To End Hunger We Must Address Root Causes

Fighting hunger is at the heart of our Presbyterian understanding of mission. Jesus fed the hungry and told his disciples to do the same. Yet, we know that hunger is an extremely complex phenomenon with economic, political and social causes.

51 years ago, when the Hunger Program begin, our founding mothers and fathers realized that ending hunger – as opposed to simply reducing the number of people suffering and dying from it – would require us to address the structures and systems that create and perpetuate hunger.

“Enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation.”
—Book of Confessions, 9.46

When the Hunger Program was founded in 1969, a comprehensive hunger approach was chosen – one that supported hunger alleviation, which many congregations are involved in, and one that especially prioritized hunger education, lifestyle integrity, sustainable development focused on poverty reduction, and policy change. The ambitious goal was to end the root causes of hunger. General Assembly policies have stressed the systemic causes of hunger and made the connection to the environment, recognizing that how we steward and use natural resources is an important intersecting issue.

Current grantee partners such as our Joining Hands partner in Peru and El Salvador, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Creation Justice Ministries, Ekvn-Yefolecv, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and Owe Aku International Justice Project are all working in that area and fighting for environmental justice.

Along with the other One Great Hour of Sharing ministries, Self-Development of People and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, PHP has heavily invested in the work of community and membership organizations outside the walls of the denomination. Throughout our five decades of ministry, we have been partnering with and supporting ecumenical and interfaith groups, and civil society groups and coalitions.

A Focus on the Grassroots

We focus on grassroots groups of people who are directly affected by harmful practices and policies embedded in the food and farm system.  Many of these frontline communities are communities of color and poor people. It is they who bear the brunt of our inequitable and harmful systems. We believe that people in those communities and accountable grassroots groups know the problems most intimately and understand what needs to be fixed and how.

We have learned from our partners that farming practices – and in particular how the soil is treated – is the basis of our health, wealth, and ability to thrive. These practices are also key to us surviving the climate crisis.

Addressing Root Causes

One of our grantee partners, Soul Fire Farm, recently held an online workshop about soil health and they shared this saying from Ghana – “If the yam does not grow well, do not blame the yam. It is because of the soil.” We could apply that quote to our nation as well. When the country and its economy are rooted in the soil of land theft and slavery – society will not grow well.

Soil loss is a global problem. Here in the U.S., a third of our country’s topsoil has eroded in the past 50 years. Globally, the United Nations predicts that soil degradation will be one of the central threats to human health in the coming decades.

Eating is a moral act. Food is the place where each of us intersects daily with God’s gifts of sun, water, soil and microbial magic.

Soil degradation is a looming crisis for the future of our food systems. This is why why many of our partners work to dismantle industrial agriculture and to promote and scale out  agroecological farming and greater food sovereignty by producers and consumers.

Key to making the shift from industrial agriculture to agroecology is affordable land, peer-to-peer training, and the capital farmers need. How agriculture is financed and incentivized through policy is critical; especially since farmers in the U.S. have $426 billion in farm debt. Philanthropy and impact investing can be part of providing the needed funds; and changes to farm policies are absolutely essential.

The importance of affordable farmland in the United States, especially for young farmers and farmers of color, can’t be understated. With the current average age of farmers being 60, what happens to the 400 million acres of farmland passing hands over the next two decades will largely determine the shape of our food system. For this reason, much of the programmatic work of national hunger concerns focuses on land access.

Using Land Differently to Solve Structural Problems

Locally, PHP is a leader in the Food in Neighborhoods Community Coalition and we are pushing on Metro Louisville to make it easier for people of color to buy city-owned vacant lots for food production, and assisting individuals wanting to buy land. Nationally, we work with Agrarian Trust and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to establish local farmland trusts called agrarian commons. And with an international coalition we are working to stop land grab deals in Brazil and in the U.S. that are financed by university and other pension funds such as TIAA.

The climate crisis has gotten to the point where transforming agriculture and how we pasture animals hold great promise for reducing emissions and, even more importantly, for capturing enough carbon from the atmosphere to forestall complete devastation of our planetary biome. The ability of soil to hold carbon is vast!

Agroecological family farming and a just food and farm system will definitely benefit people of color and smaller-scale producers, but until we get there, we must continue to ensure that workers in the food chain are safe, protected and well-compensated.

The Alliance for Fair Food, Food Chain Workers Alliance, and many other grantee partners are working in the area of worker justice and fair wages. These groups work to change corporate practices and public processes.

Nationally, we support and learn from groups at every level – from the Ekvn-Yefolecv EcoVillage to Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, United Workers Association, Southwest Organizing Project and New Roots working in single cities, from state-based groups in Alaska, Iowa, Washington, Virginia and Tennessee, to coalitions and national alliances with links to global movements.

Internationally, our Joining Hands networks work to address systemic issues through advocacy campaigns and solidarity action, and we support grassroots-up sustainable community development in dozens of countries.

As a hunger program, we will continue to work with fellow Presbyterians and partners in the U.S. and overseas to push forward the transformations we need to end hunger and poverty, and to become a healthier, more compassionate and sustainable world.


The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.