Today, more than 75 million people around the world are starving and 800 million lack enough food to live a healthy life.
Every year, poor nutrition causes more than three million children to die from hunger, nearly half of whom are under the age of 5.
Making matters worse, there are an unprecedented four countries – Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria – experiencing near-famine conditions at the same time, and warring parties are, in many cases, deliberately blocking access to aid.
For decades, American farmers have played a critical role in reducing hunger overseas. Since the Food for Peace program was established by Congress in 1954, more than four billion people and more than 150 countries have benefited from U.S.-supported food security programs.
This relief is thanks in large part to the innovation, expertise, and unmatched capacity of American farmers to produce high-quality foods that are critical to meeting growing global needs.
Other developed countries have also spent billions of dollars in food aid to confront this global state of emergency, but no nation comes close to the United States.
Unfortunately, despite the American people’s generosity, we are not currently able to meet the tremendous demand as conflict hinders access to those most vulnerable to famine.
What you may not know is that we have an opportunity to feed nine million more starving people each year without spending a single additional taxpayer dollar if we modernize the Food for Peace program when Congress reauthorizes the farm bill later this year.
But modernizing Food for Peace does not mean removing the mission-critical role of American farmers.
According to research from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Government Accountability Office, and research institutions such as Cornell University and Montana State University, merely allowing the program to use a more flexible mix of American, local, and regionally-sourced foods would save up to $300 million, which could then be used to feed up to nine million more people and do so much faster.
Currently, Food for Peace requires almost all food aid to be sourced from the United States. In contrast, other governments provide much of their food aid from local and regional markets closer to starving populations.
In many cases, locally-sourced food can more efficiently reach those in need months sooner than food from the United States while still providing the opportunity for U.S.-sourced foods to help meet longer term needs when and where appropriate.
Furthermore, there are millions of starving people of all ages in war-torn regions where it is nearly impossible for American food products to reach.
Some have raised concerns that reducing the amount of food aid sourced from the United States might hurt American farmers.
The reality is that, while our country provides the lion’s share of global food aid, it represents only 0.2 percent of total U.S. agricultural output. Modernizing Food for Peace will save millions of lives without undermining our farmers, who will continue to be a key component of the Food for Peace program.
Efforts currently underway in Congress that we support would do just that. American farmers have a long, proud history of feeding the world. You can join them in continuing to be leaders in the fight against hunger by encouraging your representatives and senators in Washington to make modernizing the Food for Peace program a priority in this year’s farm bill.
Bob Corker, of Tennessee, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Chris Coons, of Delaware, is a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Zippy Duvall is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
This article was originally published by the Tennessean.