Ag Policy Blog

Friday 10/19/12

Your Royal Highness

After much boredom from listening to finely dressed and well-fed business professionals discuss repetitive points of solving hunger, a princess finally added a sparkle to the room at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue.

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan, United Nations Messenger of Peace, speaks to correspondents on the International Day of Peace in 2007, at UN Headquarters in New York. To her right is actor Michael Douglas, UN Messenger of Peace. (UN photo by Paulo Filgueiras)

The sparkle did not come from a tiara, mostly because she wasn't wearing one. The sparkle came from HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein's raw and honest comments about world hunger.

"Sadly, most people, especially those in positions of power, don't really want to hear the voices of hungry children," said Princess Haya of Jordan. "When some politicians do focus on the hungry, they depict them as dependent victims or, worse yet, addicted handouts. Others say all the right things about hunger, then develop amnesia when it comes to writing a check."

Donors at the G8 and G20 meetings in 2009 pledged $22 billion for new investments in food production over three years, but only half of that money actually materialized.

Princess Haya, a humanitarian and a UN Messenger of Peace, founded Tkiyet Um Ali, the first food aid NGO in the Arab world, in 2003. Tkiyet Um Ali, which stands for "a shelter provided by the mother of Ali," was a dream of Princess Haya's mother before she died, when the princess was only 3. Tkiyet Um Ali now provides food assistance and employment opportunities to some of the poorest people in Jordan.

Princess Haya spoke about her experiences with hungry children in places like Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya.

"Hungry children look the same wherever you go -- downcast, empty, distracted, blank," she said. "They talk about things that most children don't -- death, missing parents, beatings and their constant search for food."

A little boy and girl told her the first thing they look for in the morning is smoke coming from the school's chimney. This means they will receive food that day. If they don't see the smoke, they skip school to scavenge and beg for food.

"Those children deserve to be heard," she said. "Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that hunger is either invisible or just accepted as a fact of life, and I don't know which is worse."

Princess Haya applauded American farmers. "It is really no exaggeration to say America feeds the world. But I don't think we can say that Americans view hunger as a threat to national security," she said.

More than 60 food riots, triggered by the last spike in food prices, occurred around the world from 2007 to 2009 alone.

"People who cannot meet the basic needs of their families lose their human dignity. Without dignity there can be no peace," she said.

It is my hope that after Princess Haya's message, leaders at the Borlaug Dialogue won't forget the purpose of the feel-good videos, charts, statistics and buzzwords being used at the Borlaug Dialogue.

As Princess Haya said, declarations, pledges and summits will not stop hunger from stalking poor people. Action is needed. Action beyond what is happening at the Des Moines Downtown Marriott.

It is safe to say my childhood dream of seeing a real princess was a better experience than I could have imagined, even without the sparkly crown and pumpkin carriage.

Lindsay Calvert can be reached at

Posted at 11:00AM CDT 10/19/12 by Lindsay Calvert
Comments (1)
Borlaug walked the walk. He spent much of his life in the hot and dusty wheat breeding fields of Mexico and India selecting crosses that showed potential for disease resistance and yield enhancement in the environments where they were needed. At the same time he taught local students that showed potential, the the skills of continuing his work for the time when he would be gone.
Posted by Roger Luckow at 1:23PM CDT 10/19/12
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