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Presented to


July 16, 2008

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Delivering International Food Aid and Providing Foreign Agricultural Development Assistance

Good afternoon Chairman McIntyre, Ranking Member Musgrave, and members of the Subcommittee.

Thank you for calling this very timely hearing on delivering international food aid and providing foreign agricultural development assistance. I would like to express my gratitude for providing Catholic Relief Services the opportunity to share our insights — based on our long experience of programming food aid for emergencies and long-term development, including our support of agricultural development with poor farmers around the world.

My name is Sean Callahan, Executive Vice President of Overseas Operations for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Operating in more than 100 countries around the world, CRS is the international development and relief agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, drawing support from among the 68 million members of the U.S. Catholic community. And for more than half a century, we have been in a partnership with Food for Peace that has tangibly expressed the goodwill and compassion of the American people.

In my testimony, I will spotlight what I call the "Global Food Crisis" by citing the actual experiences of hungry people, including my personal observations. I will then focus on the deep roots of this crisis. Last, I will make five recommendations on food security to guide Congress in its response to the emergency: $2.1 billion for Title II, $300 million for the McGovern-Dole program, $230 million to replenish the Emerson Trust, more cash for local purchases and vouchers, and stronger partnerships with recipient nations.

Hungry People Suffer in the Global Food Crisis

As you all know, high commodity prices are affecting people in every country of the world, including our own. The average American family spends less than 10 percent of its income on food, while low-income Americans spend a larger proportion of their limited resources on food. An impoverished family overseas that typically spends about half its income on food is now spending up to 75 percent or more because of the Global Food Crisis. These price increases have made food truly unaffordable to the very poor â€" and sometimes the not-so-poor. This desperation is fueling the urban demonstrations and riots that have been springing up around the world over the past several months. The problem for CRS relief efforts is not the availability of food, but the soaring prices that make food less and less affordable for the poor in both urban and rural settings

CRS staff around the world has heard stories of families who are stretched to the limit by the high price of food. Some are having to make do with eating less at each meal. Some are already skipping meals, or even not eating on a particular day. Few can afford to buy meat or chicken for any of their meals. The most desperate will sell off precious resources, such as a water jug, a hoe or even the tin roof of their home in order to buy food. Tragically, they may even have to decide which child or children may have the best chance of survival and which, already ill and weak, will be allowed to die. These are the agonizing choices the global food crisis is forcing the poor to make.

Frequent reports from our CRS field offices document that this awful scenario is being repeated in many countries in the developing world. In some regions of Niger, families have started eating only one meal a day. In dire circumstances, some families have resorted to eating anza, a wild plant with bitter leavers, to supplement their diet. In northern Ghana, students have been taking CRS-provided lunches home to share with hungry family members. For some children, this means sharing their only meal of the day.

In southern and eastern Ethiopia, two consecutive seasons of poor rains have led to total crop failure. Many people in these areas now have nothingâ€"literally nothingâ€"to eat. And with food prices soaring worldwide, they cannot afford to buy the dwindling and increasingly expensive supplies in the market. As a result, we are beginning to see cases of severe malnutrition, especially in children.

I was in eastern Ethiopia last month, and I saw how the people there are already suffering. I visited a feeding site run by the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the Missionaries of Charity in a largely Muslim area where, over the previous five weeks, 28 children had died of malnutrition. The conditions there are already dire. They are going through a "green drought," where there was just enough rain to allow stocks to sprout 3 to 5 inches, but there is no yield.

I saw one Ethiopian parent bring a very sickly, lethargic child to the center for emergency treatment. The parent told the sisters, "I brought this child because I thought he could make it. My weakest child is at home." Nearby, a grandfather fed his grandson sips of milk every 30 seconds from a plastic syringe.

This Food Crisis Has Deep Roots

My first reaction on seeing all this was simply to bite my lip, to contain my emotion. My second reaction was anger. How could we let this happen? But the more I observed, I realized that this was a place of hope. I saw kids being fed and stabilized, getting better. Parents were thanking the workers for saving the lives of their children. This is an area that has had good production over the past five years, and they just need some immediate food assistance so that they can make it until the next harvest. And much of that help is coming in the form of food aid from the American people. They also asked for help to increase their planting for the next season. But if the next rainy season is poor and the next harvest fails, these people will be even worse off.

What really concerns me about his food crisis is that it is not a blip on the screen. This food crisis is structural. Its causes are complex and are based on fundamental changes in the global marketplace. The Economist magazine has called these changes "The end of cheap food," in recognition of a consensus that prices will not return to pre-food crisis levels.

This food crisis will be long-lasting. And it is just beginning. Its effects are being seen first in urban areas where people cannot produce their own food and cannot absorb the steep price increases. There is widespread drought in East Africa, and there may be other crop failures this year, beginning with the massive destruction of rice in Myanmar. Farmers who are struggling to feed their families will not be able to invest in fertilizer that has doubled in price and continues to rise, so their yields will be lower. By next February, this crisis will be deeper and broader as more segments of society are pushed into poverty by the combination of higher food prices and reduced availability worldwide.

Over the long term, there are several factors that could exacerbate the food crisis, including an increased demand for food generally, an increased demand for animal protein, higher fuel prices and the diversion of grain and oilseed crops for biofuel production. In addition, there is an emerging scientific consensus that there is evidence of global climate change, and that this phenomenon is having a significant impact on global agriculture. Earlier this month, the head of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change said the Global Food Crisis will only worsen because of climate change, as he urged the leaders of the G8 to set goals to reduce carbon emissions within the next dozen years. It is a fact that droughts and severe storms and other natural disasters are occurring more frequently and are adversely affecting food production. And it is inevitably those least responsible for the factors leading to climate change, the poor, who will bear the brunt of its effects. In terms of the response to this Global Food Crisis, we are looking at short-term measures as well as longer term initiatives.

In the short term, CRS believes we need to get cash and food into the hands of the urban and rural poor, so people can eat. Our plan is to provide cash vouchers to help both urban and rural families afford sufficient food during the crisis, where food is available. Eligible families would receive a set amount of food vouchers to supplement their food supplies when rising prices limit their purchasing power. This approach was successfully applied by CRS in 2006 as part of a drought response in Kenya with 2,500 expectant and nursing mothers and 3,500 families with malnourished children receiving food vouchers to supplement their food resources. Where there isn't sufficient food available, we are working with Food for Peace and the World Food Program to ensure delivery of imported food.

We are also providing an opportunity for people to receive cash for working on projects that better prepare communities to weather disasters like hurricanes or cyclones. For example, in Haiti, cash for work projects have helped to clear drainage canals that will help prevent flooding when a storm hits. We are also seeking to help farmers in the developing world by investing in seeds, fertilizer and other materials that will help them in the next planting season. For example, we have used a voucher approach to enable rice farmers in Burkina Faso to acquire both improved seed and fertilizer in order to boost production of this urban staple that is in such short supply. In Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Nigeria we are hoping to expand this approach, and we have a proposal waiting for funding to expand production in 16 countries across Africa, and to move from rice to pulses and eventually to roots and tubers such as cassava.

Unfortunately, within the current food aid framework, there are not enough cash resources available from Food for Peace to fund these types of programs, especially at the scale that is needed. In addition to using valuable food aid resources, CRS will also be devoting private resources to fund some of these short-term measures. This Global Food Crisis is bigger than food aid alone. The U.S. government should provide much more cash in the International Disaster Assistance and Development Assistance accounts to complement current food aid efforts.

In the longer term, CRS agrees with the general consensus among international PVOs that there must be a much more robust investment in agricultural productivity and market infrastructure in the developing world to reverse the decade-long decline in aid for agriculture. Ironically, the food crisis presents us with an opportunity to make a major impact in the fight against extreme poverty, particularly in Africa. Timely initiatives that increase agricultural productivity and expand small farmers' access to markets could go a long way toward easing the suffering caused by hunger. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his message to last month's FAO summit on food security:

Hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a world which has, in fact, levels of production, resources and knowledge sufficient to put an end to such dramas and their consequences. The great challenge of today is to 'globalize,' not just economic and commercial interests, but also the call for solidarity, while respecting and taking advantage of the contribution of all components of society.

Congress Can Help to Reverse the Global Food Crisis

The response by Congress to the Global Food Crisis has already been substantial, and I must commend you for this. The 2008 Farm Bill will greatly help us in this fight against global hunger. I would in particular like to commend Chairman Peterson and Ranking Member Goodlatte for their bipartisan leadership in crafting the 2008 Farm Bill. A number of initiatives that strengthen food aid and food security were included in the Trade Title that was enacted into law. Perhaps the most important of these is the $450 million safebox for developmental food aid. CRS views this provision as an important first step in reshaping United States international food and agriculture assistance policy and increasing global food security. United States international food and agriculture policy must integrate Title II, McGovern-Dole, and regular bilateral and international agricultural programs, while continuing to provide adequate and practical resources for emergencies.

I must point out, however, that the structural changes in commodity prices will likely erode any increases to developmental food aid in the safebox. The volume of commodities that can be procured and shipped will continue to decline as prices of food, fuel, and transportation skyrocket. Even with the recent supplemental appropriation, Food for Peace is not in a position to provide more food aid than it did in 2007, which had the lowest volume (at 2.6 million metric tons) in many years. So, in fact, we are right back to where we started unless we take other urgent steps. We must remember that Food for Peace operates programs fighting long-term hunger in only 18 or so countries. The World Food Program has identified more than 30 countries that are now affected by the current Global Food Crisis.

Moreover, as part of a broad Catholic coalition working on the Farm Bill, CRS had sought real price support payment reform, especially to level the playing field for poor small farmers in our partner nations so they can compete fairly and help their countries respond to the global food crisis. A major opportunity for real reform was lost and what functions as a subsidy system continues to help those who need it least instead of those who need help the most, both in the United States and abroad.

At the same time, we would like to thank the Congress and the Administration for acting to pass the FY2008/2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act. It will provide vitally needed resources to begin an emergency response, as well as to continue developmental food aid programs that build long-term food security.

Looking ahead, we would like to ask you to work with your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to help enact the following five initiatives build food security:

First, in addition to the $395 million included in the supplemental, we recommend that Congress fund the FY2009 regular appropriation for Title II at $2.1billion. This appropriation will bring the total appropriation for FY 2009 to $2.5 billion, the maximum level authorized in the Farm Bill. A level of $2.5 billion also ensures that we can provide enough food aid to match closely the average tonnage level of the last five years of 2.77 MMT (assuming a cost of $700 per metric ton). Only robust funding will fill the safebox and maintain the U.S. contribution to global food aid, while ensuring that we can respond to additional needs and ever-rising prices.

We also recommend that Congress provide complementary funding of $300 million for the McGovern-Dole Nutrition and Education program. This level would equal the amount that would be authorized by the Global Food for Education Pilot Program. It would ensure that the McGovern-Dole program could also keep pace with rising food aid costs while also responding more completely to the rising demand for integrated education and nutrition programs.

Third, the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust complements regular Title II emergency aid as an important reserve for responding to acute hunger. We urge Congress to replenish $230 million, the amount withdrawn in April and May of this year to address the current food-price crisis. We need an incremental replenishment now or the next withdrawal likely will deplete the Trust, the most timely and flexible resource for handling unanticipated food emergencies.

Fourth, the Administration and Congress must also recognize the need for cash resources as a necessary complement to commodities. In addition to new cash resources included in the 2008 Farm Bill, we urge you to work with your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to ensure that cash resources are provided in the International Disaster Assistance and Development Assistance accounts. We direly need cash to buy food locally or to support voucher and food-for-work programs, as may be appropriate.

Finally, we need to build stronger partnerships with the hungry and poor overseas. Money alone will not solve the problem of food security. We need real commitments from beneficiary nations to energize their own resources in the fight against acute and chronic hunger. We also need to rely on private voluntary organizations like CRS because we have durable and effective partnerships with the poor overseas. We further need to ensure that we integrate all food security programs in close cooperation with recipients and host governments. Such integration includes using cash wisely and making effective investments in agricultural development.

In conclusion, I want to once again thank you, Chairman McIntyre, and all the members of the subcommittee for your leadership on food security in the 2008 Farm Bill and for holding this hearing on responding to the needs of the hungry around the world. At Catholic Relief Services, we believe that the current food crisis will add another 100 million people to the 850 million people already suffering from hunger. This troubling reality requires the continued and augmented leadership of the U.S. government in providing for both chronic and acute hunger needs.

I would be pleased to respond to any questions that the Committee may have.