Secretary Dan Glickman
Monthly Column

August, 2000

For over half a century, the Federal Government has provided nutritious meals in school for children from low-income families. This has been one of the great government successes of the 20th century. Between the School Lunch and School Breakfast program, we serve nearly 35 million children a day, giving them the sustenance they need to learn and develop into productive members of society.

A few months ago, I started working with former Senators George McGovern (now the U.S. Ambassador to the UNís Food and Agriculture Organization) and Bob Dole, two of the pioneers of federal nutrition programs, on an idea to use our domestic School Meals effort as a model for a global initiative to feed undernourished schoolchildren.

Especially in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, education is a tool of upward mobility, a way for the poorest children to advance to the middle class. But in developing nations, 120 million children donít attend school, in part because their families need their labor. Millions more underperform and arenít able to get the full benefits of education because they are trying to learn on an empty stomach.

Ambassador McGovern, Senator Dole, myself and others discussed our idea with President Clinton, who embraced it and has now announced a $300 million Global Food for Education pilot program, which could feed as many as 9 million children. The program calls for USDAís Commodity Credit Corporation to purchase commodities -- primarily soybeans, corn, wheat, rice and nonfat dry milk -- from American farmers and donate them to selected countries for school and pre-school nutrition programs.

There is no one boilerplate, one-size-fits-all formula for this program. It is designed to be flexible, structured different ways in different places, tailored to the particular needs of each country involved. For example, a country could choose to have the commodities sold to pay for other important items or services, like cooking equipment, product storing, transportation or processing.

Global Food for Education will be implemented with the help and cooperation of the UNís World Food Program and various private voluntary organizations. We have yet to select the countries that will benefit. But we will target places with the most urgent need, and we will also be looking to help those who are willing to help themselves Ė nations willing to commit their own resources to the effort and nations already working to expand access to basic education.

Like any nutrition assistance effort, this pilot program is about more than just food. Because food is the most basic of human essentials, Global Food for Education could create something of a ripple effect, helping battle some of the other problems of the developing world.

It will encourage more children to stay in school and reduce dependence on child labor. It has the potential to raise academic performance and increase literacy rates, thus building human capital and creating a more skilled workforce.

By furthering education, the program could lead to expanded democratic participation and therefore more responsive and accountable public officials. Higher education and literacy rates can be an important initial step in the prevention and treatment of AIDS. And itís been demonstrated that when young girls stay in school, they bear fewer children. So our pilot program could lead to more responsible family planning, and therefore sustainable population growth and improved environmental conditions.

The United States has an important stake in the Global Food for Education program. First, as a leader in the international community, I believe we have a humanitarian responsibility to fight world hunger and malnutrition. The program also represents a domestic economic opportunity, as it will help boost farm income and relieve our farmers of some of their surpluses. We have to look at Global Food for Education as a long-term investment.

I am optimistic that it will be a success. I look forward to attracting more donors, including other developed countries, and turning this into a permanent effort, one that will both help people in need and serve American interests.