Monday, July 2, 2007

The Crisis in Sudan

What would you do if you saw a young girl starving and near death?
by Doug Williams

In March 1993 photojournalist Kevin Carter saw 20 people dying of
starvation every hour as he was on assignment in Avod, a village in the
famine-ravaged Sudan. After working to exhaustion and overwhelmed, he
wandered away from an emergency feeding center into the open bush, where he
saw an emaciated child collapsed from hunger.

Instinctively he began photographing her when a vulture landed nearby.
After Carter snapped several pictures, he chased the bird away, collapsed by
a tree, and cried as he thought about his own daughter Megan.

Carter's photograph of the vulture and the girl gained him
international recognition when it was published in the New York Times on
March 26, 1993. He was also roundly criticized when he admitted to not
helping the child, one of thousands dying all around him, yet won a Pulitzer
Prize the following year.

Tragically, two months after Carter won the Pulitzer, he committed
suicide.

Sometime during the next year Congress will be revising the U.S. Farm
Bill. The bill has enhanced food production in this country for decades, and
generally has tried to help U.S. farmers reduce world hunger. Over time the
legislation has become less and less successful.

A community of concerned people in Nashville is organizing a letter
writing campaign to encourage members of Congress to reform the Farm Bill to
better meet the needs of small and moderate-sized farms and rural
communities.

The farm bill includes commodity payments, which are cash payments
made to farmers growing mostly five crops-corn, wheat, cotton, rice and
soybeans. Unfortunately, this program has become unintentionally devastating
for small farmers in rural America and poor countries in the developing
world.

Why?

Over time commodity payments have shifted dramatically to the very
largest farms, which often are also the wealthiest farmers. Because the
commodity payment system encourages these farmers to concentrate on the five
crops, world markets are being flooded with these crops, which are sold at
prices lower than what it costs to produce them.

Kevin Miskell is a fifth-generation farmer, struggling to make ends
meet by raising corn and soybeans. He would like to see a more equitable
system to help the small farmer, and he adds that he wants "a farm program
structured so that farmers get most of their money from the market, not from
the government."

Reforming the existing commodity payment program would help small
farmers in rural America get a higher price for their own crops and give
them a better chance to escape poverty. It would also assist poor countries
around the world increase food production and help end hunger.

The Farm Bill is also a primary tool for reducing hunger through the
Food Stamp Program, our nation's first line of defense against hunger. An
increase in funding for the Food Stamp Program could allow families to
afford a more nutritious diet.

Some public health experts contend that U.S. farm policy, by heavily
subsidizing corn and soybean production, is contributing to the alarming
rising rates of obesity among children in low-income families. The high
fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil, by-products of
subsidized corn and soybean, are low cost ingredients used in almost all
processed foods.

Calories in the U.S. are cheap, whereas healthy nutrients are
expensive. A revised Food Stamp Program could provide incentives for
purchase of fruits and vegetables that would improve healthy outcomes and
reduce health problems in the next generation of Americans.

Improving the U.S. Farm Bill will not be easy, as there are factions
in the farming industry that are reaping mega-dollars as it is currently
written. You can learn more about the Farm Bill and find sample letters and
contact information on members of Congress on the internet at:
http://www.bread.org/

Please take a few minutes of your time to write our representatives
and let them know it's time to begin helping hungry children around the
world by reforming the U.S. Farm Bill.

Doug Williams is a member of the Cathedral Catholic Church. The Social
Justice Committee at the Cathedral is conducting a letter writing campaign
in conjunction with Bread for the World.

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