World hunger worsens

World hunger reached crisis proportions in 2008 because of a confluence of agricultural and economic factors. The situation became so bad – with shortages, rocketing prices and political unrest – that Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, called it “a silent tsunami.”

As governments and organizations scrambled to respond, the debate widened to include the possibilities and concerns raised by genetically modified foods and the movement for sustainable agriculture.

Many blame the rush for corn-based ethanol for inflating the prices of that staple to a level that is devastating for the most needy. Journalists in the U.S. have many avenues into this story. Dozens of U.S. organizations provide food to the hungry globally, and experts and think tanks are working to find innovative ways to reduce hunger. Many Americans donate money and time to this cause. Bread for the World began a Recipe for Hope campaign to give Americans ways to respond to the crisis.

Food-related violence has been reported in 14 countries, and in Haiti, the prime minister stepped down in Apri 2008 in the wake of hunger-driven riots in Port-au-Prince. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of “a cascade” of social and political problems worldwide if the crisis continued to deepen.

According to the World Hunger Education Service, nearly one-third of children in the developing world suffer from malnutrition. And between 2007 and  2008, the average worldwide price of rice – a staple in many areas already desperately poor – rose 96 percent, the BBC reports.

Compounding the trouble, spiraling expenses and unmet commitments from donors have been forcing some aid groups, such as the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision, to reduce food assistance to those they usually serve. President Bush released $200 million in emergency U.S. aid and asked Congress to approve an additional $770 million in response to the crisis.


Cornell University posts the website Food Policy for Developing Countries – The Role of Government in Global, National and Local Food Systems.

The Global Policy Forum posts links to organizations working on world hunger issues.

Reports and Statistics


  • “Bush Pushes Shift In U.S. Food Aid”

    Read a May 2, 2008, Wall Street Journal article about President Bush asking Congress to approve an additional $770 million in global food aid.

  • “Food Crisis Deepening Across Globe as Major Aid Group Forced to Scale Back Assistance”

    Read an April 28, 2008, Christian NewsWire story about cutbacks in global food aid that World Vision is having to make due to its own financial challenges.

  • “The New Economies of Hunger”

    Read an April 27, 2008, Washington Post story (the first in a five-part series) about the factors pushing food prices sky-high and the resulting effects on the world’s poorest populations. An accompanying slide show includes a graphic detailing the countries hardest-hit.

  • “How to solve the global food crisis”

    Read an April 25, 2008, analysis of the global food crisis posted by the BBC. Cornell University economics professor Kaushik Basu is the author.

  • “A hunger for faith”

    Read an April 25, 2008, Columbus Dispatch “Faith & Values” feature about Tony Hall, a former congressman who serves as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s envoy to religious groups in the Middle East. Hall has worked for decades on the problem of world hunger and has said that his advocacy on that and related issues is driven by his Christian faith.

  • “World food crisis hits home”

    Read an April 23, 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about signs that some Americans are stockpiling food in light of the global problems. An accompanying timeline lists developments in the world food crisis since September 2007.

National Sources

  • L. Shannon Jung

    The Rev. L. Shannon Jung is professor of town and country ministries at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. He has written about rural ministry. His books include  Hunger & Happiness: Feeding the Hungry, Nourishing Our Souls and Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating.

  • Jeffrey Sachs

    Jeffrey Sachs is one of the foremost experts on the economics of poverty. He is director of the Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. He is also special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002-06, Sachs was director of the U.N. Millennium Project and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease and hunger by 2015. Sachs is also president and co-founder of Millennium Promise, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty. He is the author of Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (2008) and The End of Poverty. Contact through Kyu-Young Lee at the Earth Institute.

  • Norman E. Borlaug

    Norman E. Borlaug is Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University in College Station. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work increasing wheat production in Mexico – which resulted in increasing food supply for millions of starving people. The Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture was created to carry forward his work; its current director is Edwin C. Price.

  • Joseph A. Grassi

    He is professor emeritus of religious studies at Santa Clara University in California and author of Broken Bread and Broken Bodies: The Lord’s Supper and World Hunger.

  • Eric Holt-Gimenez

    Eric Holt-Gimenez is executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), which works to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger. It’s based in Oakland, Calif.

  • Frances Moore Lappé

    Author of Diet for a Small Planet and co-author of World Hunger: Twelve Myths. She is co-leader of the Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and was a co-founder of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First). Contact through Rod Meade Sperry, outreach and operations director.

  • Donald E. Messer

    Donald E. Messer is a co-author of Ending Hunger Now. A United Methodist theologian, he is now executive director of the Center for Church and Global AIDS, which is based in Centennial, Colo.

    Contact: 303-770-5809.
  • Per Pinstrup-Andersen

    Per Pinstrup-Andersen is the H.E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy at Cornell University. He is co-editor of Ethics, Hunger and Globalization: In Search of Appropriate Policies (2007). He was director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute for 10 years. He is also the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship and professor of applied economics at Cornell.

  • Peter Rosset

    Peter Rosset is a food rights activist, agroecologist and rural development specialist. He is based in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a researcher at the Centro de Estudios Para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (Center of Studies for Rural Change in Mexico) and co-coordinator of the Land Research Action Network. He is also global alternatives associate of the Center for the Study of the Americas and an affiliated scholar of the University of California, both in Berkeley, Calif. He is the former co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) in Oakland, Calif.

  • C. Ford Runge

    C. Ford Runge is director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy and Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Applied Economics and Law at the University of Minnesota. He is co-author of Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization.

  • Benjamin Senauer

    Benjamin Senauer is professor of applied economics at the University of Minnesota and co-author of Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization.

  • James Vernon

    James Vernon is a history professor at the University of California-Berkeley and author of Hunger: A Modern History. He teaches courses on food and hunger.

  • Joachim von Braun

    Joachim von Braun is director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, whose mission is to seek sustainable solutions to end hunger and poverty. Based in Washington, D.C., it is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations.



  • The ELCA World Hunger program

    The ELCA World Hunger program helps alleviate hunger through advocacy, education, relief and sustainable development.

  • Bread for the World

    Bread for the World is the largest faith-based advocacy movement against hunger, a collective of Christian groups. It posts hunger facts and figures. It is based in Washington, D.C.

  • Foods Resource Bank

    Foods Resource Bank is made up of 15 Christian denominations and agencies that work at the grass roots with farmers and communities to develop local food security. Modeled after a Canadian program, it has both overseas and U.S. projects. Contact Marv Baldwin, president and CEO of the group, which has offices in Illinois and Michigan.

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

    MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a national nonprofit agency working against hunger in the United States and abroad. Its president and CEO, Abby J. Leibman, says the 2012 farm bill should protect and increase food stamp funding, provide incentives for farmers to make produce more affordable at local markets and make nutritional improvements to the government’s surplus food program. Read her Oct. 6, 2011, column on the subject at

  • Presbyterian Hunger Program

    Presbyterian Hunger Program is a ministry responding to hunger and poverty domestically and abroad. Rebecca Barnes is the coordinator.

    Contact: 800-728-7228 x5624.
  • World Vision

    World Vision is a Christian relief and development agency working on poverty reduction worldwide. World Vision president Richard Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel won the 2010 Christian Book of the Year award. One focus of its work is sustainable development, including microfinance — it opened a microlending website this spring and has already attracted $385,000 and made more than 1,250 loans — and women’s and girls’ issues.

  • Catholic Charities USA

    Catholic Charities USA works in various areas such as adoption counseling, disaster relief, poverty awareness and raising awareness of social issues such as human trafficking and racial inequality. It works to provide aid to people in need and to activate the Catholic population to action.

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