Pope Francis’ vision of an inclusive global economy

Repeated statements on the economy, at times with stinging words, mark the teaching of Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate. In His first Apostolic Exhortation Evagelii Gaudium in 2013 He sharply condemns  “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” He writes: “Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of  exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”


Twenty years of editing Hunger Notes

December 22, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

I have edited Hunger Notes for 20 years.   I started with editing one issue in 1995, and then, when the founder of the World Hunger Education Service (WHES), Pat Kutzner retired in 1996,  became editor.

It has been very gratifying to bring information about people who are  hungry and poor to interested readers, so that we may better understand their situation and take steps to help them.

Some highlights:

—Articles that we ran  on the role that conflict plays in creating hunger, why governments have done relatively little about hunger,  the human right to food, and on sustaining commitment to acting against world hunger, are just a few of our articles that have raised important questions and been widely read.

—Our fact sheet on world hunger, begun in 2002 and updated every year since, has become our most popular page.  We now have fact sheets on  hunger in the United States, hunger in Africa, and other topics.

—Our hunger quizzes help our readers, especially students, understand more about hunger.  In response, we make a small contribution to an anti-hunger organization for each quiz taken, which adds up, as many people take a quiz each month.

—Hunger Notes has been published continuously since 1974.   It started as a a mimeographed monthly newsletter to keep the newly formed Episcopal Hunger Network updated on relevant resources and events.  It evolved to a print publication sent out to many.  In the late 1990s we began publishing it both in print and on-line and then began web-only publication in 2001.  Its readership has increased to over one million people per year since 2011.

WHES is now in transition to a new generation of leadership (as well as supporters and readers).   We just had a farewell lunch for Board member Linda Worthington, who has been associated with WHES for over 30 years.  We are working to make this transition successful.

My great thanks to those who have read Hunger Notes  and tried to understand the complicated but very important question of why people are hungry, and who take action against hunger based in part at least on that knowledge. It is certainly what has made my effort worthwhile.




December Hunger Notes: Food insecurity and conflict, shifting the focus from feeding people to nourishing them, and more

December 16, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Listen to Kimberly Flowers, Director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, speak with Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni about food insecurity and how it is both a cause and consequence of conflict, often sparking violence and civil unrest.

Lawrence Haddad, Corinna Hawkes, and colleagues propose ten ways to shift the focus from feeding people to nourishing them in A new global research agenda for food.

Oxfam has published an important new study Unearthed: Land, power, and inequality in Latin America.

A few key conclusions from the report:

—The concentration of Latin American land in the hands of a few is even worse now than in the 1960s, when the problem was so bad many governments pushed major reforms.

—One percent of “super farms” in Latin America now control more productive land than the other 99 percent.

—Women hold less land than men; from as little as 8% in Guatemala, and up to 30% in Peru.

Well, we ran two articles on Gambia where we thought an election would change things. This was soon contradicted by a later development, which appears in this third article: Gambians face uncertainty, after president rejects his defeat, by  Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey of the New York Times.

Our first article was Gambia’s president, in power 22 years, loses election,  by Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey of the New York Times.   This was important news for several reasons.  First, most presidents who want to stay in office, find a way to stay in office one way or another, whether by rewriting the constitution, by acting against opposition parties in disruptive ways,  or assuming “emergency” powers.  So it was big news that the people of Gambia were allowed to vote, their vote was counted correctly, and the president apparently abided by the decision.  It is hard to make headway against hunger and poverty when the principal focus of the government is staying in power.

The second article, The challenge of building “New Gambia”  by Louise Hunt of IRIN, emphasized that change would not be easy: “the list of problems is long: a prostrate and undiversified economy, a high rate of outmigration, heavily politicized state institutions – including a military and a criminal justice system used to operating by fear.”  Serious reductions in hunger and poverty require governments who operate on behalf of the people, and it is an unfinished struggle in most countries to achieve this, including Gambia.

They are slaughtering us like animals by Daniel Berehulak of the New York Times examines the war against drugs in the Philippines. Since Duterte assumed office June 30, there have been 2,000 killings by police and 3,500 unsolved murders by others. In Berehulak’s words, there are “police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”  This article documents 57 of these victims, enabling us to see for ourselves.   Government controlled and sanctioned death squads have played an evil role in history.  They have operated to suppress people. They are often directed against poor people.  They create fractures in society which impede progress and take a long time to heal, as the recent history of many countries in Latin America shows.  Of the many excellent news stories we have published this year, this is the best.

(An article which we did not run, but which illustrates points made above, is Stanley Rother, U.S. priest killed in ’81 in Guatemala, declared a martyr by Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times.)

The elimination of violence against women

Globally, 47 per cent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to less than 6 per cent of murders of men. Women represent 55 per cent of victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of the victims of sexual exploitation. Globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C in 30 countries and 700 million were married as children.

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class”

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with ethnic cleansing in the capital, Juba, committed by a government put in power by external brokering aimed at paving the way for the world’s newest nation. This South Sudan political experiment lasted two and a half years. Its bloody collapse continues, a slow-motion calamity on a par with any crisis in the world.

November Hunger Notes: It’s time for U.S. to lead in combating global malnutrition, avocados imperil Monarch butterflies, and more

November 19, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Bill Frist, the former Republican Senate majority leader, says It’s time for the U.S. to lead in combating global malnutrition in a well-reasoned, powerful opinion in The Hill.

How beautiful Monarch butterflies are.  How inspiring the migration from their small winter home in Mexico to vast areas in North America.  Their migration is threatened by loss of habitat, including large areas of farmland that provide no food for butterflies.  Almost none showed up in my backyard in Washington, DC this summer, in spite of the yard being filled with milkweed, Monarchs’ food, and where they lay their eggs.  Avocados imperil Monarch butterflies’ winter home in Mexico  by Victoria Burnett in the New York Times describes how global demand is spurring local farmers to clear land vital to the Monarchs to plant avocados.

The massive food crisis you haven’t heard about is an excellent 4 1/2 minute video about the food crisis in the 10-country Southern Africa region caused by El Nino. Published by the Center for International Strategic Studies.  And Food Tank lists 26 Films Every Food Activist Must Watch .

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class” by Alan Boswell in IRIN describes how failures in the political process led to a descent into war, which is decimating the country.

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical war is rooted in the flaws of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which installed a non-representative and ethnically fractured party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in charge of a future country it never won over.  Once war starts, groups must take sides, and conflict, destruction and death escalate.

Conflict, and the struggle for control of government that usually lies behind it, are essential things for a student of poverty and hunger to understand.

Life on the Pine Ridge Native American reservation  by Patrick Strickland in Al Jazeera paints a portrait of  poverty in America in a place where life expectancy is the second-lowest in the western hemisphere (after Haiti), and 80 percent of people are unemployed.

Land grab update: Mozambique, Africa still in crosshairs by Timothy J. Wise on Food Tank describes how more than 1,000 large-scale foreign land deals are now under contract for agriculture covering more than 26 million hectares of land, according to the new report, Land Matrix Analytical Report II: International Land Deals for Agriculture. That area represents a remarkable two percent of arable land in the world.

We have run three articles this month that don’t appear to have very much to do with hunger:

The elimination of violence against women by Lakshimi Puri in IRIN discusses progress, and the lack of it, in this area.  Violence against women is a major rights violation, often ascending to the level of a crime, and mainly going unpunished.  It is also used as a tool to keep women down.

Bribes and bureaucracy: Myanmar’s chaotic citizenship system by Julia Wallace in IRIN describes the various ways in which Muslims, even though born in Myanmar, are restricted from citizenship and the rights that go with it due to prejudice.

Tanzania suspends U.S.-funded AIDS programs in a new crackdown on gays by Kevin Seiff in the Washington Post describes how Tanzania is suspending U.S.-funded AIDS prevention programs because of strong government discrimination against gays.  This will now prevent many gays from getting antiretrovirals, for example, a restriction that threatens their lives and that does not apply to others in Tanzania.

Violence, denial of citizenship,  denying access to HIV programs, all do lead to hunger.  Women, Muslims in Burma, and people with AIDS are all groups with elevated levels of hunger.  This consequence just doesn’t appear in these stories.  See, for example,  Breaking the cycle of HIV, hunger, and poverty  by the World Food Program, an article HN ran in 2012.  It is precisely because of the vast increase in the use of retrovirals that hunger is less of an issue with those that have HIV.

We have run two articles on India calling in its largest banknotes and issuing new ones, one of them being  Indians rush frantically to launder their black money by Geeta Anand of the New York Times. India runs to a great extent on actual cash, rather than checks or credit cards.  A important reason for this is the avoidance of taxes. Cash can be kept off the books.  By calling in the big notes and issuing new ones, the Indian government is hoping to locate large stashes of cash, which it will then investigate to see if the owners have paid the proper taxes.  We wanted to flag this topic because avoidance of taxes, and the conclusions to be drawn from it, are an important issue in developing countries.  If a government is efficiently delivering effective programs, the hoped-for boost in tax revenue will be helpful, especially if the main people avoiding taxes are the rich.  If, on the other hand, the programs are not effective or the tax rates are very high (they often are set high, with the implicit understanding that taxes will be avoided) the “underground economy” is probably a good thing.   It is an issue where one’s judgement does depend on the actual circumstances.   This issue is important for hunger policy in India.  The FAO estimates that 15 percent of India’s population is undernourished–a high percentage. There are Indian government programs to reduce hunger that could increase their benefit by increasing both efficiency and funding.  See  a past article from the Guardian that we have run India’s battle against hunger beset by problems of delivery and corruption. Malnutrition is on the rise, despite nutrition rehabilitation centers and ration shops .




October Hunger Notes: the conflict between corporate agriculture and campesinos, Syrian families and war, and more

October 31, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Agroecology “Lite:” Cooptation and Resistance in the Global North by Eric Holt-Giménez and Miguel Altieri describes how agriculture as practiced in developed countries harms poor farmers in developing countries, who are better served by improving systems that the farmers themselves had developed over centuries.  An excellent statement of this critical issue.

The beating pulse of food security in Africa concerns Elizabeth Mpofu, who grows maize, legumes and different beans on her ten-hectare farm in Zimbabwe.  In spite of a severe drought in Zimbabwe, and the failure of the maize crop, she managed to harvest 150 kg. of dried beans, which enabled her to have food to sustain her and her family through the drought.  Dried beans and peas are drought resistant, rich in protein, and an example of crops that local farmers have planted for generations, and selected seeds that adapted the  plants to local circumstances, unlike the one-size-fits-all of commercial crops.

Michael Pollin thinks the U.S. food system is broken.  In  Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture? he first summarizes why:

A food system organized around subsidized monocultures of corn and soy, I explained, guzzled tremendous amounts of fossil fuel (for everything from the chemical fertilizer and pesticide those fields depended on to the fuel needed to ship food around the world) and in the process emitted tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas — as much as a third of all emissions, by some estimates. At the same time, the types of food that can be made from all that subsidized corn and soy — feedlot meat and processed foods of all kinds — bear a large measure of responsibility for the steep rise in health care costs: A substantial portion of what we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases linked to diet.

He then describes the difficulties President Obama and Michelle Obama, with her concern for nutritious food, faced in advancing the cause of healthier food.

There are about 11 million displaced Syrians.  Two stories this month help us understand their plight.  We live in Aleppo. Here’s how we survive by Omair Shaaban and What does it mean to help one family? by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn.

The U.S. foreign-aid budget, visualized by Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio gives a good overview of U.S foreign aid, an overview that is usually difficult to get, as it must be pulled together from various U.S. government accounts.   Definitely worth seeing are the maps — one for humanitarian aid, the other for military — that show countries sized proportionally to the amount of U.S. funding they receive.  Which country receives the most foreign aid?  An interesting question, which this article answers.  If you don’t already know the answer, the answer will surprise you.

Finally, Gang violence drives internal displacement in El Salvador by Edgardo Alaya  illustrates how even people in small towns in El Salvador are subject to gang violence and the dislocation they suffer when they flee their hometown.