THE SECOND annual World Food Day, scheduled for Saturday, focuses the attention of the world on the successes, attempts and failures of feeding the estimated 800 million people living in poverty.
The problem, according to Larry Marton, WFD chairman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is not food. There's enough food in the world, he says, to feed everybody. According to many people involved in WFD activities, they must get the food to the people who need it. And that's not so easy.
"The image of hungry people is easy to grasp," says Martin McLaughlin of the Overseas Development Council. "The difficult thing is to understand the image of the policy and what it means. There is enough food to go around. It doesn't go around."
World Food Day commemorates the anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which is 37 years old this year. According to the FAO, the day was created to heighten "public awareness of the nature and dimensions of world food problems and to develop further the sense of national and international solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty."
For groups who work all year trying to feed the hungry, this is "a day when people can asses achievements and look at the year ahead," says Pat Young, coordinator of the National Committee for World Food Day.
For others, it will be a day to enlighten classes, communities and parishes about what keeps these people hungry. The first Food Day, according to Young, united secular and religious groups in Cleveland, gave impetus to a new state-wide food bank in Utah and inspired fasts at colleges with the savings from skipped meals donated to community charities.
And that was just in the United States. In various ways, about 150 countries celebrated World Food Day for the first time last year. Recession-afflicted Britons were asked to clean out their attics, basements, sheds and garages and donate forgotten possessions for resale -- money from the sales went to ease hunger in "the poor world." Seed farms were established in Gambia in an attempt to distribute seeds for crops that produce suitable yields in spite of Gambia's erratic weather. There were buffalo-milking contests in Pakistan and cooking demonstrations in Peru.
Four tenets support the World Food Day maxim "Food comes first." They emphasize a responsibility to nutrition, agriculture and conservation while eliminating hunger.
* Food for every child's growth and for lifelong health is a basic human right.
Nancy Amidei, of the Food Research and Action Center, says that by the late 1970s, the United States was well on its way to "eliminating hunger and malnutrition" because of federal programs such as food stamps, school meals and food for pregnant mothers. "Now, thanks to the administration and its supporters in Congress, we are undoing that record of success and going back to a time when hunger and malnutrition are problems once again in this country."
The international picture, says McLaughlin, shows that nearly every country that has starving people also exports food; where "53 percent are women who don't have rights, 90 percent are sick, 20 percent are children who won't live until they're 5. WFD is an effort to focus people's attention that there are hungry people, and on why there are hungry people."
These points make clear that the altruistic desire to feed the hungry is inextricably linked to politics and policy. Finding solutions, says McLaughlin, requires an understanding of a country's social and economic structure. Only then can suitable alternatives -- such as foreign aid or private investment -- be chosen to alleviate hunger.
* The well-being of farms and farm families is vital to national and world progress.
"Increasing amounts of fertile farmland goes to highways and houses," according to USDA's Marton. He says that counties and states must pass laws restricting such suburban sprawl in order to maintain farmland. This is difficult, he adds, because "too few people understand what land use means so they don't show up at hearings." If local voters don't take the initiative, the laws don't get passed.
USDA researchers, he maintains, do their part to alleviate hunger by such things as developing high protein rice, finding ways to kill animal parasites and learning improved breeding techniques for poultry and pigs.
But Edouard Saouma, director general of the FAO, points out that people have "diminishing sensitivity to the fragile ecologies that sustain us" and says that urbanization and industrialization have left people far removed from and unsympathetic to the problems facing farmers. In this country, according to the National Farmers' Union, the problems of low prices and overproduction are causing many people to lose their farms.
* Careful stewardship of land and water resources on which food production depends is a global human responsibility.
Robert Rodale, creator of the conservation-oriented Cornucopia Project, says that "for much longer than 10 years people around the world have been trading land and water quality for food." Rodale says that conventional agriculture "is largely an exploitation industry . . . it is all take and no give back to the earth."
An FAO position paper points out that while expanding agricultural production "care must be taken for the environment, especially by conserving precious soil and water." Rodale maintains that conservation efforts must start now or valuable natural resources will be destroyed.
* That all nations should work together to build a fail-proof system for world food security that eliminates the scourge of hunger.
Three approaches should be taken eliminate hunger, says Overseas Development Council's McLaughlin. Immediately, hunger should be fought with food aid. "This is the richest country in the world and the dominant figure in the world food system," he says of the United States. In concert with the Farmers Union, McLaughlin says the United States should "accept a leading responsibility to making the world food system more secure."
Second, he calls for a reserve system "so that countries trying to improve their food system can be helped when they fail." There's no time like the present, he adds, "because we have a glut of food." Storage and shipping, however, are political problems that need solving.
Third, McLaughlin says that world food security requires that hungry people be helped to obtain their food by growing it or getting the money to buy it. That effort is long-term and complicated, he says, and is not enhanced by the United States' weak support of the International Monetary Fund and International Fund for Agricultural Development.
World Food Day activities, coordinated by the national committee, are designed to focus attention on the food and agriculture situation both at local levels and worldwide. In the Washington, D.C., area, food drives, seminars and speeches are planned. The WFD committee distributes classroom curricula for kindergarten through 12th grade. A WFD resource list suggests books, films and other material which support the WFD concept. In addition, the committee has developed WFD posters, brochures and educational materials designed to help local groups organize WFD activities.
For more information, write or call the National Committee for World Food Day, 1776 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20437, (202) 376-2306.