World Hunger Concern
1974 and 1975 Church of the Brethren Statements
This document contains the 1974 Statement, “World Hunger Concern” and the 1975 follow-up Statement brought by the General Board.
The Church of the Brethren has usually been able to provide a creative response to the aftermath of earthquakes, destructive winds, and devastating fire. Somehow our denomination seems to have a capacity to care for the needs of survivors, the homeless and the helpless, who are threatened by pestilence and poverty after the onslaught of a natural or manmade disaster. It makes no difference whether it is war in Nigeria or human agony in Bangladesh; whether it is Hurricane Camille or Celia; earthquakes in Peru, Nicaragua or California; tornados in the Mississippi Delta or a tidal wave in Pakistan. Members of the Church of the Brethren respond to the needs of others.
Some would suggest that the sharing of food and other assistance in a time of disaster has always been a central concern with us because of our rural, agricultural background which traditionally has fostered mutual cooperation and the concept of the extended family. Others would suggest that we feel a common bond with refugees because we also once were those who fled the fires of religious persecution to find a new land and a new life. Still others would point to our rich heritage of the New Testament as the basis for our ministry of service to others. (Matthew 25:35; 1 John 3:17-18)
Whatever the reasons, we have known that our responsibility is for our brother’s welfare. The 1964 Annual Conference phrased it well when the delegates said, The Church of the Brethren is committed to feeding the hungry, helping the impoverished, healing the broken, and promoting freedom, justice, and reconciliation among all men. They summed up the Brethren point of view with these words: Our bread is a material concern, our Brother’s bread is a spiritual concern.
The Current Challenge
Such a heritage is commendable. Such insight shows our denomination’s potential. Such spiritual strength is necessary for the kind of disciplined action that we will need to take to meet the crisis of global hunger and starvation that is now upon us.
Six million persons today are facing death through starvation in the Sahel. Another 1,700,000 are dying from hunger in Ethiopia. Over 7,000,000 persons are starving in Southeast Asia. In addition, it has been noted that a single bad crop year in the United States and Canada at any time in the 1970’s could well precipitate famine that would probably wipe out a sizeable share of the 900 million ultra-poor who live in the world’s most underdeveloped countries. The U. S. and Canada together export about 90% of all the wheat moving internationally. The U. S. alone provides over 90% of the world’s soybean exports. It is a leading supplier of feed grains and is the world’s number one exporter of rice.
Knowing these figures and sensing the responsibility for averting general famine rests with North America, it is rather frightening to recall that historically bad cropping conditions in the U. S. and Canada have occurred in the cycle of roughly twenty years. The worst drought in recent times was The Dust Bowl disaster of the thirties. There was another drought in the fifties. It seems as if it is about time for another bad year.
It was the fact of current starvation and the threat of major catastrophe if a crop failure would hit North America at a time when global food reserves have dropped to a mere twenty-seven days of supply that the Goals and Budget Committee in February, 1974, asked the World Ministries Commission to consider whether the problem of world hunger should be added to the Brotherhood priorities as established by the Annual Conference in Fresno in 1973 or whether this crisis fits within those priorities as established. The Committee also asked that a proposal be drawn up by the Commission which would point the way for a Brotherhood response to the disaster that is upon us.
The Scope of the Problem
The problem facing us is staggering. Part of the problem is a seeming shift in the climate of our globe. The increase in pollutants in our atmosphere seems to be shifting the Monsoon rains that normally fall in India to the south so that the scarce, needed moisture falls into the ocean. The Sahara is shifting southward at an accelerated rate of thirty miles per year so that human and livestock populations must retreat before the encroaching 3,500 mile southern fringe of the desert.
American growers lose $132,000,000 each year because of air pollution damage to crops and plants according to a Stanford Research Institute report. Nitrates, phosphates, pesticides, weedicides, mercury compounds and other organic and inorganic chemicals so contaminate the world’s streams, rivers and oceans that valuable food resources are fast dwindling in the waters of our world.
A report by the National Academy of Sciences that the U. S. Defense Department made public in February of 1974 states that more than 100,000,000 pounds of herbicides dropped over Vietnam between 1961 and 1971 has caused damage to extensive areas of the tropical forests that will remain damaged for at least seventy to one hundred years. The study has estimated that 36% of the mangrove swampland, one of the breeding grounds for fish for the Vietnamese diet, has been destroyed and it will take well over 100 years to recover its former capacity for food production.
Between 70 and 75 million people are added to the world population every year. This expansion of nearly 2% per year means that the world population will double in a little more than a generation, a tremendous potential burden for our already overtaxed food system.
Distribution of resources is a major problem. It has been found, for example, that food can be carried by ship and plane to major ports and cities in drought stricken Africa but poor roads, a lack of vehicles and an inadequate distribution system has meant that food cannot be made available to those who are starving.
The petroleum crisis is a related problem. Modern fertilizers, especially nitrogen, have petroleum as their raw material. Immense amounts of energy are needed to process fertilizer. The propulsion of farm machinery, whether it be the small irrigation pump in India or the large scale agricultural equipment used in the United States, cannot be carried on without adequate supplies of fuel. Fuel means fertilizer, irrigation, cultivation, and therefore food.
Poverty is a part of the problem. People who are poor do not have the resources to purchase fuel, fertilizer, seeds, or even food. If you are poor you are hungry, and if you are hungry it is difficult to find a way out of your unproductive situation.
Mechanization and technology are usually thought of as keys to solving the hunger problem but even a quick, superficial look at the hunger problem brings one to the conclusion that these are monsters as well as servants. While mechanized farming gives the U. S. the highest crop output per man-hour it is a high cost method of providing food since it takes more energy to produce the crop than the energy the food can give back to society in return.
Whole societies are starving. The problem of hunger is not simply one of individuals, here and there, facing possible death through malnutrition. Rather, whole regional social systems are collapsing because of the lack of water and food. To feed the hungry means also examining a strategy of relocation of whole societies.
Affluence and consumption, especially of the industrial countries, is a major difficulty. Rising affluence is a major claimant on world food resources. This can best be illustrated by its effect on the consumption of cereals which dominate the world food economy. About 70% of the world’s crop area is in cereal production. In the poor countries, comprising two-thirds of the world’s people living in 98 countries, the annual consumption of grain averages about 400 pounds per person. This grain is consumed directly to meet minimum energy needs. Little can be spared for conversion into animal protein.
In the U. S. and Canada, the per capita grain consumption is approaching one metric ton (2,240 pounds) per year. Of this amount only about 150 pounds are consumed directly in the form of bread, pastries and breakfast cereals. The rest is consumed in the form of meat, milk and eggs.
Americans consume annually fourteen pounds of fish, 51 pounds of poultry, 73 pounds of pork, 112 pounds of beef and 300 eggs. The beef consumption increased in the U. S. from 55 pounds per person per year in 1940 to 112 pounds per year in 1973. On the average it takes ten pounds of vegetable protein to produce one pound of meat protein, but for cattle it takes 21 pounds of vegetable protein to produce one pound of meat protein. The high consumption of animal protein requires the feeding of 78% of the top quality grain produced in the U. S. to cattle, hogs and chickens. While we eat and then diet, others starve.
What Can Brethren Do?
The scope of the hunger problem is so immense that it tends to leave us overwhelmed. But the Church of the Brethren has a strong base from which it can intensify its attack on hunger. The 1973 Annual Conference established a priority which deals with programs to explore total life-styles (goals and values), recognizing we do not live by bread alone and are called to be good stewards in our use and sharing of the resources of earth God has given to us.
This priority is basic, inclusive and broadbased. It deals with the complex issues, which are mentioned above, and it calls for attitudinal changes which must take place if we are to make an impact on hunger. It is this priority which will enable us to continue to be a primary shaper of values and push the church into the front ranks of those working on this major problem.
There is also a base in the purpose of the World Ministries Commission which was given by the Annual Conference in 1968. Current portfolios of staff already have built into them responsibilities which carry the potential for helping alleviate the hunger crisis which stares us in the face. Current programs, both in the U. S. and overseas, are working at family planning, increased agricultural development, feeding persons who are hungry, and sensitizing our own constituency to their plight as members of an affluent, high consumption society.
However, more must be done. It has been noted, for example, that one less quarter pound hamburger each week for every American would mean a saving in grain (for both the beef in the hamburger and the wheat in the roll) equivalent to more than ten million tons. This amount of grain is just about what India will need during this year to stave off malnutrition or outright starvation of millions of its people.
Such acts of individual self-denial may not be very effective in solving the problem we face, but are needed to dramatically illustrate the extent of the problem and our own personal relationship to the catastrophe that must be averted. Therefore, we suggest the following:
To the local congregations that:
1) there be developed in each district an acceptable system of collection and storage of food that might be distributed for local community/district emergency needs. We advise that this be done within the district disaster network program and that such food stuffs would not be available for overseas shipments, but that they be available for the hungry persons in our midst.
2) persons be selected to assist in the collection of resources for learning how food consumption habits within our own country may be changed. We believe there are enough experts within our constituency who are trained in nutrition and proper dietary care that curriculum for all ages of our church school could be established.
3) members be urged to seek adoption of appropriate legislation and government action for food preservation, national/international food banks, and arrangements for fair distribution.
4) individuals and clusters of families commit themselves to:
a) limit their consumption of animal protein by eating beef or pork no more than three days a week; switching to eating of fish, chicken, and/or turkey; and becoming more dependent upon milk, dairy, and textured vegetable protein products.
b) decrease by two-thirds the amount of fertilizer used on lawns and purchase with the money saved food production certificates from the Brotherhood offices. Such monies would be used to underwrite overseas food production programs of the General Board.
5) they experiment with a simple meal or fasting prayer fellowship in place of a potluck supper as a witness/education tool for sensitizing members, friends and community to the highway of hunger encircling our globe.
To Brotherhood staff that:
1) they initiate models for education of Brethren designed to sensitize persons to global hunger needs and related life-style issues, and help provide supplementary bibliography materials, menus, and other resource suggestions for local congregations committed to this educational task.
2) they encourage labor-intensive agricultural programs in developing countries and continue to sensitize developed nations of the continued threat of high mechanization as a contributing factor to the hunger problem.
3) they develop a strategy for helping to enlist support for the FAO International Food Reserve Program as is being proposed.
4) they seek to develop within current agricultural related programs food preservation and storage systems which are appropos and feasible for Third World situations.
5) they explore the possibility of a run-off irrigation program in an Arab country, preferably located in North Africa, where an international team could lease land, and develop a training program where Arabs could learn to upgrade agricultural production in their own countries by participating in this project. Such a team might be headed by an expert in the field of run-off irrigation as is now practiced in Israel and would consist of one or two U. S. agricultural experts along with Arabs from Middle East countries like the west bank of Jordan, Syria, etc. Support for such a program would come from current Brotherhood Fund allocations within the World Ministries Commission, other international organizations, foundations, and possibly some money from the Emergency Disaster program.
6) they seek the ways and means of establishing with state government and local community organizations the reclamation of tidal lands on the west coast of India. Such a program would be ecumenical and international in scope with expertise as well as funding being shared with World Council of Churches related agencies. The reclaimed land distribution and maintenance would be done in conjunction with local leadership of the area adjacent to the land as it becomes available.
7) they establish a program in the Sahel which would be among nomadic refugees who have been relocated in Hausa language areas. This would allow persons who have been in the ministry in Nigeria to be redeployed without language problems. The program would be developed in conjunction with governmental agencies, both national and local, as well as with other religious organizations which are interested in ministry to the dispossessed of the Sahel region. A short term ministry of not more than twelve months would provide food and grain seeds while longer term goals of the program would be to help build the community infra-structures that would allow for the peaceful integration of the displaced nomads into the agricultural society. Persons with agricultural, anthropological, community development, and health skills would be sought for the program. Funding would be from Emergency Disaster Funds and in conjunction with other interested agencies.
8) that we with the Vietnamese people seek ways and means of stimulating land reclamation where the U. S. has destroyed with our defoliants the land’s usefulness.
9) they encourage the U. S. government to adopt and work for a world-wide population policy which would relate the population growth to the carrying capacity of planet earth.
George Cabot Lodge of Harvard has noted that today there is a new right which clearly supersedes property rights in political and social importance. It is the right to survive. Phrased another way, it is the right of membership in the world community.
Those who believe that all persons are brothers and sisters under the same Father can understand that it is the privilege of each of us to so live that other members of the world family can have enough to eat that they also can enjoy membership in our community.
The few, small initial steps suggested for Brethren in the previous paragraphs are not intended to solve totally the hunger problem but they are intended to enable our denomination to grapple more seriously with the hunger crisis. It is our hope that these steps will also enable Brethren, individually and collectively, to ponder what else we all must do in the days ahead if we are to be good stewards of the resources we have been given and good members of the human family.
Action of 1974 Annual Conference: The following answer of Standing Committee, presented by Barbara Enberg, was adopted as amended:
Standing Committee recommends that the paper be accepted as a statement of our current concern for world hunger and that it be understood as having priority status in the current biennium, receiving implementation by World Ministries Commission and Parish Ministries Commission in relation to appropriate priorities adopted by the 1973 conference. We request a more complete study and implementation by the Brethren in their homes and churches and that the General Board bring a further statement to the 1975 Annual Conference bringing into consideration the Brotherhood’s discussion and experience with this paper. (One amendment in the original paper is incorporated in the above wording of the paper.)
1975 Report on World Hunger Concern
The 1974 Annual Conference World Hunger Paper began with the affirmation that The Church of the Brethren is committed to feeding the hungry, helping the impoverished, healing the broken, and promoting freedom, justice, and reconciliation. It also reaffirmed the Brethren understanding of faith and works with the words. Our bread is a material concern, our brothers’ bread is a spiritual concern. The Paper ended on the note that the initial steps suggested for Brethren were intended to enable our denomination to grapple more seriously with the hunger crisis.
The Continuing Challenge
Numbers become almost totally incomprehensible to most of us. In June of 1974 we spoke of six million starving in the Sahel, another seven million in Southeast Asia, and over 1,700,000 dying from hunger in Ethiopia. By September and October those figures on a piece of paper became faces and bodies on our TV screens. By November the global food reserves had dropped to only a 22-day supply.
Now it is estimated that 20 million persons could starve this year and that from 450 million to over a billion persons face serious malnutrition problems in the months ahead. The poor crops in the United States during 1974 have had repercussions not only on our own economy but throughout the world. In February, the economic report of the President indicated the 1974-75 world production of all grains is estimated to be down 5% from the previous year. Current projections seem to indicate a U.S. Grain crop of bumper yields. In spite of this hopeful sign, thirty-three nations are now listed by the United Nations as facing severe and critical hunger problems because of increased prices, and shortages of food, fuel and fertilizer.
Update on the Problem
The problem facing us remains staggering. However, there have been important learning experiences during the past year.
For example, the factor of human dignity and pride are very real issues in this situation. Those who are hungry still wish to be involved in the planning stage of meeting their needs. They wish to indicate whether they need help and if so, how much and at what times. Many wish us to focus on longer range development solutions and say, risking their own death, that justice not hunger is the ultimate problem we all must face.
Since the causes of poverty and hunger are many-fold and inter-related, many persons are coming to realize that a solution to the poverty and hunger problem can come only by working in a balanced and comprehensive way on a number of related problems. Long-term solutions will involve population policies, local production of high protein foods, nutrition education, family health services, vocational training and employment opportunities, and an increase in literacy and basic education programs, especially among girls and women.
We have also learned that the common assumption that the developed world is self-sufficient and the poor or developing world is dependent is not necessarily true. In reality, we note that the developing countries are currently importing only 7% of their food products while Japan and Western European countries import 20% more grain than all the underdeveloped nations combined. The United States has a net import of milk products and last year imported one billion pounds of meat. According to a Michigan State University report the rich nations import more protein from the poor world than they export to it. One-third of the African peanut crop is imported into Europe to be fed to livestock.
It is not our intent to suggest that livestock production be curtailed because we know that these animals convert non-human food into human food and that vast areas of our world, including about 900 million acres of grazing land in the United States, cannot be used for crop production. We support the use of grass, forage and by-products in beef production but we do not believe it is appropriate nor morally defensible to feed more than half of our top quality grain for meat production.
Again, we have learned that there is a close relationship of the hunger problem to the pet industry. During this past year Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, commenting on the world food crisis, noted that by reducing our pet population we could release more grain for the world. When you stand in line at the supermarket, you can watch the cash register ring up sizable purchase after sizable purchase of pet foods—most of which are directly or indirectly the product of grains.
Dr. Lloyd C. Faulkner, a veterinarian and Chairman of the Physiology Department of Colorado State University, addressing the American Veterinary Medical Association in Denver in July of ’74 noted, With large segments of the human population starving or malnourished, we may eventually be faced with moral decisions concerning the distribution of the earth’s resources of food to pets.
We should also note that as the crisis has intensified over the past months several different strategies and models have been suggested by different persons as ways to deal with the prevailing scarcity situation. One person has said, The United States should remain an island of plenty in a sea of hunger. We are not responsible for the rest of humanity.
In a similar vein another person has put forth the lifeboat ethic in which it is suggested that each rich nation is like a lifeboat of comparatively rich people, while the poor of the world are in other, much more crowded lifeboats. Since lifeboat space is limited those on board the rich lifeboat should not attempt to save other persons because it would risk some greater catastrophe.
A third model being advocated by some persons is called Triage. It is suggested that food should go only to those countries which will have an opportunity to survive the immediate crisis and become self-sufficient because of such aid. All other countries should not receive any resources if it is believed that they ultimately will not survive in the future even with food and developmental aid now.
Another model has been suggested by the United Nations Development Program. It is called the Gondwana Factor, a term derived from the geological name for the single global continent in which all the land mass of the world was united billions of years ago. This concept acknowledges the plurality and diversity of 150 sovereign states in the world but suggests that the people of all these countries are united by a fabric of common needs . . . food, manufactured goods, jobs, clean air, water and a long-term, self-interest of each which is inseparable from the long-term interest of all.
The Gondwana Factor understands the world to be a global village. It asserts interdependence of persons and nations and suggests all taking responsibility for one another. It is a model which comes closest to our religious heritage and is in keeping with the response of the Church of the Brethren membership during this past year.
What Brethren Are Doing
The immensity of the problem has not overwhelmed us completely, even though some of us have found it difficult to break out of old patterns and attitudes which must change if we are to meet the crisis that confronts us. Many have risen to the occasion and have given generously of their resources in order to feed the hungry immediately. Others have accepted the ministry of attempting to sensitize us all to our role as members of an affluent, high-consumption society and how we help maintain the hunger cycle in which others are trapped.
The 1974 Hunger Paper asked the Brotherhood staff to assume nine specific responsibilities in relationship to the hunger problem. Following is a progress report of what staff has done to date in response to the Annual Conference request.
First, in an effort to sensitize persons to global hunger needs and related lifestyle issues, Brethren Press has helped to distribute a pamphlet by Rick Gardner entitled Hunger: A Biblical Perspective. In addition, the song, Mine Are The Hungry, written by Wilbur Brumbaugh and Ken Morse, has been given widespread distribution among American Baptists and CROP constituencies as well as among Brethren. The study guide, A Plain People, written to accompany Edward Ziegler’s book, Simple Living, was also published.
World Ministries and Parish Ministries staff prepared a hunger packet which has been distributed to 281 local congregations upon their request. Five of the Christian Citizenship Seminars in Washington and/or at the United Nations focused on this topic and three districts, with staff counsel, have held lifestyle seminars and workshops. In addition, staff has been in ten other districts at the request of local congregations and/or district bodies to speak on the hunger/lifestyle concerns. They have also participated in college and seminary-sponsored hunger conferences or discussions. Messenger has reported through its pages on the participation of one of its editors in the U.N. Rome Food Conference and his observations from a trip to the Sahel region.
Second, staff has participated in ecumenical forums to encourage labor-intensive agricultural programs in developing countries and we will continue to make this a high priority in all future discussions as staff makes contacts throughout the world.
Third, while a valiant effort was made to help enlist support for the FAO International Food Reserve Program, it looks like the effort may have failed. Along with other non-government organizations we attempted to impact the U.N. Rome Conference to obtain a breakthrough for this important concept of food aid, but there has been very little movement or support for the program, especially by the U.S. Executive Branch.
Fourth, in conjunction with the Rural Service Center in India staff has sought to improve the food preservation and storage system of grain.
Fifth, exploration of the run-off irrigation program in an Arab country in North Africa has been carefully negotiated so that now Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, has indicated their willingness to train a team in this specific technique of irrigation that goes back to Bible times. Preliminary negotiations with Tunisia seem to indicate they might welcome the opportunity to be the center of a run-off irrigation project once we are able to secure two qualified persons to head the program. Initial conversations with several persons in the U.S. and in Third World countries have not yet borne fruit. The program can be initiated as soon as qualified personnel are available.
In addition, World Ministries Commission staff is negotiating with EIRENE, an ecumenical peace agency, to establish a run-off irrigation program in Niger. Funding would be from the Emergency Disaster Program.
Sixth, the Tidal Land Reclamation in India has proceeded much more slowly than staff had hoped due to the continuing delay in securing governmental clearance to begin the feasibility study. Based on past experience in a somewhat similar situation in India, the preliminary advice of Dutch consultants is to proceed with caution. State government and local community organizations are supportive of the program and therefore the next steps will be a study of the soil profile and testing for water permeability of the soil. The Rural Service Center staff in India is giving on-the-location leadership to the exploration phase of the project.
Seventh, $145,000 was allocated during this past year for the development of a two-year program among refugees in the Sahel. Grayce Brumbaugh, a nurse; Flossie and Ralph Royer, an agriculturist and nurse team; and Elsie and Von Hall, trained in community development have been reassigned from Nigeria to Niger. Staff will continue to work with Lutheran World Relief, Church World Service, and the Southern Baptists to develop the comprehensive, long-term program that will be needed to integrate the nomadic refugees into new social structures in the Niger. In addition, $15,000 of immediate food relief has been expended from the Emergency Disaster Fund for persons in the Sahel region.
Eighth, staff has spent time in South Vietnam in direct conversations with Vietnamese who were knowledgeable regarding the possibility of joint programming for food production and land reclamation. The new government situation in Vietnam makes projection of program at this time an impossibility. Staff was in attendance at the Vientiane meetings of the Fund for Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Indochina. Grants have been made for agricultural tools and equipment to be used in labor-intensive agriculture programs in Vietnam.
Ninth, through the Washington Office staff the Board has worked to encourage the U.S. Government to adopt and work for a worldwide population policy. The Washington Office has also been instrumental in seeking a broader based food policy from our government on behalf of those who are hungry in our world, especially through the Inter-religious Task Force on U.S. Food Policy, which was an outgrowth of a NCCC consultation on hunger in which two of our staff participated.
Finally, in addition to the above, the General Board authorized $25,000 of bean shipments to Bangladesh and Haiti for the immediate food crisis faced by persons in those countries. Chet Thomas was placed in Honduras as a part of the Church World Service hurricane rehabilitation program and his portfolio includes the concern for food production and nutrition programs. Staff is also discussing with pers