Even though the United States of America played a major role in crafting the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in New York in September 2015, less than a decade to 2030, we are like the naked man trying to offer other countries clothes by refusing to lead by example on food security, an issue very critical to the attainment of goals 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere) and 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture). How can we lead the world when we recorded a national poverty rate of 11.4% in 2020 (US Census Bureau)?
The US Department of Homeland Security states that its vital mission is to “secure the nation from the many threats we face” (www.dhs.gov). I do believe that there are fewer threats greater than the impact of food security. The problem is not only challenging because there are 37.2 million people who cannot afford to effectively demand foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet. It is also burdensome for the healthcare sector, as we saw at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the most food-insecure groups (Black, Hispanic, and Native Alaskan populations) had poorer outcomes than their White, Non-Hispanic, and Asian counterparts.
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed. Becoming an agricultural business owner has made me acutely aware of the systemic challenges food producers (small farmers, in particular) face in America. Unfortunately, this causes long-term disruptions to the food system. Besides the burden of slavery and racism, which continue to create enormous obstacles for farmers of color, there is the added frustration of policymakers “shaving our [farmers’] heads in our absence.” A state official recently attempted to justify an offer of $1 per pound of carrots made to local farmers in Maryland. I argued that it was unacceptable because $1 barely covers the cost of harvest labor ($0.60) and they should talk less about the cost of keeping the carrots “alive” in the ground for 70 to 75 days. His justification was that $0.50 is the USDA recommended price. To make matters worse, the official said the state should not be made to offer higher prices simply because it wanted to “help small farmers.” Help? Therein lies the problem! How can we achieve food security if we see paying fair prices as an act of charity?
In addition to including small farmers in food policymaking, the USDA and state and local government agricultural agencies must review and eliminate the beliefs, barriers, and bottlenecks deeply rooted in our food system. Together, these make agriculture a non-viable career option for our youth population and force 61% of farmers to maintain other occupations besides farming (USDA, 2017). Congress and the executive branch must also need to boldly address the challenges of access to capital, immigration, and land-use laws that make agriculture a highly capital-intensive industry, plagued by labor shortages and low returns. In leading the world to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the US must look inward to ensure that barriers to food (and consequently) national security are forthrightly addressed. We cannot lead the world to a destination we do not intend to go ourselves. An 11.4% poverty rate is unacceptable for any and every American regardless of race, ethnicity, or political affiliation.
— Tope Fajingbesi, CPA, PPC Member @TFAJ17