and create a better life than the one they escaped from. It doesn’t just pertain to our humanitarian interests; it will also help to keep our country safer from the threat of terror.

Image source: Haaretz, AP