WASHINGTON (Nov. 4, 2016) – A group of House and Senate Congressional staffers and influencers from the public and private sectors traveled to Niger with the global poverty-fighting organization CARE to see how U.S. investments in food and nutrition security are providing short-term food assistance to those in need and enhancing the resiliency and self-sufficiency of smallholder farmers and families.
Today, 795 million people around the world are chronically hungry and more than 160 million children are stunted. That’s one in every 9 adults without enough food, and one in every 5 children at risk of permanent illness and disability because of a lack of food. The delegation included House and Senate Congressional Staffers from California, Georgia, Iowa and Virginia who oversee legislative work on matters related to the U.S. government’s agriculture, farming and forestry programs, in addition to nutrition and health. This group was joined by influential leaders from the Office of Food for Peace, the University of Missouri, the World Food Prize and the James Beard Foundation.
During the three-day CARE Learning Tour, the delegation saw several U.S.-supported programs that are feeding millions of people throughout the country, and in turn, helping people feed themselves.
Niger is the largest country in West Africa, ranking as the least developed on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. The inability to access food and proper nutrition remains a reality in many communities, where poverty and malnutrition rates are alarmingly high. Almost half of all children in Niger are stunted or too short for their age. While about 84 percent of Niger’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods and primary source of income, most rural households cannot produce enough food to meet even their own consumption needs throughout the year.
Currently, during what is referred to as the driest period in the past 50 years due to El Niño, more than 41 million people face food insecurity and 28 million people are in urgent need of assistance in southern Africa. Recent El Niño weather patterns have devastated crop production in the region and caused severe hunger and acute malnutrition in Niger.
During the trip, the delegation visited a number of food assistance programs that are improving food security in the country and saving lives. This included a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse that prepositions food stocks. These warehouses allow WFP to be well-prepared for a sudden, onset emergency and to get food to those who need it most. The delegation also visited a Development Food Aid Program (DFAP) distribution center that provides life-saving food support to pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5 years old, as well as a private factory that provides fortified flour to be used in food preparation to reduce acute and chronic malnutrition.
They also saw important programs focused on empowering women and girls in Niger, including a girls’ empowerment program that provides nutrition education to adolescent girls, and a farmer field school that provides agriculture training and education to vulnerable farmers, particularly women. They also saw CARE’s innovative Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) program, which originated in Niger in 1991, mobilizing members, mostly women, who save together, then loan one another money to start businesses, and in this case, purchase the tools they need to grow nutritious food for themselves and their families. Some CARE savings groups in Niger fund, build, stock and manage village cereal banks that help communities withstand lean times.
Lastly, the delegation had important discussions with partner organizations and leaders about the progress underway to combat food insecurity in the country, including the World Food Program, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), the U.S. Mission and the governor of Niger’s Maradi region.
The United States has long been a leader in fighting global hunger, through emergency food assistance and long-term food security programs alike. Fifteen years into the 21st Century, fewer people are hungry than ever before. “To address short- and long-term food and nutrition security needs, it will be critical to continue building the resilience and capacity of smallholder farmers, particularly women,” said David Ray, vice president for policy and advocacy at CARE. “Women farmers and their families are vulnerable to a range of risks and shocks deriving from factors over which they have little or no control, including volatile food prices, natural disasters, human conflict and high dependence on dwindling natural resources.”
Changes to emergency U.S. food aid programs would allow for better and more flexible responses to food crises, like El Niño, with the option to buy locally when appropriate and to transport food as efficiently as possible. These program modifications would enhance lifesaving assistance and allow it to reach millions more people each year without additional costs. Smart policies will result in more effective assistance, more people helped, communities that are better able to feed themselves and the advancement of America’s core interests by investing a safer world.
Participants in CARE’s Learning Tour to Niger included:
• Anne Cafer, PhD, Dept. of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri
• Mary Dee Beal, Legislative Director, Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA-08)
• Alisha English, Program and Policy Coordination Officer, Food for Peace, USAID
• Devin Mogler, Legislative Assistant, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)
• Rachael Leman, Senior Director of Citizen Advocacy, CARE USA
• Mary Olive, Counsel, Senate Agriculture Committee Minority Staff
• Ashley Osterkamp, Legislative Director, Rep. David Scott (D-GA-13)
• Nicholas Rodman, Professional Policy Staffer, Republican Study Committee
• Nicole McAllister, Policy Advisor, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-03)
• Catherine Swoboda, Director of Planning, World Food Prize Foundation
• Kristin Wells, Senior Director of Government Relations, CARE USA
• Alvaro Zarco, Legislative Correspondent, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
For more information on CARE’s Learning Tours, please visit www.care.org/LearningTours. The CARE Learning Tours program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
ABOUT CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty. Last year, CARE worked in 87 countries and reached more than 97 million people around the world. To learn more, please visit www.care.org.
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