By David Hazledine
MILFORD — Kip Tom, Leesburg, former ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture under President Trump, visited Milford on April 8, where he gave a presentation to Milford Kiwanians outlining the challenges facing efforts to bring humanitarian aid to countries around the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.
Tom, who served in the post for two years, explained much of that time was spent working with World Food Program, one of several organizations connected to the United Nations.
“It used to be nearly 90% of what we did in the WFP was to help those with some sort of natural disaster … flood, tsunami …” This is no longer the case, he said. “Seventy-five percent of the places we deliver humanitarian aid is where there’s man-made conflict … it’s avoidable.”
Tom was blunt in his criticism of European Union’s 30-year leadership of United Nations Food and Aid Organization, which, he said has “failed miserably” in its responsibility to help create “resilient capacity farming systems around the world, so we didn’t have to put so much money in the World Food Program.“ He blamed this failure on Europe’s focus on organic farming and denying access to modern technologies that could “help people feed themselves.”
He cited the armyworm, which he said caused $80 billion in lost crops across the African continent. According to Tom, FAO’s guidance was to spray sugar water on the corn plant, pinch the worm’s eggs off the bottom of the plant or grow up weeds to hide the plant from moths.
Future food production will need to feed a population expected to grow from 7.5 to 9.5 billion people by 2050. By that time, according to one graph, Nigeria is projected to have the third largest population in the world, and one in four people on Earth will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, the number of people with food insecurity since COVID-19 has risen to 270 million people, with another 30 million chronically malnourished. “Our challenge is great.”
Tom cited a recent conversation where WFP Executive Director David Beasley, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in November 2020, calculated they needed to “raise $1 million per hour to make sure we feed these people.”
“If people aren’t fed, if they are food insecure, they lose hope,” said Tom. This leads to migration, which, in turn leads to human trafficking. “20 million people per year are human trafficked.” Others join terrorist organizations, which threatens security around the globe. “Primarily we’re trying to protect our own borders.”
According to Tom, famine is caused not only by conflict, but by lack of access to innovation, rising food costs, natural disasters, extreme climates and lack of humanitarian access.
Tom was hesitant to discuss global warming, admitting he did not know why the climate was changing; however, he said, “I don’t think it’s so much humans, but I think it’s occurring in places … I just think it’s our climate changing.” He added he had seen places in Africa adversely affected by global warming.
The country of Yemen, “the largest humanitarian relief program we have going on in the world right now,” provided a case study in the many pitfalls humanitarian aid organizations face. According to Tom, WFP is feeding 14 to 15 million people every month at a budget of $140 million. And while they are careful not to upset the value of food in other countries with some food resources, Yemen, he said, does not have food, so direct food aid is necessary.
However, he estimated 30% of the food is stolen by Houthi rebels at dozens of checkpoints along the way. “They use it to buy guns, bullets, bombs, everything like that, so we have to find that balance …” Tom added four scenarios were run to try to “limit the loss of life.” Unfortunately, he said, “There is no good scenario in Yemen.”
Despite the litany of stories of the insoluble difficulties of the developing world, Tom seemed to have not lost his faith in the United States’ ability to solve them. He described the forlorn expressions of people living on food aid for generations in South Sudan. “When the United States shows up, where we show up with food aid, the smiles you see on their face …”
Americans, said Tom, contribute more per capita than any other country in the world for humanitarian relief. “I’m proud to be an American,” he emphasized, adding worldwide opinion is not as negative as the nightly news may lead us to think.
In response to those who say foreign aid would be better spent on food insecurity in the U.S., Tom explained less than 1% of the U.S. budget goes to humanitarian aid. “It’s certainly better to spend that money to try to prevent war and terrorism spread than to send our young men to battle.”