Developing strategies to end hunger

114 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

A Climate to End Hunger: U.S. Farming in 2050

We’re hearing a lot about 2050 lately, especially in the anti-hunger community. It’s the year the human population is expected to reach 9 billion, and -- not coincidentally -- it’s the deadline to double global food production to meet growing demand. What will food production look like in 2050?

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) asks: How can agriculture best adapt to climate change? Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity forecasts what the climate will be like in 2050, then tries to figure out which of several farming techniques-- e.g., drip irrigation, no-till agriculture, precision agriculture--would be most effective for growing maize (corn), wheat, and rice under those conditions. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month indicates that worldwide, climate change is already occurring and people are already being forced to adapt to different conditions. Although climate change is a global problem, its effects on food and hunger are likely to be quite localized. 

The report’s North American chapter says climate change could cause “productivity gains in northern regions and where water is not projected to be a limiting factor,” but that heat, drought, and storms in other regions will cause a decrease in crop yields. The report projects that without significant adaptation, the United States will see modest declines in the amount of food grown by the middle of the century, with steeper declines by the year 2100. 

Producing less food can mean higher prices and more hungry people--especially with population growth -- so it’s important for farmers to adapt to climate change and keep crop yields up. The solution isn’t the same for every region or every crop, so the report breaks the world down into square “pixels,” 60 by 60 kilometers. IFPRI has prepared an Agritech Toolbox with country-level data for visualizing which techniques will work best for each crop.  

Map of projected 2050 maize yields in the Americas
From Figure 4.2 of IFPRI report

For example, IFPRI researchers found that for growing maize in the United States, the most successful overall intervention would be to switch to heat-tolerant plant varieties. But as illustrated in a graphic in the report, adopting heat-tolerant varieties of maize wouldn’t change yields much at all in the northern parts of the country. It might not be hot enough there to need new types of corn by 2050. The southernmost corn-growing areas of the United States are likely to have only a small increase in corn yields from using heat-tolerant varieties -- perhaps droughts and storms will kill plants that otherwise could have survived the heat, or maybe it will prove too hot for even the hardiest varieties to thrive. Most importantly, though, there is a large area in the middle of the eastern United States where adopting heat-resistant varieties of maize could increase yields by more than 25 percent.  

Adapting to climate change isn’t enough. We need to change our ways of doing things so as to cause less climate change. For example, we should enable American farmers to not only maintain or increase crop yields despite climate change, but also to reduce waste so that more of the crops in the fields actually reach people’s plates – feeding more people without producing more greenhouse gas. Reducing future climate change can often be done using strategies that also bring people out of poverty, as we discussed in our 2010 Hunger Report.

Even if we succeed in slowing climate change, some of its damage is no longer avoidable. With the planet already experiencing greater extremes of temperature and precipitation, agriculture no longer has a choice about whether to adapt. The IPCC and IFPRI reports show in concrete ways how significantly Earth will change over the next several decades. Ending hunger is possible even in a changing climate, but it will require greater effort than it would have in the past -- on the part of the United States and every other country. 

Stacy Cloyd

Data to End Hunger: Immigrant Poverty Data

Data poverty
It’s important for immigrants who are undocumented to maintain a low profile – in particular to avoid attention from the government. But this also makes it difficult to obtain data on this group, estimated to include 11 million to 12 million people.

Even basic data -- such as how many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States – are at best estimates based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. To encourage full participation of immigrants in the census, the Census Bureau does not ask about immigration status. Neither is this information collected by any other government agency. The commonly agreed-upon figure of 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants is based on the work of research organizations, including the Pew Hispanic Trends Project, which analyze Census data to arrive at estimates of the raw numbers.

With no clear idea of exactly how many people are in the group, it is even more difficult to measure indicators of their socioeconomic status -- the data are even scarcer. For example, poverty rates among unauthorized immigrants:  there are several studies, but they arrive at different findings. On the lower side, the Pew Hispanic Trends Project estimated that 21 percent of unauthorized immigrant adults live in poverty, and one-third of the children of unauthorized parents (most of whom are U.S. citizens) live in poverty.

Those poverty rates are far too high for a wealthy country such as the United States – and yet they are lower than those found by other researchers. For example, the Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that roughly a third of all immigrants live in poverty.

The available data on poverty, while sparse and not consistent, is better than that on food security and hunger -- which is almost nonexistent. At the national level, there is data on food insecurity rates among immigrants. USDA estimates that during the period 2003-2010, 23 percent of recent immigrants, 25 percent of long-term immigrants, and 15 percent of naturalized immigrants were food insecure, compared with 18 percent for the U.S. population as a whole. But there is very little national-level data that looks specifically at food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants.

Most hunger and food insecurity statistics for unauthorized immigrants are only available at the state level, usually through university-led research. Even then, some of the research is dated and uses small sample sizes. Iowa State University found that 41 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents in Iowa were food insecure. But this was an inexact measure of food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants since Spanish speakers were used as a proxy. Similarly,  surveys in North Carolina found that food insecurity rates ranged from 36 percent to 42 percent among Latino immigrant families in the state.

The bottom line is that there is much we don’t know about the socioeconomic status of unauthorized immigrants. This is yet another reason to enact immigration reforms that legalize immigrants. In addition to the economic benefits for immigrant families, bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows will also help researchers better understand their socioeconomic realities, including how and why they experience poverty and food insecurity.  And identifying problems is an essential first step toward solving them.

Andrew Wainer

A Climate to End Hunger: Agriculture Is Part of the Problem and the Solution

Hunger Report Monday 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors

Editor’s note: Welcome to Bread for the World Institute’s blog series on A Climate to End Hunger. The other day when I realized that Earth Day was approaching, I winced at my conflation of Earth Day with climate change. But it makes sense. Climate change is the biggest threat yet to Earth’s environment – and increasingly widespread hunger is one of its most tragic potential consequences. In this series, we reflect on how we can help prevent such a catastrophe. 

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published the third and final contribution, Mitigation of Climate Change, to the organization’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report. Working Group III, made up of hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, was tasked with surveying thousands of the latest peer-reviewed studies to gauge the current status of climate change, the hazards it poses to humanity, and, of course, what people can do to prevent and/or cope with those hazards. The Guardian’s Leo Hickman summed up the group’s findings best – and at Tweetable length:

Climate change is real. We are to blame. It will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable. But time is short.

The group’s findings support the warning – stronger than ever – of the threat posed by climate change not only to hungry and poor people, but to the entire global economy. Climate change is increasingly straining global food systems. The message to policymakers is that if all countries, rich and poor alike, do not act quickly and cooperatively, the hard-won global progress against hunger and extreme poverty of the past few decades could be rapidly undone.

More specifically, climate change threatens global food security by causing declining crop yields; disruptions in food access, utilization, and price stability; and significantly reduced access to water, food security, and agricultural incomes in rural communities.

As the report’s chart (above) shows, about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use” (AFOLU) sector — more than by the transport and building sectors combined. Sustainable agricultural practices will be crucial to reducing AFOLU emissions while still producing enough food for the growing population. Promising mitigation options include afforestation and sustainable forest management, improved cropland management, and restoration of organic soils.

At its core, responding effectively to climate change means building resilience in communities where people have always struggled to produce enough food. It demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels — local, regional, national, and global. Strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation strategies is vital to building resilience.

Chapter 5 of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, examines how agriculture has been part of the climate change problem, and more importantly, how it must be part of the solution. Visit to read more.   Derek Schwabe

Data to End Hunger: Social Security - It Pays to Wait

Editor's Note:  Institute Notes is grateful to Kristen Arnold and her colleagues at the National Academy of Social Insurance, here in Washington, DC, for today’s guest blog post. It’s an excellent example of simplifying, but not over-simplifying, data to present what people should know. People at risk of hunger and poverty need access to data on a variety of issues along with succinct explanations of why the information is important - and Social Security is certainly one of the most important of these issues.  

Photo for Social Security

Photo by Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels.

 Social Security is more than a number; it’s also America’s most powerful poverty-prevention program. Social Security benefits kept more than 22.1 million people out of poverty in 2012.

These data are interesting, but how can Social Security help you fight poverty on a personal level? On Social Security, knowledge can truly pay.

How does that work? If you’re thinking about retiring, you should know that every month you delay Social Security between 62 and 70 will increase your monthly benefit for the rest of your life. Waiting until 70 will increase it by 76%. That’s a big difference. Waiting even a year or two — if you can — can make a difference in how comfortably you’ll be able to live in retirement.

The National Academy of Social Insurance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates policymakers and the public about Social Security, Medicare and other social insurance programs.  It also produces unbiased educational resources for individuals.

     When to Take Social Security: It Pays to Wait is a new toolkit that empowers workers nearing retirement to make informed decisions about when to take Social Security retirement benefits.

     The toolkit’s fact sheet, 16-page brief, and 3-minute video explain key messages:

      1) It pays to wait to take Social Security. If you can wait, even a year or two, your monthly benefit will be higher – for the rest of your life.

There are financial benefits if you can wait to start your benefits at or after your full   retirement age. Your benefit is reduced if you take Social Security before your full retirement age, and is increased for every month after full retirement age that you wait to claim, until age 70. If you wait until 70, your Social Security benefit will be 76% higher than if you started taking benefits at 62.

2) If you need Social Security to make ends meet, take it – you’ve earned it.

Social Security is there for you, and you can take it as early as age 62 if you need it to prevent financial hardship.

      3)If you’re married, you have two lives to plan for. If you are the higher earner, waiting to take Social Security provides a higher survivor benefit for your spouse if she or he outlives you.

     A widow can receive Social Security based on her husband’s work record if that benefit is higher than what she would receive based on her own work. Any increase in the husband’s benefit because he delayed claiming is passed on in the survivor benefit for his widow after he dies. (If the wife is the higher earner, waiting to take her benefit will increase survivor benefits for her husband if he outlives her.)

Social Security is the most important source of income for most retired Americans. Understanding the financial impact of waiting to take Social Security benefits could help you and your loved ones stay out of poverty in retirement.

Kristen Arnold is the Income Security Program Analyst at the National Academy of Social Insurance, where she develops strategic partnerships and new outreach initiatives and contributes to research on Social Security and Unemployment Insurance.

Data to End Hunger: Freeing Data Could Help Improve SNAP


Historic food stamps
Food stamps have changed a lot over the years. Data about their use could too. Photo by National Museum of American History

Where do people spend their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) dollars?  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has fought to keep this information a secret. We’re hoping they release this information, since it could be used to improve SNAP and make it more accessible to poor families.

 As this Slate article describes, SNAP doesn’t just help the people who are buying food: it also helps the businesses whose customers they are. More than $74 billion in SNAP benefits was spent during fiscal year 2012 -- at 246,565 stores, farmers’ markets, and other entities. We know this because USDA releases an annual report on SNAP retailers. The report includes some useful information -- for example, it tells us that military commissaries took in eight times as much in SNAP benefits as farmers’ markets. This sort of information could be important to retailers deciding how to operate businesses or policymakers discussing military pay. USDA also provides a map of SNAP retailers.

But more detailed data about how much each vendor accepts in SNAP benefits would help even more. For example, the District of Columbia could find out where its residents’ SNAP dollars are being spent in neighboring Maryland or Virginia. This information on how families balance competing factors such as sales tax, transportation, prices, and selection when buying food could help the DC government decide what incentives are necessary or useful in encouraging food retailers to locate in lower-income neighborhoods.   

Knowing which small grocery stores and farmers’ markets attract lots of SNAP customers would also allow hunger advocates to learn from successful businesses and share best practices. It would also help them identify the highest-volume vendors so that they can offer the stores information and recommendations on how they can supply a variety of nutritious foods

When the government spends money, it usually provides information on exactly where these public funds are going. But data about SNAP benefits are unusually hard to come by. In fact, USDA was recently in federal court over the issue of what information it must make available.

Reporters at the Argus Leader in South Dakota wanted to know which stores in their state were selling the most food funded through the SNAP program and how those numbers had changed over the years. USDA said it could not release that data because it was legally required to keep certain types of information that retailers possess private.

The case went all the way to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided in January 2014 that SNAP sales figures are different:  although stores could supply the information, the USDA in fact never asks them to do so. Instead, USDA gathers the information from the third-party processors that run Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) terminals. The court ruled that the information should be made public upon request. This decision may not be the end of the story, since USDA could appeal to the full panel of judges on the 8th Circuit or even ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. 

We hope that USDA will instead agree to release the information. While stores are generally not eager to have their sales data made public (since it could help their competition), it seems a small price to pay for the extra business generated by SNAP dollars – money that customers would otherwise not be able to spend in their local stores. Also, even this more specific information is general enough that no one could use it to find out where a specific household shopped or what they purchased.

Writer and futurist Stewart Brand coined the phrase “information wants to be free.” In this case, freeing government data about where SNAP is spent might also help poor families afford to put food on the table.  

Stacy Cloyd

Legacy of the Great Recession: Latino Child Poverty

 Hispanic Children Hardest Hit by Great Recession

One of the legacies of the nation’s sluggish recovery from the Great Recession is continuing child poverty. Many groups were set back economically by the recession, but perhaps no group endured harsher consequences than Hispanic children, particularly Hispanic immigrant children.

In 2010, more Hispanic children were living in poverty—6.1 million—than children of any other racial or ethnic group. This was the first time in U.S. history that the single largest group of poor children was not white.

Part of this spike in child poverty rates among Hispanics is due to the mixed immigration status of many families. In numerous immigrant families, the children are U.S.-born citizens, but one or both of the parents is an unauthorized immigrant.

Hispanic children with immigrant parents are even more vulnerable to poverty (40 percent) than those with citizen parents (28 percent). This is due in part to the limited job opportunities open to immigrants and their circumscribed access to social safety nets.

Poverty is a complex issue. But it would certainly help the children of immigrants if parents could regularize their immigration status. Immigration reform, by enabling immigrants to better support themselves and their children, would contribute to lower poverty rates among immigrant and mixed-status families.

  Andrew Wainer


Humane Deportation Policy

Removals Rise through Three Administrations

Deportations have risen steadily through the last three U.S. presidencies. Under increased pressure, President Obama has pledged to review his administration's deporation policy.

Immigration advocates are continuing to take a “dual track” when it comes to pressuring the federal government on immigration reform, targeting both President Obama and House Republicans.

This week House Democrats introduced a discharge petition designed to force Speaker John Boehner to act on reform. As was predicted by both Democrats and Republicans, the measure failed, but it did draw more attention to the stalemate in the House.

While Congress remains mired, there may be more reason for optimism when it comes to administrative changes that improve U.S. policies on the deportation of unauthorized immigrants. The White House has been facing increasing grassroots pressure to stop deportations, and this month President Obama announced that the administration would review its deportation policy to see if it was possible to make it more humane within the bounds of the law.  

President Obama is working with both members of Congress and activists. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been directed to review his agency's approach. Reports from the media indicate there are some very sensible and middle-of-the-road solutions under consideration. One of them is to “ease or stop deportations of foreigners who have no criminal convictions other than immigration violations.” According to this report, deportation resources would be shifted to target people who have been charged with or convicted of crimes and may pose a threat to public safety.

Such a change may help ease the outrage of grassroots immigration activists, who point out that the Obama administration has already deported about 2 million unauthorized immigrants. Many of them faced no criminal charges and had been living in a family and working. The proposal would thus also help stem the separation of immigrant families.  Andrew Wainer

What Could You Do With a Billion Dollar Bracket Prize?

Basketball and hoop at sunset
photo credit: Stuart Seeger

It’s playoff time in college basketball, and there’s a billion-dollar prize for picking a perfect men’s* bracket. Since Bread for the World is hopeful even in the face of overwhelming odds, you can follow along with our staff picks here.

What if the really, really unlikely happens: someone picks a perfect bracket, and he or she decides to use the whole prize to help end hunger? Let’s assume the lucky winner takes the $500 million lump-sum award instead of the 40-year annuity and eliminates any tax burden by donating the entire amount to nonprofits or the U.S. Treasury (yes, contributions to federal, state, or local governments are deductible).

It’s going to take a sustained global effort to end hunger and poverty. No one—not even someone who picks a perfect bracket—can do that alone. But it would be a really good start.

* We thought it was important to offer information about the women’s tournament as well—especially considering that Bread for the World Institute’s upcoming hunger report focuses on women’s empowerment and March is International Women’s Month.  Stacy Cloyd

Pressure Mounts on Obama Administration to Defer Deportations

SCREEN GRAB-eyes-500px (2)
A photo of an immigrant in North Carolina, who lives in the United States without legal authorization. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

During a 2008 television interview on a presidential campaign stop, then-Sen. Barack Obama told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, “I can guarantee that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support.”

Six years later, however, immigration reform remains mired in Congress. While the Senate produced a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, and President Obama supported it, it did not become the law of the land. Meanwhile, during the Obama administration, an estimated 2 million unauthorized immigrants have been deported – more than under any president in history.

After the Senate bill was passed, advocates turned their efforts to House Republicans, pressing them to engage with the Senate legislation and take action on reform. In the past year, House Republicans have taken small steps that led to a set of immigration reform principles seen as a major step forward in their thinking on the issue. Hopes for quick change were subsequently dimmed, however, when House Speaker John Boehner indicated that Republicans were unlikely to move on reform because they did not trust the president to enforce new immigration laws.

Advocates who see House Republications as a lost cause in the near term are increasingly focusing their frustration on Obama. They are led by Latino media personalities such as Univision’s Ramos, who has been called the “Walter Cronkite of Hispanic media.”

“There has been a shift within the Hispanic media,” Ramos said this month. “If you read the editorial pages in the most important Spanish language newspapers, you notice immediately how the conversation has changed from attacking Republicans to attacking Obama.”

Last week, this growing frustration caused President Obama to announce that the Department of Homeland Security will conduct a review of deportation policies to see if they can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law.” The announcement came after the president's meeting with a group of Hispanic members of Congress who directly conveyed the growing anger among the Latino community and immigration reform advocates.

Americans support legalization for immigrants: 73 percent have called for legalizing immigrants, while only 24 percent said that unauthorized immigrants should not be allowed a path to legalization or citizenship. As long as Congress remains stalemated, Americans’ strong support for legalization will not be reflected in national policy. Last week immigration advocates scored a win with the announcement of the Department of Homeland Security review, but it remains to be seen whether this announcement will ultimately result in relief for immigrant families. Andrew Wainer

What Does Stigma Have to do with Hunger? Meet Dawn

Hunger Report Monday 2

Dawn shares her story of facing social stigmas. (Video credit: Feeding America)

For millions of Americans like Dawn, the idea of accepting help--even when it's badly needed--is daunting and humiliating. While she was unemployed, Dawn received SNAP (food stamps) that helped keep her and her son fed and healthy. The safety net was there for her family when a job just wasn't. Getting by on SNAP was hard enough (the average benefit is less than $1.50 per meal), but being socially ostracized for it, she says, was the most stressful. Scrutinizing stares and rude comments became a usual part of her weekly grocery trip, and she found herself shopping late at night just to avoid ridicule. 

Dawn never forgot the undue shame that she was made to endure during that rough time--and the millions of others who still face it today. Like most Americans, she has a firm sense of self-reliance, and considers it a strength. But she knows that it can also feed that oppressive stigma. Today, she's a vocal advocate for the millions of Americans who bear a degenerating burden of guilt for circumstances they can't control.

We have many tools at our disposal (like the new SNAP EBT card system) that can make it easier for people to anonymously accept help when they need it, but as Dawn's story shows, they will not be enough. Combatting stigmas will start with challenging hurtful attitudes and assumptions about what it means to need help. 

Hunger is a shared public health problem--not a punishment for the few--and the more we talk about it this way, the sooner we may be able to reduce the stigma that makes it a much harder problem to solve than it should be.

Check out to read Dawn's full story--complete with photos and graphics--and to download the complete 2014 Hunger Report and read more about how social stigmas perpetuate hunger in America.  Derek Schwabe

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