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Soybean farmers improve health of the world's poorest children

Agriculture.com Staff 04/04/2007 @ 2:50pm

On Tuesday, Roy Bardole, a soybean farmer from Rippey, Iowa, got a chance to see part of the nation's soybean crop start its journey to a school in Guatemala where it will help improve the lives of poor children.

Bardole was among a group of farmers who watched a Cargill plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bag 100 metric tons of textured soy protein that for some children will be the difference between malnutrition and good health.

It's the start of a 1,800-mile journey to the mountainous central-American nation of Guatemala. There, a nonprofit organization, Food for the Poor, helps feed 160,000 school-age children and 100,000 preschoolers. Part of the money for this comes from a new food aid program that was included in the 2002 Farm Bill—the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

Bardole has a role in all of this, too. He's vice-chairman of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, or WISHH. Since its 2000 inception by the Iowa Soybean Association and other state soybean grower groups, WISHH has helped develop sustainable protein solutions for nutrition and health in 23 developing nations. Its $1.5 million budget is funded mainly by soybean checkoff dollars, Bardole says, and it's based at the American Soybean Association in St. Louis.

"I suppose part of my interest is selfish. I want to build my soybean markets," he added. "By the same token, with people around the world being so dependent for protein, and when you see pictures of these little girls, and all they need is a little bit of protein, that makes me feel good."

Bardole was referring to photos of two little Guatemalan girls who were on the verge of death in the mid-1990a when Food for the Poor first fed them milk and sugar before introducing them to a quality-protein diet that included textured soy protein.

Soy protein has also helped improve the health of poor children in nations that are struggling with HIV infection. Children born with HIV who don't get adequate protein have a mortality rate of 50% by age two, Bardole said.

"As a parent and grandparent with children and grandchildren that I dearly love, that is almost impossible for me to comprehend," Bardole said.

Even facing such obstacles, WISHH and the McGovern-Dole program have already accomplished much. Since McGovern-Dole was started administratively by the USDA in 2000, it has fed 26 million children in 41 countries. By providing meals at schools, it has also increase school enrollment by about 14%. And outside donors have given almost $1 billion to work with the McGovern-Dole program.

On March 21, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress introduced legislation to reauthorize McGovern-Dole. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) along with Representatives Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced the bill to continue the program in fiscal years 2008 to 2012, under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill calls for increased funding over five years, beginning with $140 million in FY 2008 and reaching $300 million in FY 2012.

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