The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


McGovern-Dole a reminder of CCC authorities

United States Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan W. Mozena, center, hands a ceremonial bag of wheat to Bangladesh’s State Minister for Primary and Mass Education Md Motahar Hossain in September at an event marking the donation of more than 10,000 metric tons of wheat to the country through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. (U.S. Embassy New Dehli)

The origins of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program are a reminder of the creative ways that the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act, the financing mechanism that the Agriculture Department uses to send out farm subsidy checks, can be used when other government authority is lacking.

In 2000, then-Ambassador to the United Nations George McGovern observed that children in developing countries could benefit from the school lunch program that American children had enjoyed for decades, and wrote an op-ed article about it that was published in The Washington Post.

George McGovern, Bill Clinton
2000: George McGovern, then ambassador to the United Nations food agencies in Rome, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., discuss the need for an international school feeding program with President Bill Clinton. (White House)

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a former aide but no relation to the former South Dakota Democratic senator, called President Bill Clinton and urged him to invite the ambassador to the White House to discuss how the U.S. government could advance the idea of feeding lunch to school children in developing countries.

Clinton invited both McGoverns, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Hattie Babbitt, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Gus Schumacher and other USDA officials to the Cabinet Room for a meeting.

Clinton had known McGovern since 1972 when he had worked on McGovern’s failed presidential campaign, and told him “George I am glad to see you are still at this.”

But when Clinton asked Babbitt if her agency could pay for a school lunch pilot project she replied that the agency did not have the authority, Schumacher recalled in an interview today. Schumacher and Glickman then said they believed they could use the CCC Charter Act, which gives USDA broad authority to help American farmers by encouraging the sale of agricultural commodities and buying them for donations to foreign governments.

Gus Schumacher

Gus Schumacher
“McGovern was passionate about his proposal” and quickly convinced Clinton, who turned to Glickman and Schumacher asked them to use the CCC authority for the pilot program, Schumacher said. “It was extremely successful and Congress subsequently included funding in each farm bill since that historic White House meeting,” he added.

Under the pilot program, which operated between fiscal years 2001 and 2003, USDA donated about 800,000 metric tons of commodities to provide nutritious school meals to nearly 7 million children in 38 countries. These efforts resulted in more children entering schools, improved student performance, and greater parental and community involvement in education.

The success of the pilot program led former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., to support it, and he joined McGovern to convince Congress to make it a program with legislative authority in the 2002 farm bill.

The legislation called for the use of $100 million in CCC funds to launch the program in fiscal year 2003, with future funding coming from congressional appropriators. The program, administered by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, was reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill, which provides for the use of $84 million in CCC funds and allows for annual an annual congressional appropriation, which has been approximately $100 million annually in recent years.

USDA estimates that, due to hunger or malnutrition, an estimated 120 million school-age children around the world are not enrolled in school. The majority of these children are girls. The key objectives of the McGovern-Dole program are to reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls.

By providing school meals, teacher training, and related support, McGovern-Dole projects help boost school enrollment and academic performance. At the same time, nutrition programs are offered for pregnant and nursing women, infants, and pre-school youngsters to sustain and improve the health and learning capacity of children before they enter school.

According to USDA, organizations implementing McGovern-Dole food for education activities in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 showed a net enrollment increase of 14 percent with female student enrollment increasing by 17 percent.

Since 2001, the McGovern-Dole program has supported projects in 44 countries. Today it continues to support projects in 36 countries. The program provides about $100 million annually to support commodity, transportation, and implementation costs that allow organizations to implement 10-15 projects using donations of around 90,000 metric tons of U.S. farm commodities.

McGovern “will be much missed,” Schumacher noted today, “but his legacy to assist hungry children here at home and overseas is continuing.”

Schumacher is now a vice president of Wholesome Wave, a group that promotes better health and nutrition through locally produced fruits and vegetables.

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program
Fact Sheet: McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program
About the Commodity Credit Corporation
Fact Sheet: Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act