Food Security

Something Rotten?

Globally, the price of food is skyrocketing, causing riots in developing countries. In the U.S., food banks are running low on donations and high on visitors. At the same time, tons of edible food gets dumped in U.S. garbage cans. But there are a few signs of hope.

“Restauranteurs in Little Rock are thinking big about the waste stream,” writes Jonathan Bloom on his blog, wastedfood. com. “A ‘waste audit’ at one restaurant found dumped food was the largest portion of the waste stream and that 79 percent of the trash was recyclable.” While the issue of food remains on the front burner of international news, you’d never guess what’s going into your local landfill:

  • 27 percent: Food available for consumption in the U.S. in 1995 that ended up in the garbage.
  • 27.6 million tons: Amount of food waste produced by Ameri­cans in 2003. That was 12 percent of the total waste stream for that year.
  • 20 percent: Increase in clientele reported by America’s Second Harvest, the largest network of food banks in the U.S., in spring 2008. Their donations are down by 9 percent.
  • 5 percent: Amount of recovered food waste that the Depart­ment of Agriculture estimated could feed 4 million people a day. Recovering 25 percent would feed 20 million people.

Sources: “One Country’s Table Scraps, Another Country’s Meal” (The New York Times); www.wastedfood.com.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2008
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Growing Power

Growing a solution to hunger is what farming has always been about, but the Foods Resource Bank has taken that old tradition and connected it to addressing the world’s hunger problem in a new way. The organization partners U.S. farmers in rural churches with city churches to literally “grow” a response.

In more than 200 projects across the country, communities are raising crops and livestock to use the productive power of agriculture to raise money for the world’s poorest people. It is an entrepreneurial pursuit, not just a fundraiser. Each growing project takes land, labor, seeds, and implements and puts them to work to make the money needed to fund sustainable development in the global South.

Take as an example the Foods Resource Bank growing project in Archbold, Ohio. Cattle farmer Corwin Rufenacht saw a video at his church about Foods Resource Bank (or FRB) and thought about all of the empty barns in his community. Like much of rural America, his area has a declining numbers of farmers, a trend that has seen a more than 70 percent reduction in the number of farms since a peak of 6.8 million in 1935 (the reduction is due to reasons that include suburban sprawl and ever-more engineered production techniques that favor farm consolidation). There was land available and barns being unused. “Why don’t we do a project with beef,” Rufenacht thought.

Corwin, his brother Jim, and several other local farmers decided that they would use one of these abandoned barns to hold cattle and feed them for market. Other local farmers soon donated feed for the cattle and others volunteered to offer their hand in the care of the steers. They started with 37 Holstein steers—cheap cattle that can turn a good profit. They fed the steers over the winter until they were 600 pounds each and then sold them at auction in the spring. The money they raised went to a rural community in Kenya that built small dams to provide water for farming.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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Planting Justice for Farmers

From the barley fields of ancient Israel to the parables of Jesus, God's concern for the livelihoods of and challenges experienced by farmers is evident. Today, the almost 3 billion people in farming families around the world are faced with an often-devastating economic landscape; half of the world's hungry people are smallholder farmers. Many farmers in the U.S. are struggling as well.

A big part of the problem for farmers in the global South is that trade agreements have cut poor countries' ability to protect their farmers with tariffs and other measures. These agreements have also helped foster a model in which monoculture crops are produced by a petroleum- and pesticide-intensive process, then shipped long distances. This cuts the market price of crops while racking up high costs to biodiversity, to the environment, to local food security, and to communities.

While a few large farms in the global South may benefit from adopting the export-driven model, most small farmers overseas are often unable to compete; many are forced to join the ranks of the urban poor. Farmers in the U.S. also feel a financial squeeze, as they are forced to adopt the agribusiness model in order to produce at the market price, and therefore must buy pesticide-resistant or other (often genetically modified) seeds and raw materials at "company store" prices.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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Food First

Have you eaten today? Fed dinner to the family, grabbed a snack on the run? Then you’ve felt the impact of the U.S. farm bill. And so have people who struggle to have enough to eat—both in the United States and in developing countries.

The farm bill, set to be reauthorized by Congress this year, is a wide-reaching piece of legislation. Principally, it aims to help U.S. farmers. Over time it has become less and less successful at doing so. The farm bill includes commodity payments, which are cash payments made to farmers growing mostly five crops—corn, wheat, cotton, rice, and soybeans. Commodity payments are supposed to protect farmers from low prices by making up the difference between a target price and the actual market price.

In reality, commodity payments are not very effective risk management tools for farmers. Because they are based on production levels, commodity payments have shifted dramatically to the very largest farms, which often are also the wealthiest farmers. Farmers who need payments the least are receiving the most, and two-thirds of U.S. farmers receive no payments.

Farmers in developing countries feel the effect of U.S. commodity payments in devastating ways. With U.S. farmers encouraged to focus on the five commodity crops, world markets are flooded with these crops. Cotton farmers in Mali and Senegal, for instance, have a difficult time even selling their cotton in their own countries, unable to compete with the low prices of subsidized cotton from the United States and Europe. For many subsistence-level farmers around the world, U.S. farm policies—and other factors outside their control—can crush hopes of getting out of poverty.

Though less extreme, the picture of rural poverty in the United States is likewise grim. Nearly 400 U.S. counties have experienced poverty rates of over 20 percent for the past 30 years. Nine out of 10 of these “persistent poverty” counties are rural.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2007
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