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The real winners: Millions of hungry school children

Agriculture.com Staff 10/21/2008 @ 12:51pm

Just when presidential election politics seems to be getting uglier by the day, two candidates, a Republican and a Democrat, got a heartfelt welcome last week from campaign-weary Iowans.

Republican Bob Dole and Democrat George McGovern were in Des Moines to split the $250,000 World Food Prize for their work together to establish an international school feeding program that has reached more than 22 million children in 41 countries since 2000.

"Here's two losers who finally won something," joked Dole, a former senator from Kansas who, at 85, is a year younger than his friend, McGovern.

Both had campaigned hard in Iowa when they made their own bids for the White House. Dole lost by almost 9% to incumbent President Bill Clinton in 1996. McGovern, a senator from South Dakota, lost to another incumbent Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. history, 60.7% to 37.5%.

All of that was nearly forgotten when the two men joined in a free public forum held for hundreds of people on October 15 at the Iowa State Historical Building.

At one point, Dole said McGovern deserved more credit for starting several food aid programs and that he was going to give some of his half of the prize money. McGovern joked, "This is the first glaring falsehood" of the evening.

In spite of strong differences over most political issues, the two World War II veterans, both from the Great Plains, share a strong interest in domestic and international food programs.

In the 1970s they worked together to reform the Food Stamp Program, expand the domestic school lunch program, and establish the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Late in the Clinton Administration, McGovern was serving as US Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Agencies in Rome, Italy, when he came across the idea of creating school feeding programs in poor nations. McGovern convinced Clinton to support a two-year pilot program called the Global Food for Education Initiative.

With help from his friend Bob Dole, the two former senators lobbied Congress to make the program permanent. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

Since it began as a pilot program, the McGovern-Dole program has not only improved the nutrition of millions of poor children in Africa, Asia and Central America, it has also increased school attendance by an estimated 14%. For girls, it has increased school attendance 17%.

In some poor nations where girls are not valued as much as boys, school nutrition programs encourage parents to send their daughters to school.

McGovern explained how important that is.

Illiterate girls start getting married at the ages of 10, 11 and 12, he said. "By the time they're 20, they have an average of six children."

In contrast, girls with six years of education have an average of three children, he said.

"They're not as easy for boys and men to push around," he said.

Just when presidential election politics seems to be getting uglier by the day, two candidates, a Republican and a Democrat, got a heartfelt welcome last week from campaign-weary Iowans.

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