Why are More People Trying to Cross the Border?
With America’s current politicians, U.S. border security is tighter than it has been in decades. In the spring of 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance immigration policy to discourage migration into the U.S. The policy required detention of all individuals who crossed the border illegally, with or without children.  This resulted in the separation of children from their parents and their placement in shelters around the country. The U.S., however, halted the policy on June 20, 2018, due to widespread backlash.  The government has been letting thousands of held migrants go free because it lacks enough beds to hold them in detention facilities. However, these implementations have not been successful in deterring people from attempting to illegally enter the country. With the heightened security, why are more people trying to cross the border?

The Decrease in Mexican Immigration

The important thing to note with the changing migration patterns is the demographics of the people. Undocumented immigrants are no longer mainly coming out of Mexico, which is how it has been in the past. In fact, the number of people fleeing Mexico is on the decline.  Since 2007, the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. declined by 2 million. They now make up less than half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. This is due partially to the increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the increase in price for human smugglers, but there are other factors too.

  • The economy in Mexico has improved and Mexican employment opportunities are rising.
  • Fertility rates in Mexico have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, from seven births in 1960 to only 2.1 in 2019.
  • Not only are there fewer immigrants, but the Mexican immigrants that are crossing the border have higher education and are more fluent in English than the U.S. has seen in the past.  Mexico is undergoing a demographic shift and a technological transformation that is making it more habitable for its population.

With the decrease in Mexican immigration due to an increase in Mexico’s living conditions, why are more people trying to cross the border? As Mexico increases opportunities, immigration statistics are shifting to the impoverished Central Americans.

Increase in Central American Immigration

In Central American countries, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. The Northern Triangle of Central America, or NTCA, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, has one of the highest homicide rates on earth and many consider this area to have some of the most dangerous countries. America is not the only country seeing a huge influx of these immigrants as well. Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have seen a 432 percent increase in asylum applications, the majority coming from the NTCA.

Over 90 percent of the new illegal immigrants entering the U.S. is coming out of Guatemala specifically. Why are more people trying to cross the border? It is because of the challenges of poverty and violence in Guatemala.

  • About two-thirds of Guatemalan children live in poverty.
  • Over two-thirds of the indigenous population live in poverty.
  • The wealth distribution in the country is one of the most uneven distributions in the world. In fact, the top 1 percent control 65 percent of the wealth, and the top 5 percent control 85 percent. The economic elite is not indigenous either as most members have European heritage.
  • Guatemalans are itching to flee areas ridden with conflicts over land rights, environmental issues, official forced labor policies, gang violence, prostitution and human trafficking, and depressing crop prices that destroy farmers’ ability to make profits.

What the US is Doing to Help Guatemala

Fortunately, the U.S. is working to help improve conditions in Guatemala.  Traditionally, Guatemala and the U.S. have had a good relationship with a few disagreements over human rights and military issues. Guatemala has a strong trade system in place and the U.S. benefits by working to improve conditions there regarding security, governance, food security, civil rights, education, crime reduction and health service access for the people.

The U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America put in multiple initiatives including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Central American Regional Security Initiative and Food for Peace. The U.S.’s goal is to spur development in Guatemala and reduce the desire for illegal immigration into the U.S. The Trump Administration proposed to substantially cut funds for the country and to completely eliminate food aid. Congress shot down much of these cuts in the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2018 and 2019. However, in March 2019, the Trump Administration did suspend all U.S. military aid in the country when the Guatemalan government misused armored vehicles that the Department of Defense provided to combat drug trafficking. The Trump Administration is still actively trying to cut or eliminate all U.S. aid to Guatemala and the NTCA, but Congress remains actively invested in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

– Gentry Hale
Photo: Flickr

what is hunger
Hunger is an easy enough concept to imagine. Most people in the world have experienced it at some level or maybe even gone an entire day without food. But what is hunger at a global level? When hunger is discussed as an issue, there is a major gap between the conception of hunger and how those without access to food experience hunger. In the end, hunger is a systemic problem in people’s lives; those who suffer from hunger are unable to consistently achieve proper nutrition and face food insecurity.

Facts and Figures

Hunger still affects more than 800 million world citizens. This number reflects about one in every nine people worldwide. Hunger is most common in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population suffers from undernourishment. The continent of Asia contains the highest number of hungry people, while Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger – one person in every four faces undernourishment. 

Famine: Extreme Hunger

The most extreme cases of hunger on a public scale are famines, where an excess of deaths occurs as a result of starvation or hunger-induced diseases. These diseases are often preventable with a proper diet, but although there is an excess of food worldwide, the hunger originates in that food being inaccessible. Lack of access is often caused by a insufficient funding and war within an area, as seen in the South Sudan famine declared by the U.N. in February of 2017.

In daily life for undernourished people, hunger takes the form of reduced meals. In 2011, a drought in a Kenyan herding community caused sickly animals. As a result of not being able to afford enough to eat, one woman’s family was forced to cut back to just one or two meals per day as opposed to three. They also could no longer afford “luxuries” like milk. Even with access to water, there is no money to buy food if crops and animals cannot produce. 

The Costs of Hunger

New research shows that generations down the line will also be impacted by the costs of hunger. While it is well-known that young children are often the most vulnerable to hunger, Columbia University’s 2014 study of genes in roundworms after an initial starved generation found that small changes in an organism’s molecular makeup due to its health can be passed on. This means that even after hunger has been reduced, future generations may still see its effects in their own lives.

Combating Hunger

Fortunately, hunger and famine rates have decreased. The Global Goals of Sustainable Development include ending hunger and creating food security and sustainable farming as its number two goal, set to be achieved by 2030. The best strategies for ending hunger are supporting small farmers, targeting infant nutrition and utilizing biotechnology in crop creation.

Additionally, legislative action in the United States Congress is working toward alleviating hunger worldwide. The Food for Peace Modernization currently seeks to make the Food for Peace program more efficient – at no cost to taxpayers – so that it can provide food to nearly nine million more people. Understanding what hunger is can create measures like this worldwide and offer new chances for those suffering from hunger to find relief.

– Grace Gay
Photo: Flickr

Food For Peace Modernization Act
On March 14, the Food For Peace Modernization Act (H.R. 5276) 
was introduced on the House floor. Though this bill has not received much attention from the media, it is an important piece of legislation that could have a drastic impact on global food insecurity if passed.

The Food For Peace Modernization Act

The Food For Peace Modernization Act is a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) in an effort to reform the Food For Peace program, which was originally signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1954. The goal of the program is to deliver healthy food to people all over the world who suffer from malnutrition.

Since its creation, the Food For Peace program has provided aid to over 3 billion people and is widely considered a success; however, lawmakers now address that the effort hasn’t yet reached its full potential.

As it currently stands, the law requires that all food used for foreign assistance purposes has to be produced in the U.S. While this may sound like a good way to promote American farming, it is an extreme burden for the Food For Peace program. Due to the costs incurred by transporting all of the food overseas, only 30 percent of the program’s funds are spent on actual food.

The Food For Peace Modernization act seeks to change this aspect of the law. Instead of requiring 100 percent of food products to be made in the U.S., the revised version of the bill drops this number to just 25 percent. This would mean that the majority of food can be derived from within the countries the program is trying to assist.

The Monetization System

Another part of the law the Food For Peace Modernization Act hopes to alter is the “monetization” system. Currently, NGOs are required to take food which was donated to them by the U.S., sell it in overseas markets, and use the profits to fund their food insecurity programs. However, this process often negatively affects the communities in which the food is sold because it forces local farmers to drive down their prices in order to compete. The new version of the bill (S. 2551) would eliminate this requirement.

Not only will these revisions allow more money to be spent on actually feeding the hungry, it may also boost the economies of the local food markets in impoverished countries and ultimately decrease their dependence on U.S. assistance — all at no extra cost to the American taxpayers.

Overall the hope is that, if passed, the bill will redirect the focus of the Food For Peace program to be on the people who need assistance, rather than the business ventures of U.S. corporations.

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA-39) captured this sentiment in a statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee stating, “Just as aid can’t be an entitlement for those overseas, it shouldn’t be an entitlement here at home. This includes food aid, which for too long has been treated as an entitlement for a handful of shipping companies rather than as a humanitarian program meant to save lives.”

– Maddi Roy

Photo: Flickr

Food Assistance in IraqAn increase in food assistance for Iraq will become a reality thanks to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) in Iraq will receive an additional $20 million in emergency food assistance per an announcement from Stuart E. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, made on Feb. 29, 2016, according to USAID.

With this new support, provided through USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP), the U.S. government has contributed nearly $623.8 million to support humanitarian activities in Iraq since the 2014 fiscal year, according to USAID’s Iraq-Complex Emergency Fact Sheet.

The new funding will support the distribution of household food parcels, including beans, dry peas, flour, oil and rice — and immediate response rations for vulnerable populations comprising ready-to-eat food items, such as beans, biscuits, canned meat, canned peas and dates according to USAID’s Iraq-Complex Emergency Fact Sheet.

USAID is helping the WFP reach 1.5 million displaced and conflict-affected Iraqis throughout the country according to USAID’s Feb. 29, 2016 press release.

This significant boost in aid has the potential to help Iraqis who were adversely impacted by cuts to the WFP last year. In August 2015, the WFP was forced to cut back food assistance due to a funding shortfall, according to the U.N.

“Unfortunately, lack of funds and the rise in the number of displaced Iraqis forces us to reduce the size of the food rations we provide to tens of thousands of families living outside camps,” said Jane Pearce, WFP representative and country director in Iraq, in an August 2015 press release.

This recent increase in food assistance for Iraq comes at a crucial time. The food and medicine shortage in Iraq resulted in the death of approximately 20 children and older persons in recent weeks according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Between December 2015 and January 2016, the price of some food commodities in Fallujah increased by more than 800 percent, according to the WFP; as of late February, a 110-pound bag of rice cost $400 and a 110-pound sack of wheat flour was priced at $550, reported the IOM.

There is hope that this increase in food assistance for Iraq is a sign of more good to come for internally displaced persons living in the country.

Summer Jackson

Sources: UN, USAID 1, USAID 2
Photo: Wikipedia

Changes to Food for Peace to Increase Sustainability
Sixty years after being put into effect, the Food for Peace program faces congressional reform that will lower costs and provide sustainable support for those living in conflict-ridden countries. Currently, law requires that food aid be grown in and shipped from the U.S. – a mandate that increases costs 25-50 percent more than they would be on the current market. Advocates for reform criticize the program for its inefficiency and helping American shipping and farming businesses profit from such programs.

Shipping firms, farms and some NGOs form an “iron triangle of special interests” that have benefited from international aid and attracted criticism from politicians in both parties. Between 2004 and 2013, 88 percent of USAID funding was used to harvest and ship food- a huge cost that decreased the amount of food the organization was able to provide by 64 percent.

A system designed this way is not only inefficient in properly allocating resources, but also counterproductive in affecting any kind of change in the countries that need it most. Daniel Maxwell, professor and research director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, commented, “We need to support local agricultural producers and markets, or at a minimum, not undermine them.” Reformers advocate for changing the system to implement locally grown and shipped food resources rather than those from the U.S.

Senators Corker and Coons, who are cosponsoring the reform of the bill, have estimated that such changes could expand the program’s reach by 12 million people and free up $440 million through local, sustainable production. Providing support for local growers and shippers will strengthen local economies rather than keeping them reliant on international resources, empower and employ more people, and create a more sustainable rebuilding of communities.

Eric Munoz at Oxfam America says that a program created 60 years ago is not useful or appropriate for current times. Indeed, when 60 million people per year are in need of food aid, expansion of resources and lowering costs is more greatly needed than ever. Many farmers believe they have a right to profit from food aid programs and would suffer from reforms, but experts estimate such programs amount to only 1 percent of agribusiness profits.

For policy changes that would so greatly impact those in need, lessening the profits of huge farming businesses in the U.S. seems trivial. Worrying about this profit loss is “an inappropriate way of viewing the rationale of providing emergency assistance and foreign assistance, particularly assistance that is meant to address food insecurity in complex crises like Syria or South Sudan,” says Munoz.

Corker and Coon’s reform bill will see congressional debate in September.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: IRIN 1, IRIN 2
Photo: Flickr


how many people go hungry?
Hunger and malnutrition plague millions of people globally, but just how many people go hungry?

Statistics show that 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. The vast majority of these hungry people, about 827 million, live in developing countries, where 14 percent of the population is undernourished. Asia currently has the largest number of hungry people, over 500 million, but it is Sub-Saharan Africa that has the highest prevalence of hunger and malnutrition. One out of six children, 100 million children in developing countries, is underweight. Throughout the world, one in four children’s growth is stunted from malnutrition, particularly in these developing countries. Poor nutrition causes nearly half of deaths under the age of five, totaling 3.1 million children a year.

Since 1990, global hunger has been reduced by more than 34 percent, but roughly one billion men, women, and children are still food-insecure. Since the federal government began Food for Peace in 1954, more than three billion people in over 150 countries have benefited directly from U.S. food aid. An increase in this assistance would make substantial changes throughout the world. WFP calculates that $3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.

The world produces enough calories for every person on earth to eat around 2700 per day for each human. Millions of people go hungry not because food is lacking. Rather, many of these calories are not used to feed humans. One-third is used to feed animals, 5 percent is used in the production of biofuels, and up to a third is simply wasted. The current system in place allows the wealthy half of the planet to eat well while the rest of the world struggles to eat at all.

Many organizations and programs aim to reduce global hunger. Supporting peasant farming is one key factor in this goal, but it is equally important to rein in Western-style culture and the standard the American diet creates.

-Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: World Food Programme, Bread for the World
Photo: USAID

The decision made by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to send financial support to the United Nations World Food Program for the Republic of Djibouti is coming at an imperative time for the country. Djibouti has been experiencing a drought for the past several years and its population, particularly those living in rural areas, is in desperate need of food assistance. USAID has already sent the first installment of the $4 million dollar commitment to Djibouti.

Almost immediately, USAID and its partner, Food for Peace, jumped in to restock Djibouti’s stores of yellow spit peas and vegetable oil. Djibouti is where USAID stores these items for its food assistance programs so it was vital to keep the warehouses fully stocked. As the drought continues, the food situation is expected to become even worse.

This current partnership between USAID and Food for Peace is not the beginning of a relationship between the U.S. government and Djibouti. For the past decade, USAID has been working with the country to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Since 2006, the number of child deaths as a result of malnourishment has reduced from 20% to 0.2% in 2012. This is in part due to USAID’s support of the Famine Early Warning System, a program that observes the country’s food security and raises alerts when the food situation turns for the worse.

This program, and many others that USAID supports, are helping the government of Djibouti to not only recognize famine and hunger, but also learn how to combat and prevent it. While short-term solutions are critical for aiding in ending immediate hunger, USAID is also concerned with long-term solutions, including services that guarantee food for children, pregnant and nursing women, building community gardens, and the overarching issue of reducing poverty.

As for now, USAID’s most recent contribution will be critical for those living through this devastating drought. More food aid will be delivered in the next few months.

– Mary Penn

Sources: Sabahi Online, All Africa
Photo: Council on Foreign Relations

The House and Senate are in the process of debating multiple versions of the farm bill, which may affect the way food aid is delivered. The Obama administration has suggested an overhaul to allow food aid to be bought and distributed locally, rather than grown in American and shipped abroad. Both the House and the Senate have rejected this principle, with the Senate approving a significantly scaled-back version of the suggested plan.

Local and regional procurement (LRP), the purchase of food within the area where it is to be distributed, has many advantages. LRP cuts delivery time by an average of 13.8 weeks, according to an extensive study completed out of Cornell University. LRP can also decrease the cost of food aid, especially with transportation. For example, local grain purchases are extremely effective at cost reduction, with an average savings of 53%. It has been suggested that locally procured food may be safer and of higher quality. The previously mentioned study found that LRP recipients were universally more satisfied than recipients of foods shipped from overseas.

The purchase of local foods also supports local farmers in developing economies, and has been found to have generally negligible effects on local market price levels and their volatility. Additionally, local companies may have a better understanding of the recipient communities and markets than U.S. companies do. Distributing locally produced foods can also be safer. According to Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, shipping large amounts of food aid into some war-torn areas is an extremely dangerous and prolonged process.

Despite all the benefits of LRP, there are a few concerns that should be raised. Local markets may not be able to support rapidly increased demand, and this may result in increased prices that put non-recipients at a disadvantage. In addition, food safety and quality are extremely varied and difficult to monitor overseas. It is also inadvisable to rely on local vendors that have not been proven consistent when attempting to get food to people who are starving.

The Obama administration’s suggested plan concerned the main U.S. food aid program, called “Food for Peace.” The changes would mean using up to 45% of “Food for Peace” funding to buy food locally. However, both the House and the Senate have rejected this idea. The House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture has approved a version of the farm bill for debate on the House floor that advises a 20% cut to the “Food for Peace” program. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a bill that would increase annual funding for the purchase of local products by 50%, to $60 million. This is still a minute portion of the $1.8 billion spent on food aid each year. While the changes suggested by the Senate are commendable, they should be seen as a small step in the right direction, rather than a complete solution.

– Katie Fullerton
Source: NPR, The Columbus Dispatch, Reuters
Photo: Organic Connections

Earlier this month, Bill Gates offered his opinions regarding the Obama Administration’s reform to the federal government’s food aid program. The administration’s plan is to purchase local food and use it for emergency assistance rather than buy food from the US and ship it over. Although he did not provide a clear response expressing his support, it is safe to assume that Gates does agree with the proposal because he did express the necessity to reform foreign aid programs.

In regards to the administration’s proposal to reform the Food for Peace program, Gates expressed that agricultural issues are extremely important because responding to them impacts lives. He also expressed the effectiveness of cash-based aid which is not only “less disruptive to emerging economies,” but can also respond to needs faster. When it comes to food issues, such as hunger/starvation, receiving the food late can cause significant damage to children. Gates asserts that cash-based aid sustains markets to buy locally, and it makes it easier for aid to halt once it is no longer needed.

When asked about his involvement with AGRA, the Africa Green Revolution Association, and their goals, Gates said that the association, led by Kofi Annan, helps with forming appropriate agricultural policies. In regards to Africa, different soil conditions can impose problems on crops and growth; and thus, AGRA focuses agricultural policies on soil quality and improve understanding of soil nutrients. There’s also a focus on a seed program because varieties of crops are important when it comes to nutrition and meeting economic goals. Some African countries tried to put regulatory barriers on seed variety in hopes of monopolizing production, and so, the implementation of a seed program seems necessary for further development.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: AG Web
Photo: Google

Changes to the US Food Aid policy may be in the works for this fiscal year’s budget. President Obama recently proposed that the US shift its food aid policy from one of sending US-grown food products abroad to sending cash instead. This would be the largest change in the history of US food aid policy since programs were initiated in 1954.

Food aid groups, international development organizations, and US businesses are at odds over the proposed reform. Anti-hunger groups including Oxfam and Bread for the World, as well as the Modernizing Foreign Aid Network and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, issued a joint statement this week in support of reforming US food aid policy. US farm, shipping, and labor groups, members of Congress’s Agriculture Committee, and the Alliance for Global Food Security are against any proposed reform.

The proposed policy changes have both benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is that by sending cash instead of food, the money can be used to purchase food locally. This would save both time and energy, and support local agricultural economies. A 2012 Cornell University study on food aid found that local purchasing “can often afford valuable cost and time savings.”

Opponents of the proposed reform argue that the Obama administration intends to cut funding to programs across the board, which would hurt aid recipients and US food providers alike. Producing, shipping, and transporting US-grown food overseas creates jobs and supports the economy of the United States. Sending food abroad that is marked with the US flag also serves as a low-cost form of national security, by providing physical evidence of US good will and assistance.

Since the inception of programs such as Food for Peace, some international development experts have argued that the programs were more concerned with developing a market for American food products and providing benefits to US farmers and agribusinesses, than with feeding the hungry. The former executive director of the World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, stated in an email, “I am one who welcomes a 21st century proposal that is more responsive to the needs of the hungry and a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

The United States is the largest food aid donor in the world, providing over $2 billion a year in food aid. Conflicts over its role in international aid are nothing new. While the possibility exists for beneficial changes to US food aid policy, any proposed spending cuts to food aid programs should be considered with the 925 million people across the globe who suffer from hunger in mind.

Kat Henrichs

Sources: National Journal, Reuters
Photo: Stephen Raburn