Kansas idea feeds 3 billion

Posted July 17, 2014

Kansans are, by nature, generous people. From holding soup supper fundraisers for community members to the “small town wave” you see while driving down Main Street, Kansans are always willing to lend a hand. In that tradition of giving, 60 years ago a grassroots movement started by a Kansas native was implemented on an international scale.

Peter O’Brien, a young farmer and rancher from Cheyenne County, suggested at his county Farm Bureau meeting in September 1953 that since the United States had an abundance of grain, maybe we could lend a hand to our global neighbors in need of food aid. It was a Kansas common sense idea: giving some of our surplus grain to countries in dire need, saving lives and building goodwill all in one simple gesture. A resolution was drafted at the county level and was soon adopted by the Kansas Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

In 1954, U.S. Senator Andy Schoeppel, also from Kansas, sponsored the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, a bill based on the grassroots resolution. The act was then signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. All of these efforts were fueled by a common goal. With a secure food source, people from developing countries could not only just survive, but they could then build a thriving national economy and potentially become buyers of U.S. exports. 

The Kansas connection is an integral part of the U.S. Food for Peace Program, but the global effects and need of the program are undeniable. Research has concluded that food aid increases net farm income by 52% which leads to effective land and labor utilization and increases employment by 93%. The rise in household income has an incredible effect on local diets. Participants consume 42% more fat, 26% more calories and 16% more protein, all necessary components to a healthy diet. 

A recipient of food aid in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said, “I feel relieved that at the end of each month I have food in my house, which gives me more strength to expand cultivation area. I would never have cultivated more than a half hectare (1.2 acres) before, but now I just realized a hectare (2.4 acres) of maize and a half hectare (1.2 acres) of beans.”

The USDA Economic Research Service currently estimates that the most food insecure countries have a food gap of 15.4 million metric tons, and that the level of need is expected to increase to 19.7 million metric tons by 2023. Last fiscal year almost 14 million bushels of hard red winter wheat were exported for Food for Peace programs. India’s wheat farms have become a Food for Peace success story. In 1971, five years after receiving funding from the program for high-yielding grain varieties, irrigation and other modern tools necessary for profitable production, India boasted a 404 million bushel surplus. 

More than 60 years after it was first drafted in the small town of St. Francis, Kansas, Food for Peace has been credited with saving over 3 billion lives. The accomplishments of the program were recently celebrated at a dinner in Washington D.C., hosted by Senators Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochran. Dalton Henry, director of government relations for Kansas Wheat, was in attendance. “It was refreshing to see politics put to the side in order to celebrate a program that does so much good in the world.”

Image: Food for Peace.