Editors Note: Amanda Rives Argeñal, Policy Advisor of Christian Children’s Fund is speaking today, May 8, on Capitol Hill at a briefing on the rising global food prices and the impact it has on children. Read her remarks to the panel and find out what CCF has been doing to help alleviate some of the financial burden felt by CCF communities.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank the Congressional Children’s Caucus, the Congressional Global Health Caucus, and the House Sub-Committee on Africa and Global Health for holding this hearing on the critical issue of rising global food prices and the impacts on children. My name is Amanda Rives and I am a former Mickey Leland Congressional Hunger Fellow. I worked with Christian Children’s Fund (CCF), to find solutions to chronic hunger in Honduras and documented the impacts hunger has on children, their families, and their communities.
Christian Children’s Fund is a non-sectarian, international child protection and development organization serving the needs of children in 31 countries. As an operational NGO, we know first hand the severe toll the food price crisis is taking in developing countries and we are very concerned about its developmental, educational, and psycho-social impacts on children. I will focus my remarks today on what is happening to children in Honduras and Zambia, both CCF countries which have hosted Congressional Hunger Fellows, as well as Ethiopia.
The nutritional status among children in Honduras prior to this current crisis was already very troublesome; one in four children suffers from chronic malnutrition which leads to stunting, poor cognitive development, and poor performance in school. Yet in the last year, the price of maize, the key staple food crop, has nearly doubled. The price of beans has reached unprecedented levels, partly because of unfavorable weather conditions. Families are being forced to make very difficult decisions to put food on the table.
Ruben and Maria Perdomo have three children all under five years old. Ruben grows corn and beans on a small plot, and works as a day laborer cutting coffee to buy other staples. He now finds that his meager earnings don’t buy as much as they did just a few months ago. The family has switched to cheaper, less nutritious food and is eating fewer times a day. Ruben and Maria hope they will not have to sell their farming tools or use the seeds they’ve saved for next year’s crop.
CCF Honduras provides technical assistance for agricultural and livestock production and helps form farmers’ cooperatives to help families like the Perdomos. Yet this work is becoming harder as families as pushed over the edge by rising food prices. Increasingly many emigrate as a last resort, often to the US, leaving their children behind. As part of my fellowship in Honduras, I examined the links between hunger and emigration; these price increases will indeed result in more children being left behind as their parents are forced to search for work elsewhere.
In Zambia, CCF’s families have also decreased their food intake as global food price increases have been exacerbated by this year’s floods. I spoke with Adam Norikane, a Congressional Hunger Fellow currently in Zambia just yesterday. He told me, “The impact of the price increases on the rural poor here is shocking. The parents and caregivers I have worked with over the last year cannot find the money for bread and maize for their children. Many are forced to limit their meals to once a day and have cut oil out of their diets altogether.”
Mrs. Zulu, the mother of several children enrolled in CCF’s programs in Zambia, works in her small field from 4 a.m. until it gets dark at night. When she returns home she cooks a light dinner which leaves the children hungry as they go to bed. The rise in food prices has left Mrs. Zulu unable to purchase basic commodities to supplement what she grows herself. Her children’s nutritional status is declining rapidly and they are not doing as well in school.
In Ethiopia CCF is receiving more appeals from parents for direct assistance with food, medication, and schooling.
Hulagerish Tesfaye lives with her seven children near Addis Ababa. Earning just $ 30 a month as a day laborer, she successfully struggled to send all of her children to school, until recently. As prices climbed, she was forced to pull her eldest son out of school so he could work. She recently explained, “I am facing horrible challenges. Prices of food are increasing at an alarming rate and I could no longer cope. It seems we are getting poorer every day. We cannot even afford injera,” Ethiopia’s staple food.
CONCERNS FOR CHILDREN
CCF is very concerned about the developmental, educational, and psych-social impacts on children in four key areas:
Children aged 0-2 who suffer even brief periods of food shortages are likely to experience irreversible developmental delays,
Children who go to school hungry have trouble learning and are less likely to succeed in their studies,
Children who leave school to find work may fall into exploitative labor or even become victims of trafficking, and
Children whose parents migrate for work are more vulnerable and suffer emotionally from the absence of their parents
CCF’s approach has been and will continue to be one of sustainable, community-driven interventions to increase household food security. Programs to train families to raise goats and chickens, grow vegetable gardens, diversify crops and use irrigation help avert hunger and improve household nutrition. Training in management and marketing skills increases income, and empowers women and youth, who are often left especially vulnerable due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Food for Education programs keep children in school, especially girls, and help families cope with extreme poverty and income shocks. In countries throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia, we will continue to strengthen our commitment to long-term agricultural development.
As long as this crisis continues, CCF will respond to the urgent needs of children, their families, and communities to relieve their suffering. But short-term and emergency interventions ultimately take time and resources away from integrated, long-term programming which addresses the root causes of poverty. We hope that the global community will take crisis as a call to action and consider a significantly different approach to address world hunger and inequity.
The situation in Honduras, Zambia, Ethiopia, and other countries in the developing world is serious and it is expected to get worse. Families around the world are being forced to choose between feeding their families today and prioritizing their children’s futures - but there are solutions. The United States needs to provide emergency food aid and emergency investment in the current crop cycle to address these urgent needs.
But the current crisis will not be resolved by emergency aid alone. We are caught in a terrible cycle. We have under-invested in long-term agricultural development work, only to pay for these poor policy decisions later with greater and greater infusions of emergency aid. As agricultural development assistance has declined, food aid allocations and other forms of humanitarian assistance have grown.
We know that comprehensive agricultural development will have to be part of a long-term solution to hunger, as long as 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries and depend on agriculture for their food, employment, and income.
We respectfully request the US Congress to show leadership in addressing the underlying root causes of hunger and invest in long-term agricultural development.
Thank you for your attention.