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Hunger in rural America: Recognition first crucial step

For many Americans, the term "hunger" evokes images of inner-city tenements or third-world countries. The idea of people not having enough to eat seems incompatible with the image of farming communities, where acres and acres of fertile farmland produce food for people around the country and the world.

Yet hunger is a very real concern in rural America, where hunger rates exceed the national average in some areas. According to the USDA, one in 10 rural households faces hunger every day. And the Rural Policy Research Institute reports 23 percent of rural children live in poverty.

Due to misconceptions about hunger, the problem often remains hidden. "Hunger may be something you see every day, but don't recognize," says Deborah Leff, president and CEO, America's Second Harvest, the largest network of hunger-relief charities in the United States. Instead of starvation or distended bellies, hunger in North America usually takes the form of poor nutrition - and the impact it has on personal well-being and performance.

"During stressful economic times, people often face increased housing or other living expenses and cannot afford to purchase enough food for their households," Leff adds. "A girl who can't eat breakfast every day, a boy who falls asleep at his desk because he hasn't had enough to eat, or an elderly couple who must choose between eating or buying medicine are simply a few examples of what hunger may look like in a rural community."

Rural FoodShare initiative Recently, Syngenta, the new agribusiness company formed by the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals, announced a new effort to help combat the rural hunger problem. As part of the Syngenta Rural FoodShare[TM] initiative, Syngenta will donate more than $500,000 in 2001 to America's Second Harvest and the Canadian Association of Food Banks.

"At Syngenta, we're dedicated solely to agribusiness and committed to creating a safe, high-quality food supply," says Bob Woods, president of Syngenta Corporation, United States. "Yet we recognize that even in the heart of North America, too many families don't know where their next meal is coming from. With this contribution, we want to take steps to help alleviate hunger in the communities that play a crucial role in producing food for Americans and others around the world."

Funds donated by Syngenta will help transport food from national manufacturers, growers and processors to rural communities - and help ensure rural communities have access to a variety of nutritious foods. In the United States, the donation will benefit 84 food banks that serve over 2,000 rural counties.

"A key part of the Syngenta Rural FoodShare Initiative involves focusing attention on rural hunger," Woods adds. "By conducting a rural-hunger awareness campaign in conjunction with our donation, we hope to encourage other people in rural communities to join our efforts to help end rural hunger."

In terms of hunger Facts and figures that put rural hunger in perspective.

- 1 in 10 households in rural America faces hunger. superscript 1

- 23 percent of rural children live in poverty. superscript 2

- An estimated 3.1 million U.S. households suffer from hunger. superscript 3

- In nearly 25 percent of all rural counties, 1 in 5 people has been living below the poverty level for at least four decades. superscript 4

- Among the top states in net farm income (California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Dakota and Texas), the food-insecurity rate (1996-1998 average) ranged from 6.9 percent to 12.9 percent. superscript 3 (Food insecurity is defined as limited or uncertain access to nutritious, safe foods necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle; households that experience food insecurity have reduced quality or variety of meals and may have irregular food intake. superscript 5)

- An estimated 31 million people in 10 million households risk hunger or food insecurity, many of them relying on emergency food resources; 12 million of the food-insecure are children. superscript 3

References: 1. USDA; 2. Rural Policy Research Institute; 3. USDA/Economic Research Service; 4. Center for Rural Affairs; 5. USDA/Life Research Office.

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