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By Kristen Cole   Date: 1/25/12 Bookmark and Share

At Smith, Oxfam Finds Young People Hungry to Make Change

About 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy identified ending hunger and putting a man on the moon among his administration’s priorities. To date, just one of those goals has been accomplished.

“We did get a man on the moon that decade but we still haven’t ended world hunger,” said Nola Reinhardt, professor of economics, during a daylong Advocacy Institute sponsored by Smith in collaboration with Oxfam America, the relief organization that works to alleviate poverty, hunger and injustice worldwide.

On Monday, Jan. 23, nearly 60 students gathered at the college’s Conference Center to hear a slate of faculty and Oxfam experts describe the world’s root causes of hunger and how students can join the fight to end it.

Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people are hungry according to Sarah Kollach, campaign alliances adviser for Oxfam America, which recently launched the GROW campaign to eradicate hunger by 2050 when, it is estimated, the world’s population will be 9 billion.

“We have heard about hunger a lot over the years and some people think it’s an intractable problem,” said Kollach, adding, “but, it's a solvable problem.”

While there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, issues of politics and power prevent that, she said.

Although the percentage of people hungry in the world had steadily decreased between the time Kennedy took office and early 2000, the percentage has since spiked.

Reinhardt connected that increase in hunger to a sharp spike in food and oil prices in the first decade of 2000. When fuel is needed to produce agricultural products, run farm equipment and transport items at great distances to market, it factors heavily into the eventual cost of food.

Further, an increase in fuel prices has driven an increase in production of alternative energy sources, including biofuel, which is made from sugar, starch, and vegetable oil. But the manufacture of biofuels often requires converting farmland to land for fuel production, which can lead to greater hunger, Reinhardt noted.

The effects of climate change, droughts and floods, as well as temperature changes, have additionally aggravated the situation, speakers said.

Kollach offered ideas as to how Smith students could get involved in advocacy efforts. Today’s student volunteers usually work with Oxfam in one of two ways: as participants in a national leadership program, the CHANGE Initiative, or as members of Oxfam clubs on campuses.

Although the problems discussed at the Advocacy Institute seemed to “balloon,” said Rebecca Hovey, Smith’s dean for international study, students should pull the proverbial string on that balloon and figure out where they can make a difference.

Gaining a better understanding about how hunger and politics connect was one reason Ifetayo Harvey ’14, a history major who hopes to become a teacher, attended the Advocacy Institute.

Harvey grew up in South Carolina one of seven children and said her family relied heavily on its own garden for food. Knowledge about how to grow your own food is something Harvey said she would like to see more emphasized in school.

Additional faculty who participated in the Advocacy Institute and are a resource of information on the factors contributing to hunger include Payal Banerjee, associate professor of sociology; Paul Wetzel, senior research associate; Mlada Bukovansky, associate professor of government; Beth Hooker, Five Colleges Sustainability Programs coordinator; Greg White, professor of government; and Andrew Guswa, associate professor of engineering.

Read more about the GROW campaign and the work of Oxfam.

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