John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Opening Session of the World Food Congress.

June 04, 1963

Dr. Sen, President Radhakrishnan, Secretary Freeman, members of the World Food Congress:

I welcome you on behalf of the people of the United States to this country and to its Capital.

Twenty years ago, in May 1943, the first World Food Congress was held. Today we have gathered to rededicate ourselves to the objectives of that Congress, the objective that all nations, all people, all inhabitants of this planet have all the food that they need, all the food that they deserve as human beings. We are here to renew a worldwide commitment to banish hunger and outlaw it.

At the launching of the first World Food Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that freedom from want and freedom from fear go hand in hand, and that is true today.

During the past 20 years there have been revolutionary changes affecting these matters in farm technology, in trade patterns, in economic development, in world trade. Today the average farmer in the United States can produce three times as much as he did in 1945. New trading blocs have been formed, blocs which can be used to strengthen the world or to divide it. This Nation and others have provided economic and technical assistance to less wealthy nations struggling to develop viable economies.

And population increases have become a matter of serious concern, not because world food production will be insufficient to keep pace with the two percent rate of increase, but because, as you know, the population growth rate is too often the highest where hunger is the most prevalent.

The same central problem that troubled President Roosevelt when he called together the first World Congress in '43 is unfortunately still with us today. Half of humanity is still undernourished or hungry. In 70 developing nations, with over 2 billion peoples, malnutrition is widespread and persistent.

So long as freedom from hunger is only half achieved, so long as two-thirds of the nations have food deficits, no citizen, no nation, can afford to be satisfied. We have the ability, as members of the human race, we have the means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We need only the will.

In the Food and Agriculture Organization, which is sponsoring this meeting, we have the machinery. Under the able leadership of Dr. Sen, the FAO has embarked on a vigorous and imaginative program which is now at a halfway mark. Through thousands of projects initiated during the 2 1/2 years that we have just passed through, the Freedom From Hunger campaign has already helped to conquer livestock diseases, increase crop yields, and multiply fishery catches.

The United States pledges its full support for this campaign through Food for Peace shipments, Alliance for Progress operations, the Peace Corps, and the international efforts directed by the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Through our Food for Peace program, the people of the United States have contributed more than $12 billion of food and fiber to others during the past 10 years. These donations now bring food to 100 million people in 100 countries, including 40 million school children. We are grateful for the opportunity that nature has made possible for us to share our agricultural abundance to those who need it, but the distribution of food to the needy is only part of the job. It can take care of the emergency needs from floods and famines. It can be used to feed refugees and needy children. It is a useful supplement to perennially short diets in many parts of the world, but it is not a permanent solution.

All of our stored abundance, even if distributed evenly throughout the globe to all of the undernourished, would provide a balanced diet for less than a month, and many nations lack the storage and the transportation and the distribution facilities. Many people are inhibited by traditional eating habits from using food that provides rich nourishment. And perhaps most importantly, modern, efficient agricultural training and education is too often unavailable to the very nations that are most dependent upon it.

The real goal, therefore, must be to produce more food in the nations that need it. Know-how is not the problem. For the first time in the history of the world we do know how to produce enough food now to feed every man, woman, and child in the world, enough to eliminate all hunger completely. Farm production has undergone a scientific revolution which is dwarfing the industrial revolution of 150 years ago, but this means that agricultural departments and ministries and governments and citizens must make a greater and more systematic effort to share this knowledge. For the first time to know how to conquer the problem and not conquer it would be a disgrace for this generation. We need to help transmit all that we know of farm technology to the ends of the earth, to overcome the barriers of ignorance and suspicion. The key to a permanent solution to world hunger is the transfer of technology which we now have to food deficit nations, and that task, second to none in importance, is the reason for this Congress.

It would be easy to say that this task is too great for any Congress. Most of man has been undernourished since the beginning of man. Even today, as the death rate drops, it merely means that people live longer in hunger and misery, but a balanced, adequate diet is now possible today for the entire human race and we are gathered to devise the machinery to mobilize the talents, the will, the interest, and the requirements to finish this job.

We realize, of course, that the problem in its great dimensions neither begins nor ends on the farm. It involves the whole economic and social structure of a nation. It involves the building of new institutions, of training young people. Above all, it involves and requires the priority attention of us all in this decade.

In the course of your deliberations over the next two weeks, I would hope that we would agree on at least five basic guidelines to be kept constantly in mind:

First: The persistence of hunger during this decade is unacceptable either morally or socially. The late Pope John in his recent encyclical spoke of the conviction that all men are equal by reason of their natural dignity. That same dignity in the 20th century certainly requires the elimination of large-scale hunger and starvation.

Second: We must recognize the fact that food deficit nations, with assistance from other countries, can solve their problem. The Freedom From Hunger campaign is based on this solid premise.

Third: International cooperation, international organization, and international action are indispensable. A contracting world grows more interdependent. This interdependence requires multinational solutions to its problems. This is not a problem for a single nation. It is a problem for the entire human race because we cannot possibly be satisfied with some nations producing too much, as the President of India said, while others produce little, even though they are both members of the great human race.

Fourth: No single technique of politics, finance, or education can, by itself, eliminate hunger. It will require the coordinated efforts of us all, all of us, to level the wall that separates the hungry from the well fed.

Fifth, and finally: World opinion must be concentrated upon the international effort to eliminate hunger as a primary task of this generation. Over 1900 years ago the Roman philosopher Seneca said, "A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by prayers." Human nature has not changed in 1900 years, and world peace and progress cannot be maintained in a world half fed and half hungry.

There are many struggles, many battles, that the human race now faces. There is no battle on earth or in space which is more important than the battle which you have undertaken, nor is there any struggle, large as this may be, that offers such an immediate promise of success. No Congress that Washington has seen in recent years is, I believe, more important than this.

I know that this conference will not consist merely of oration, but will represent in two weeks a solid determination to develop the means in this decade to make a dent in this problem which will give us promise in our lifetime of making sure that all people in the world have an opportunity to eat.

Another problem will come in the next generation, and that is the problem of how to deal on a worldwide basis, as well as in this, with the problem of surpluses, but the first problem is to produce enough for all in a way that makes all available to people around the globe. To that task I can assure you the United States of America is committed.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the Departmental Auditorium in Washington. His opening words referred to Dr. B. R. Sen, Director General of FAO, who made the opening address; President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India, who accompanied the President and who also spoke; and Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Opening Session of the World Food Congress. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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