October 14, 1983
Senator Thurmond, Congressman -- please, sit down -- [laughter] -- Congressman Gilman, and ladies and gentlemen:
Welcome to the White House. Today we pause to observe World Food Day, marking the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations back in 1945. The FAO, of which the United States is a founding member, was conceived as the focal point of civilization's fight to eliminate poverty-related hunger -- an admirable and worthwhile goal.
World Food Day serves to remind us that we have a long way to go to achieve what mankind set out to do. Today, more than 450 million people in the developing countries are undernourished. One child in four born in developing countries may die before the age of 5 because of malnutrition. Each year as many as 100,000 young children reportedly may go blind because of a lack of vitamin A in their daily diets. The statistics are grim; yet all Americans can be proud of our country's continuing efforts to battle world hunger.
For nearly three decades, we've carried out the largest food aid program in history. Begun under President Eisenhower, the Food for Peace program has provided over $40 billion in aid to developing countries, more food assistance than given by all the other countries combined. And in addition to funding Food for Peace at $1\1/2\ billion for this fiscal year, we're taking new steps to devote more government food stocks to the needy overseas.
So far this year, we've already given over 83,000 tons of butter, cheese, and nonfat dry milk to 14 different countries. Our food and assistance efforts are especially vital in Africa, where drought has devastated farms throughout the sub-Saharan part of the continent. We have earmarked $25 million in emergency food assistance for these drought-stricken nations and increased our economic assistance to the continent by over $80 million, bringing it to an all-time high of nearly $1 billion for this fiscal year.
Traditionally, the United States has also always been the foremost supporter of multilateral aid. We've already given well over $1 billion worth of food to the World Food Program. And just last year, this administration increased the U.S. pledge by 14 percent to a new record of $250 million.
At the same time, we make the largest single contribution to many international organizations concerned with hunger, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, and the international development banks. We were there to help found these organizations, and we stand firmly with them today.
It's not just our government programs of which we can be proud. There are numerous American religious and philanthropic groups, supported by voluntary contributions, which are playing a significant role in our battle against hunger -- groups like CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief, the American Jewish Distribution Committee -- all represent the best of the American tradition of personal involvement.
Whether through government-sponsored programs or through the efforts of churches and private charities, America and Americans lead the way in this humanitarian endeavor. I would hope that those who criticize the United States would take time to compare our efforts with those of Communist nations, countries that so loudly proclaim their concern for the downtrodden.
Soviet efforts in the area of humanitarian relief are virtually nonexistent. I challenge the Kremlin to explain why it refuses to provide anything but weapons of destruction to the underdeveloped world. One explanation, of course, is that the Soviet system is incapable of producing enough food for its own population, much less enough to help others in need. What this points to is the undeniable relationship between free enterprise and material abundance, between freedom and caring.
Our agriculture system is made up of millions of people and a host of enterprises. It includes farmers, processors, distributors, transporters, retailers, storage operators, packagers, advertisers, and many others. It's still a system based on the profit motive and on the freedom of those involved to operate as they see fit.
It's this special x factor that makes our food system the most productive in the world and the gem of our economy. With less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the world's farmers and farm workers, we produce 65 percent of the world's soybeans, 48 percent of the corn, 32 percent of the sorghum, 25 percent of the oranges, 31 percent of the poultry, 26 percent of the beef, and you can go on down the line with the other products the same.
Today, wheat grown in the Midwest is eaten as pasta in Italy. Our soybeans make soy sauce used in the Orient. Our cottonseed is pressed into oil and shipped to Venezuela, and our grain is consumed in the Soviet Union.
Along with food, we have been more than willing to share our expertise in this vital area of agriculture. Over 70,000 agriculturalists have come to us for training, and we have technical assistance projects in 76 countries.
But food and technical assistance will not solve the problem in the long run. I pointed out at the Cancun Economic Summit 2 years ago that development of the private sector and the potential for trade is essential for economic progress either in industry or agriculture. We'll continue to help the hungry in every way we can. But let's remember that government repression, mismanagement, and corruption have created as much deprivation and hunger as drought and other natural disasters. Lasting progress in the battle against hunger to a large degree depends on freeing the productive forces needed to produce a better way of life.
Finally, let me add that we're committed not only to fight hunger in the world but to eliminate it anywhere it exists in our own country. Food and help are available to anyone who is hungry in America, and we intend to make sure the information on how to get it is available to all. I know there was some criticism when I announced a commission on hunger. And there was criticism that, ``Well, did I mean that we weren't able to see a hungry person?'' No, that commission, I've just explained what it is for. There is no need or reason for hunger anywhere in America. And what we need to find out is, is there some problem with the administration of our distribution or are there people out there who don't know where the sources are if they are in need and in hunger. And that's what we're trying to find out. Because we are providing all that is necessary to make sure that there need be no hunger in this country of ours and as little hunger in the world as we can help alleviate.
And with that said, I will now sign the proclamation.
Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.