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Miami Herald - Defuse this Crisis

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Miami Herald - Defuse this Crisis

Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, has said: ``Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless.''

Today, millions of men, women and children around the world face, at best, hunger, at worst, starvation. By the World Bank's calculations, the price of indispensable staples -- wheat, rice, maize -- has doubled in the past three years.

From Haiti to Egypt to Bangladesh, riots have broken out as people demand the right to affordable food. For the billion people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day, higher food prices are the difference between a full stomach and hunger. For many, it is the difference between life and death.

The United States is not immune to the effects of the food crisis. At home, the price of eggs has jumped 35 percent. A gallon of milk costs 23 percent more. Even Sam's Club and Costco are limiting the amount of rice that consumers can purchase.

The cyclone that devastated Burma, the earthquake that hit China -- these natural disasters bring their own challenges. But the food crisis, which has been called a ''silent tsunami,'' did not come without warning.

The recent crisis was the result of a perfect storm of events, including record high oil prices and severe weather that cut major crop harvests in producing countries such as Australia by 40 percent.

But many factors have been obvious for years. This crisis is unacceptable morally and it is unsustainable politically and economically.

For years, foreign-assistance funding for agriculture development has been declining, from about 20 percent in 1980 to just three percent today. Necessary investments have not been made. Donor nations lack a coherent food-security strategy.

While investment in agriculture was shrinking, demand for food was exploding, as hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty in China and India.

With proper planning, foresight and coordination, this particular crisis might have been managed. But we have not changed course as the price of food has almost doubled in the past three years. Only now, with widespread hunger and civil unrest has the drumbeat of concern reached a high enough pitch to awaken us to action.

As all of the world's religions tell us, we have a moral obligation to feed the hungry. We once had the vision to do that. It was called the Green Revolution. It transformed agriculture practices in countries from Mexico to India. It allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. It saved a generation from famine and starvation. It was a model of what vision, planning and resources can do.

We need a new approach to food policy and the global food crisis. We should start by rededicating resources and attention in four areas:

• Reinvest in agriculture development. Some have called for a ''New Deal for Global Food Policy.'' I support those calls -- what the world needs is a second Green Revolution. That means funding for innovation, research and new techniques. Unfortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is cutting support for international agriculture research centers this year. This is a step in the wrong direction -- these centers are needed for a new generation of agriculture innovation.

• Make sure our institutions are organized effectively to address the food challenge. Various U.S. agencies pursue isolated agriculture strategies that do not share a common vision.

• Ask the hard questions and re-examine our own food policies. Does our current biofuels policy, which I have supported, that diverts corn from food to fuel make sense? Should we provide more flexibility to our food-aid program and allow USAID to locally purchase food abroad instead of requiring them to buy American food and shoulder all the transportation costs associated with that?

• Finally, the international community should consider a global compact on food that will eliminate crippling food tariffs affecting the poorest countries. With those countries, trade is not a matter of competition -- it is a matter of fairness. I understand that the administration is considering allowing Japan to sell its rice reserves in the open market. This is a necessary and important step, and I encourage the president to take the lead and allow this rice onto the market.

President John F. Kennedy once said: ``Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world -- or to make it the last.''

That was more than a generation ago. That challenge is still before us today.


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