All things counter, original, spare and strange in Khujand, Tajikistan

Christmas Harangue

I hope you will excuse me as I mount my soapbox briefly after a period of blog silence. Below you will find my ruminations on the state of the world as 2010 comes to a close. In many ways it’s not a pretty picture, but then again, as any artist will tell you, “pretty pictures” aren’t what we need anyway. So:

I work in the “developing world,” a term which I increasingly think is a misnomer, because I don’t think the “developed world” has, in the words of E.F. Schumacher, solved the problem of production in such a way to make our society either fully equitable or sustainable. But that’s an issue for another day perhaps.

Anyway, working in the developing world makes me more viscerally aware of the issues the poor of the world face every day. We have a world where food security is a real issue for a majority of people a majority of the time, while obesity has reached almost epidemic proportions in the U.S. These are not unrelated problems. The fact is that funding for rural, agricultural development has fallen in relation to other sectors in the last 20 years, due to a decidedly urban bias in international development.

Simultaneously grain (especially corn) production in the US became a heavily subsidized agro-industry that crowds out local crops in other countries and stilts the diets of Americans toward corn-syrup, corn-fed beef and a host of other now-cheap luxuries that make up the fast-food culture. In other words, our overproduction has crippled the abilities of other nations to be food self-sufficient (through artificially low subsidized grain prices), while fattening our own people (through artificially low prices on processed corn goods).

That is a gross oversimplification of course, but I stand by it in the broad outline. The fact is that global food production needs to increase to feed the world’s population. My opinion, and the opinion of others who critique America’s subsidized agro-industry, is that paradoxically, this must mean that America should aim to export less food in the long term.

That claim should be qualified. America should absolutely export food on the free market. However, our goal should be to phase out subsidies while simultaneously investing in the ability of other nations to grow their own food supply. This problem is not going unnoticed. Some major players are acting to invest in rural agriculture. Most notably the Gates Foundation is funding a major initiative to increase food production in Africa called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

So why do I write this? Because most of you reading this are, like me, citizens of the most wealthy democracy in the world, where both our personal giving and the way we vote can actually change international agricultural policy. Most of you are also likely Christians. From this point of view, if you want to know more about issues in global hunger and agriculture, please visit Bread for the World‘s website. Bread for the World is an excellent advocacy group that lobbies our government on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. They provide excellent background information on topics in food security and agricultural development. They are also a good organization to think about donating to if you want to contribute to the struggle against hunger.

Two other organizations that I recommend supporting are Food for the Hungry and MercyCorps. I currently intern with MercyCorps and I have a lot of respect for their work. I also personally support Food for the Hungry and I know a number of people, including one of my professors, who have worked for them. Both of these organizations are working actively to promote food security in the developing world, as well as promoting health projects, education, infrastructure and the whole gamut of community development initiatives.

It’s Christmas Eve now my time, though for most of you it is still the 23rd. And I’ve spent my morning drafting a diatribe about the state of the world. Why? Because Christmas remembers the time when the Highest of the High came to dwell among the lowly. Because this spectacular example of sacrificial generosity is meant to be our standard for imitation (see Philippians 2:5). And because, whether or not you share this particular tradition, Christmas is a perfect time to examine yourself and your standards of generosity. To ask if what passes as charity might still fall short of the sacrificial expenditure it will take to truly stand alongside the poor in the fight to feed the world.

So merry Christmas everyone! May God bless the powerless and convict the wealthy.



One response

  1. J. Mark

    A great connect of food security/hunger, agricultural, and Christmas. I stand by you.

    Thanks for mentioning Bread for the World, as well – I’m a big fan.

    I can’t wait to see you in your element, Seth. Soon, soon.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

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