Like changing the direction of a river, it requires tremendous power to turn back the forces that have brought hunger coursing through the developing world. Some are beyond our control, like droughts and earthquakes. But others are well within our capacity to influence as Americans, like out-dated rules in U.S. international food aid policy that make our food aid less efficient and effective than it could be.
While U.S. food aid saves millions of lives worldwide, it's a flawed system and could be doing so much more. Current law requires that our government ship the majority of our food aid from the U.S., which means that it can take months to reach people who need it. And since we buy almost none of the food from farmers in the countries we're helping, often, our aid actually undercuts local prices and undermines local producers. Farms go out of business and the cycle of hunger continues.
In fact, recent research by AJWS and Oxfam estimates that U.S. food aid could feed up to 17 million more people on the same budget if reforms were enacted. It would also prevent hunger in the first place.
For decades, AJWS has empowered grassroots organizations to improve food security in their own communities. In 2011 we had a chance—and took the opportunity—to use our power as American voters to effect change globally. In the run-up to the congressional debate over the U.S. Farm Bill (which dictates food aid policy), AJWS launched a campaign to reform the system so that it can do more to stop hunger.
On October 16th, we launched the "Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill." Within two days, over 1,000 people had signed. By the end of the year, we'd gathered 13,500 signatures. By early 2012, the petition had garnered over 16,000 signatures and had caught the attention of key leaders in the Jewish community and in Washington.
To leverage our political power, we built alliances. In 2011 AJWS formed the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group with our allies in the Jewish justice community: the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Hazon, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Mazon, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union for Reform Judaism. Since then, 11 additional organizations have signed on to our Jewish Platform for a Just Farm Bill.
On November 4-5, 2011, we held Global Hunger Shabbat, the first major national organizing initiative for the campaign. We were joined by 250 communities around the country—over 10,000 people!—who participated and took on food justice as a communal priority. They went on to engage in "18 Days of Action" to tell Congress that the time has come to reverse this injustice.
Early 2012 has been filled with advocacy and activism, as alumni of AJWS's volunteer trips have descended on Capitol Hill and impassioned AJWS supporters have held meetings with Congressional representatives in their own communities. To reinforce our message, AJWS and our allies conducted two Congressional briefings and hand-delivered a report to every member of Congress explaining why the time is right for these reforms.
We have sent grantees on national speaking tours to make the urgency of this issue more vivid for the American Jewish community. AJWS supporters are making their passion for this issue known on Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere, and the media has gotten on board, with articles in The New York Times, Congress's National Journal and the The Jewish Daily Forward. As the Farm Bill debates continue in the spring and summer of 2012, AJWS is sending the bold message that Jewish voters care about reversing hunger.
There is a story in the Talmud in which the rabbis insist that the power to change nature's course is "not in Heaven" but with the people. In 2011, our people spoke out about food aid reform, and as communal passion for this campaign mounts, the river of justice is beginning to flow in the right direction.
Visit our Reverse Hunger website to learn more about the campaign.
To get an insider's perspective on a lobby day with AJWS, skip to Cultivating Activists.
Inspired by Judaism's commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.
This is a Web-only annual report. No paper, period! This change saved AJWS thousands of dollars that we can now spend fighting poverty and defending human rights. Going online also saved 30 tons of wood and 206,173 gallons of water. It prevented 18,575 lbs of greenhouse gases from polluting our air and kept 23,443 lbs of solid waste out of our landfills! Now that's savings we're proud of.
© 2012 American Jewish World Service. All rights reserved.