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Senator Boozman sponsors bipartisan effort to improve global food security

Senator John Boozman
Senator John Boozman

Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate is being introduced to combat the global food security crisis. Arkansas Senator John Boozman is one of the sponsors of this bill to support the Foundation for International Food Security Act. Senator Boozman says recent statistics show there are 345 million people who are facing acute hunger right now.

Senator John Boozman: And the scary thing about that is that in 2020, the number wass only half of that. Some of that is manmade, some of its climate, some regions simply don't do a very good job of producing the food that they could produce. So that's really what we want to attack is taking those regions. These are fertile areas that just need some help basic understanding of how you can produce crops in a much more productive way. Still respecting the local economy and things like that protecting the in essence, the family farmer, but making them more productive. So, what this does is establish a partnership between the government and private entity it's a great example of a good nonprofit working with the government so that we can actually accomplish this. USAID does a good job, but they simply are not very good at doing this. So, this is really what that's all about is just creating a nonprofit, putting some government money in and putting money in from the private sector. Then establishing a mechanism where you have metrics, making it such that you have a lot of accountability. We choose about 10 countries and then again, measuring their progress. This is a way to not just throw money at the problem. This is a way to actually make a huge difference, and really solve a problem that I think is very solvable.

Matthew Moore: The war in Ukraine, I'm sure, has played a major role in the movement of foods internationally. I know that towards the beginning of the war, we heard a lot of talk about grains moving from that area to areas of Africa and places that really depend on the movement of food internationally. And I'm sure the war in Gaza is playing a role in this as well. How have these international conflicts kind of changed perhaps the pace that you're thinking about this sort of legislation?

JB: Well, the war in Ukraine has made a tremendous difference. Ukraine is one of the breadbaskets of the world, but certainly of that whole region of the world. They produce about 30% of the grain, much of the cooking oil — 80% or so — worldwide. They are somebody that when you take them offline, it makes a huge difference and the Russians are working very hard to take them off. Russia is somewhat weaponizing, but more so they want to wreck the Ukrainian economy. And if the Ukrainians are producing food and selling it, they essentially have no economy. Russia's economy is based on oil, Ukraine's is based on food production. So, this is really what that's all about is wrecking the Ukrainian economy. The other thing that has happened is that the Russians have been able to be more productive and sell more so it's actually helped their economy a little bit. Because of that, particularly, as you mentioned, the countries in Africa are suffering.

The other problem that we have is that a lot of the countries have been dealing with China, other countries that are very, very heavily indebted. And now we see interest rates rise because of their indebtedness, massive indebtedness, their currency is not worth anything. And so not only is the food that that they're buying more expensive as it is worldwide, we can see that. In America, we're blessed, we have the cheapest and safest food supply of any place in the world, but we can see it's gone up dramatically. Well, the same thing is gone up in the rest of the world even more so and so these countries are paying much, much more. And besides that, again, their currencies aren't worth anything.

MM: I Imagine your involvement with the Ag Committee plays a critical role in your involvement in this legislation. But how do you see the translation between the work that's being done domestically here in the US translating to an international space? 

JB: I think that's really a great question in the sense that you look back and it's not that many years that that American agriculture was subsistence agriculture. You had farmers who were barely able to eke out a living and weren’t very productive. But we’re so proud in the sense that America really has stepped up. The inputs — the amount of fertilizer, the amount of insecticides, all of those kinds of things, those kinds of inputs — has stayed and actually maybe even reduced a little bit. But our productivity per acre is just off the chart. And it doesn't matter if you're measuring milk production, broiler capacity, or just our traditional farming of grains, our productivity is really the wonder of the world. So, we need to help these developing countries. Basically, it starts with things like seed varieties, making sure that they have seed varieties that are up to date now. I was in Ghana and they were using seed varieties back to the turn of the last century, it's really amazing. There’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there that are farmers have become so productive their fathers and grandfathers were doing many of the same practices. You don't need to bring in a bunch of tractors and things like that in these remote areas. There's lots of different ways that we can do to make a huge impact with helping them think in a little bit different way of production.

MM: This legislation is bipartisan, and with all of the frustration we've seen across Congress between the two parties, it feels significant that this is bipartisan legislation.

JB: It is, Matthew. I'm a co-chair of the Hunger Caucus in the Senate. The nice thing about the food issues is they really are very bipartisan. Agriculture is very bipartisan, it's about regions of the country and different crops, but it's Republicans and Democrats working together to take care and making sure that we continue to have this great, cheap, healthy food supply. This is something that I’m very proud of. It’s a way to come together, not only with Democrats and Republicans coming together, but also the government coming together with the private sector to really deal with the problem. I think we're not going to completely eliminate these problems, but we can make a big dent in them.

MM: As I think about Arkansas, I know so much of the economy is based around agriculture, whether it's dairy farming, folks in rice, and folks in grains. There's a lot of institutional knowledge that is held here in Arkansas. Do you hope that that sort of knowledge — and specifically with the roots here in Arkansas and your capacity in this act — can kind of help to spread that knowledge and help to really fortify the way that food is grown and manufactured and spread internationally? 

JB: Very much so we are so blessed with having so many experts in agriculture. It’s 25% of our economies, it’s number one. If you get outside of any town of any size, it's not 25% it's probably 85 or 90%. So yeah, it is huge. But also, we're blessed with smart farmers and productive farmers. We also have the infrastructure with our land grant institution, the University of Arkansas and several other colleges and universities in Arkansas, that have stepped up with great programs regarding research, making us more productive. In fact, we’ve been doing a lot of listening tours in preparation for the final production of the Farm Bill. And I was in Florida. Every farm that we stopped at when we were visiting with the farmers, they had some berry variety that was actually produced at the University of Arkansas through their resource. We don't have to backup to anybody, we just we have a lot of great programs and a lot of great producers that have used that good research that's come out to make them so much more productive. We want to do the same thing: use consultation and research to make farmers in these areas of the world that desperately needed much more productive.

MM: It's funny, because I think there tends to be a stereotype and this divide between farmers being folks who did not pursue higher education or are not necessarily “smart people” and this divide between academia. And I think, as you're talking about here in Arkansas, there's a really wonderful intersection between the research that's happening and the farmers and that stereotype is really broken here in this state. 

JB: It is very much, and really to be a farmer that is able to actually continue farming, you've got to have skills in all kinds of different ways. You’ve got to understand the various programs. These forms that you fill out are very, very difficult. So, you've got all that to contend with — maybe too much, we need to cut the paperwork. But also the equipment and the ability to use just the right amount. We talk about the climate, we talk about the environment keeping our water quality and soils in really good shape. All of that is to the farmer’s advantage, it helps their bottom line. They are very educated in those areas and not only are educated but are good about using that education to follow through so that they can continue to be productive and also are great stewards of the land and the water.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
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