As the presidential election season has arrived so too has the worst drought to strike the United States in decades. This year more than half of all counties have been declared disaster areas according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. About 65 percent of U.S. farms are in the pathway of the drought which escalated significantly during July.
As President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney travel the country they will never be far from the drought’s impact. Farmers are feeling the strain of increased production costs to try and save as much of their crop as possible. Everyone will feel the drought’s impact with the expected increases in food prices. The full effect of the drought will be felt long after the summer has ended.
In a report on food prices USDA says, “We will likely see impacts within two months for beef, pork, poultry and dairy (especially fluid milk). The full effects of the increase in corn prices for packaged and processed foods (cereal, corn flour, etc.) will likely take 10-12 months to move through to retail food prices.”
Feeding America, the nation’s largest food aid organization, says 49 million people suffer from hunger. Increases in food prices will put further strain on families trying to put food on the table. Families on the border of food insecurity may soon fall in with the effect of food prices. High prices will also make it harder for emergency food banks to have food supplies on hand to help them. Safety nets for those in poverty will be essential to weather the latest storm of hunger.
But an increase in food prices will also harm of the most essential aspects of American foreign policy: fighting global hunger. The U.S. budget towards fighting global hunger is already facing cutbacks. If food prices are high globally, then these dollars will have reduced buying power to aid the world’s hungry. The budget for hunger fighting programs, which is less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget, would need to be increased.
U.S. hunger fighting programs like Food for Peace are needed to stabilize crisis areas in Sudan, Afghanistan, East Africa, Yemen the Sahel region and Haiti. If food supplies are reduced then dangerous malnutrition could threaten lives in these areas, particularly small children who suffer lasting physical and mental damage without enough food. Without food there is no hope for peace and development in any of these areas.
The World Food Program USA and other aid groups are calling on the President and the Congress to appoint a global food security coordinator. The coordinator, or full time food ambassador, would be a top-level position at the National Security Council who would coordinate the entire government’s response to hunger.
Both Obama and Romney need to have fighting hunger at home and abroad a key theme in their vision for America. For hunger is fast gaining strength in a time of devastating drought.