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'Crisis after the crisis' of world hunger looms

Kip Tom is the ambassador to the U.S. mission in Rome that works with UN agencies trying to fight world hunger amid the COVID pandemic.

Ambassador Kip Tom is the U.S. representative to six UN agencies that work around the globe to provide food to the world’s hungry. The largest of these are the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme. (See their missions at the bottom of this story.)

In an interview by Successful Farming from his office in Rome, Italy, Ambassador Tom raised an alarm that he’s calling the “crisis after the crisis.” He warns that the number of food-insecure people – they feed 130 million people a day today – could double in the next year.

Tom also grew up on a seventh-generation Indiana farm and was agribusiness leader for many years. His business has grown to more than 25,000 acres. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down his official travel for the time being, including a planned trip to Beirut. In all, the mission oversees the second-largest budget item for the U.S. government in international organizations.

SF: How is life in Rome during the pandemic?

KT: I had been on a trip to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, in late February and very early March. I came back to Rome, and we locked down in March throughout mid-May. A lot like the rest of the world, they took it really seriously here. And I think if you look at our numbers today, there’s no question the amount of those affected by COVID-19 have dropped off significantly. So they’ve dealt with it very harshly, strong, and early, and I think it brought them success.

SF: What is the primary role of the U.S. mission in Rome?

We represent the United States to six individual organizations [see complete list at bottom of this story]. Of course, we encourage cooperation or coordination between the different agencies. One thing we always try to strive for is to make sure we don’t have what’s called “mission creep,” or overlap – one agency gets more into development or one more into food aid. They’ve done pretty well at that, but I think we can always strive to be better, more efficient.

SF: Has the FAO strayed from its mission?

KT: I think if you go back to their founding days, when they were first established, they stayed right on our mandate. They delivered. They were some of the original architects of the Green Revolution, and although we may find fault with it today in some places, and it’s evolved a lot from its original conditions that we found with the Green Revolution, they really helped instill that around the world. Then there was a pause in there for maybe 20, 30 years when they just, they really didn’t have the impact they were intended to have. They seemed to be more of a body at that point in time, getting around writing policies and doing a lot of things like that which were really not delivering on the mandate.

SF: How are U.S. funds going to fight COVID around the world?

KT: When we look at the World Food Programme, in the past year here it was a little bit over an $8 billion budget. They’re actually looking at closer to an $11 to $12 billion budget for this year going forward. So when we talk about the “crisis following the crisis,” we’re not talking so much in terms of people being affected directly by COVID in Africa – certainly that’s occurring, it’s happening; we know that a lot of people aren’t getting tested there; we know there are not hospitals in many cases to treat them in a lot of these areas – but the reality is the indirect impact.

All of a sudden borders shut down. We’re aware of a border crossing between Kenya and Uganda that was shut down nearly 30 miles each direction here recently. Food trucks were in that line. It got backed up, obviously in both directions. That’s a lot of vehicles to process and get through. Because of the delay, all of a sudden people don’t have the food or maybe the agricultural resources they need to feed people.

We’ve responded in different ways. The World Food Programme has increased the number of hubs around the world where they’re sourcing food resources, personal protective gear, humanitarian workers. And we’ve actually added nearly 700 flights a month to move all that equipment and those people around the world to make sure that we’re addressing this in an effective manner. At the same time, we’re increasing the model of ocean vessels that are moving food, trucks, and humanitarian workers in the field, getting things done. It’s quite a task, but we’re very confident in the ability of the World Food Programme to deliver on that with our support.

SF: Has U.S. support increased for the World Food Programme?

KT: A lot of people don’t realize this, but the United States in the last four years has almost doubled the contribution to the World Food Program. Uh, Americans are the most philanthropic nation in the world when it comes to the world, food programming giving, and making sure that we can support their most vulnerable around the world. So I’m proud of the United States that we’re taking steps like that. And we’re trying to come back and intervene with capacity and compassion as we deal with these crises around the world.

SF: Turning to Africa, the locust plague there sounds almost biblical in proportion.

KT: We know that it started clear over in Pakistan and spread both directions as it came across to India. We’ve got examples of them in Nepal now actually up into China. But then as they came west, they came across Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. Then as they came in to the horn of Africa, into Somalia, we have them in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, a little bit in Eritrea. But yes, it is of biblical proportion. You can see many of them online, and it almost darkens the sky at times.

We’ve supported the FAO response. The United States of America has contributed nearly $20 million to date. The total response is expected at about $155 million, and it may go up in time, but we know one thing for certain: If we’re not successful in controlling the African desert locusts and their movement across the continent of Africa, this could turn into a $2.25 billion dollar humanitarian aid project. So we’re really working hard to make sure that this is another response that’s efficient and effective.

SF: What crops are the locusts going after?

KT: Anything that’s green, basically. I mean, you’ll see them just strip trees down. I can send you pictures of corn crop fields where they’ve gone in. It looked like it just came through a Nebraska hailstorm. I mean, it’s just stripped down to the point where you just see the rib of the leaves. And it doesn’t take them long. It doesn’t take them long at all.

SF: How does the crop look back on the Indiana family farm?

KT: They’re telling me it all looks good. We had some very timely rains. We had a little bit of a late spring in northern Indiana. We had a lot of wet weather, from what I understand. What’s really interesting is I can come home from the embassy at night and, if I have time, I may look on this screen and just see where the equipment’s running at. Or I may look at the rainfall patterns over our operations, the digital graphics, or watch a sprayer go live across the field and see how the operator changes rates and applies fertilizer. So it’s good to stay in touch with the technologies and understand what’s going on and continue to see those evolve because it is that evolution that’s taken place in U.S. agriculture for the last 20, 30 years. It’s really helping us deliver on a global challenge of feeding a hungry world.

SF: You’re still bullish on American agriculture.

KT: We tend to be in an industry that doesn’t talk about anything too long. We roll up our sleeves and say, let’s go get it done. That's what we’re doing here. And we’re all rolling up our sleeves; whether it’s our State Department employees, USAID, or USDA, we’re working hard to make sure we represent America’s values across all these UN agencies here in Rome representing the United States of America.

The 6 UN Agencies of the U.S. Mission

The U.S. mission to the UN agencies here in Rome covers six different UN and international organizations, according to Ambassador Tom:

  • The World Food Programme. It is the organization that provides immediate relief to those around the world who are affected by hunger. Today we’re feeding about 135 million people a day around the world in about 85 countries.
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (or FAO) is the organization – much smaller in size –  that is supposed to create resiliency and capacity in farming systems around the world. But quite candidly, for the last two decades, they haven’t delivered on any of that. Which is why we’re having the issues that we’re having today in food security, making sure that we can feed that hungry world. But we have hope, we really do. We’ve got a new director general here now that seems to be very willing to embrace science and technology and understands that there are other innovations that can be used at the same time. We’re pretty optimistic that FAO is going to deliver going forward into the future.
  • The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It’s an organization that countries like the United States contribute to, and they go out and make a lot of loans to smallholder farmers, sometimes in the form of grants, helping them access the tools that they need to try to feed themselves. They get involved in some commercial projects, as well, such as a grain processing plant in Rwanda, where they’re sourcing local grains and producing it and selling it back to the World Food Programme. We’re very supportive of that organization and excited about them as well.
  • The International Development Law Organization. This organization goes out and instills public law in terms of, for instance. So in Afghanistan, they want to work for instance, changing the laws. So, uh, for instance, uh, women can own land before it had to be transferred next, back onto another male or a son. So they

    Ambassador Kip Tom is the U.S. representative to six UN agencies that work around the globe to provide food to the world’s hungry. The largest of these are the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme. (See their missions at the bottom of this story.)

    In an interview by Successful Farming from his office in Rome, Italy, Ambassador Tom raised an alarm that he’s calling the “crisis after the crisis.” He warns that the number of food-insecure people – they feed 130 million people a day today – could double in the next year.

    Tom also grew up on a seventh-generation Indiana farm and was agribusiness leader for many years. His business has grown to more than 25,000 acres. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down his official travel for the time being, including a planned trip to Beirut. In all, the mission oversees the second-largest budget item for the U.S. government in international organizations.

    SF: How is life in Rome during the pandemic?

    KT: I had been on a trip to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, in late February and very early March. I came back to Rome, and we locked down in March throughout mid-May. A lot like the rest of the world, they took it really seriously here. And I think if you look at our numbers today, there’s no question the amount of those affected by COVID-19 have dropped off significantly. So they’ve dealt with it very harshly, strong, and early, and I think it brought them success.

    SF: What is the primary role of the U.S. mission in Rome?

    We represent the United States to six individual organizations [see complete list at bottom of this story]. Of course, we encourage cooperation or coordination between the different agencies. One thing we always try to strive for is to make sure we don’t have what’s called “mission creep,” or overlap – one agency gets more into development or one more into food aid. They’ve done pretty well at that, but I think we can always strive to be better, more efficient.

    SF: Has the FAO strayed from its mission?

    KT: I think if you go back to their founding days, when they were first established, they stayed right on our mandate. They delivered. They were some of the original architects of the Green Revolution, and although we may find fault with it today in some places, and it’s evolved a lot from its original conditions that we found with the Green Revolution, they really helped instill that around the world. Then there was a pause in there for maybe 20, 30 years when they just, they really didn’t have the impact they were intended to have. They seemed to be more of a body at that point in time, getting around writing policies and doing a lot of things like that which were really not delivering on the mandate.

    SF: How are U.S. funds going to fight COVID around the world?

    KT: When we look at the World Food Programme, in the past year here it was a little bit over an $8 billion budget. They’re actually looking at closer to an $11 to $12 billion budget for this year going forward. So when we talk about the “crisis following the crisis,” we’re not talking so much in terms of people being affected directly by COVID in Africa – certainly that’s occurring, it’s happening; we know that a lot of people aren’t getting tested there; we know there are not hospitals in many cases to treat them in a lot of these areas – but the reality is the indirect impact.

    All of a sudden borders shut down. We’re aware of a border crossing between Kenya and Uganda that was shut down nearly 30 miles each direction here recently. Food trucks were in that line. It got backed up, obviously in both directions. That’s a lot of vehicles to process and get through. Because of the delay, all of a sudden people don’t have the food or maybe the agricultural resources they need to feed people.

    We’ve responded in different ways. The World Food Programme has increased the number of hubs around the world where they’re sourcing food resources, personal protective gear, humanitarian workers. And we’ve actually added nearly 700 flights a month to move all that equipment and those people around the world to make sure that we’re addressing this in an effective manner. At the same time, we’re increasing the model of ocean vessels that are moving food, trucks, and humanitarian workers in the field, getting things done. It’s quite a task, but we’re very confident in the ability of the World Food Programme to deliver on that with our support.

    SF: Has U.S. support increased for the World Food Programme?

    KT: A lot of people don’t realize this, but the United States in the last four years has almost doubled the contribution to the World Food Program. Uh, Americans are the most philanthropic nation in the world when it comes to the world, food programming giving, and making sure that we can support their most vulnerable around the world. So I’m proud of the United States that we’re taking steps like that. And we’re trying to come back and intervene with capacity and compassion as we deal with these crises around the world.

    SF: Turning to Africa, the locust plague there sounds almost biblical in proportion.

    KT: We know that it started clear over in Pakistan and spread both directions as it came across to India. We’ve got examples of them in Nepal now actually up into China. But then as they came west, they came across Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. Then as they came in to the horn of Africa, into Somalia, we have them in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, a little bit in Eritrea. But yes, it is of biblical proportion. You can see many of them online, and it almost darkens the sky at times.

    We’ve supported the FAO response. The United States of America has contributed nearly $20 million to date. The total response is expected at about $155 million, and it may go up in time, but we know one thing for certain: If we’re not successful in controlling the African desert locusts and their movement across the continent of Africa, this could turn into a $2.25 billion dollar humanitarian aid project. So we’re really working hard to make sure that this is another response that’s efficient and effective.

    SF: What crops are the locusts going after?

    KT: Anything that’s green, basically. I mean, you’ll see them just strip trees down. I can send you pictures of corn crop fields where they’ve gone in. It looked like it just came through a Nebraska hailstorm. I mean, it’s just stripped down to the point where you just see the rib of the leaves. And it doesn’t take them long. It doesn’t take them long at all.

    SF: How does the crop look back on the Indiana family farm?

    KT: They’re telling me it all looks good. We had some very timely rains. We had a little bit of a late spring in northern Indiana. We had a lot of wet weather, from what I understand. What’s really interesting is I can come home from the embassy at night and, if I have time, I may look on this screen and just see where the equipment’s running at. Or I may look at the rainfall patterns over our operations, the digital graphics, or watch a sprayer go live across the field and see how the operator changes rates and applies fertilizer. So it’s good to stay in touch with the technologies and understand what’s going on and continue to see those evolve because it is that evolution that’s taken place in U.S. agriculture for the last 20, 30 years. It’s really helping us deliver on a global challenge of feeding a hungry world.

    SF: You’re still bullish on American agriculture.

    KT: We tend to be in an industry that doesn’t talk about anything too long. We roll up our sleeves and say, let’s go get it done. That's what we’re doing here. And we’re all rolling up our sleeves; whether it’s our State Department employees, USAID, or USDA, we’re working hard to make sure we represent America’s values across all these UN agencies here in Rome representing the United States of America.

    The 6 UN Agencies of the U.S. Mission

    The U.S. mission to the UN agencies here in Rome covers six different UN and international organizations, according to Ambassador Tom:

  • The World Food Programme. It is the organization that provides immediate relief to those around the world who are affected by hunger. Today we’re feeding about 135 million people a day around the world in about 85 countries.
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (or FAO) is the organization – much smaller in size –  that is supposed to create resiliency and capacity in farming systems around the world. But quite candidly, for the last two decades, they haven’t delivered on any of that. Which is why we’re having the issues that we’re having today in food security, making sure that we can feed that hungry world. But we have hope, we really do. We’ve got a new director general here now that seems to be very willing to embrace science and technology and understands that there are other innovations that can be used at the same time. We’re pretty optimistic that FAO is going to deliver going forward into the future.
  • The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It’s an organization that countries like the United States contribute to, and they go out and make a lot of loans to smallholder farmers, sometimes in the form of grants, helping them access the tools that they need to try to feed themselves. They get involved in some commercial projects, as well, such as a grain processing plant in Rwanda, where they’re sourcing local grains and producing it and selling it back to the World Food Programme. We’re very supportive of that organization and excited about them as well.
  • The International Development Law Organization. This organization goes out and instills public law in terms of, for instance. So in Afghanistan, they want to work for instance, changing the laws. So, uh, for instance, uh, women can own land before it had to be transferred next, back onto another male or run a son. And, uh, so they

    Ambassador Kip Tom is the U.S. representative to six UN agencies that work around the globe to provide food to the world’s hungry. The largest of these are the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme. (See their missions at the bottom of this story.)

    In an interview by Successful Farming from his office in Rome, Italy, Ambassador Tom raised an alarm that he’s calling the “crisis after the crisis.” He warns that the number of food-insecure people – they feed 130 million people a day today – could double in the next year.

    Tom also grew up on a seventh-generation Indiana farm and was agribusiness leader for many years. His business has grown to more than 25,000 acres. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down his official travel for the time being, including a planned trip to Beirut. In all, the mission oversees the second-largest budget item for the U.S. government in international organizations.

    SF: How is life in Rome during the pandemic?

    KT: I had been on a trip to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, in late February and very early March. I came back to Rome, and we locked down in March throughout mid-May. A lot like the rest of the world, they took it really seriously here. And I think if you look at our numbers today, there’s no question the amount of those affected by COVID-19 have dropped off significantly. So they’ve dealt with it very harshly, strong, and early, and I think it brought them success.

    SF: What is the primary role of the U.S. mission in Rome?

    We represent the United States to six individual organizations [see complete list at bottom of this story]. Of course, we encourage cooperation or coordination between the different agencies. One thing we always try to strive for is to make sure we don’t have what’s called “mission creep,” or overlap – one agency gets more into development or one more into food aid. They’ve done pretty well at that, but I think we can always strive to be better, more efficient.

    SF: Has the FAO strayed from its mission?

    KT: I think if you go back to their founding days, when they were first established, they stayed right on our mandate. They delivered. They were some of the original architects of the Green Revolution, and although we may find fault with it today in some places, and it’s evolved a lot from its original conditions that we found with the Green Revolution, they really helped instill that around the world. Then there was a pause in there for maybe 20, 30 years when they just, they really didn’t have the impact they were intended to have. They seemed to be more of a body at that point in time, getting around writing policies and doing a lot of things like that which were really not delivering on the mandate.

    SF: How are U.S. funds going to fight COVID around the world?

    KT: When we look at the World Food Programme, in the past year here it was a little bit over an $8 billion budget. They’re actually looking at closer to an $11 to $12 billion budget for this year going forward. So when we talk about the “crisis following the crisis,” we’re not talking so much in terms of people being affected directly by COVID in Africa – certainly that’s occurring, it’s happening; we know that a lot of people aren’t getting tested there; we know there are not hospitals in many cases to treat them in a lot of these areas – but the reality is the indirect impact.

    All of a sudden borders shut down. We’re aware of a border crossing between Kenya and Uganda that was shut down nearly 30 miles each direction here recently. Food trucks were in that line. It got backed up, obviously in both directions. That’s a lot of vehicles to process and get through. Because of the delay, all of a sudden people don’t have the food or maybe the agricultural resources they need to feed people.

    We’ve responded in different ways. The World Food Programme has increased the number of hubs around the world where they’re sourcing food resources, personal protective gear, humanitarian workers. And we’ve actually added nearly 700 flights a month to move all that equipment and those people around the world to make sure that we’re addressing this in an effective manner. At the same time, we’re increasing the model of ocean vessels that are moving food, trucks, and humanitarian workers in the field, getting things done. It’s quite a task, but we’re very confident in the ability of the World Food Programme to deliver on that with our support.

    SF: Has U.S. support increased for the World Food Programme?

    KT: A lot of people don’t realize this, but the United States in the last four years has almost doubled the contribution to the World Food Program. Uh, Americans are the most philanthropic nation in the world when it comes to the world, food programming giving, and making sure that we can support their most vulnerable around the world. So I’m proud of the United States that we’re taking steps like that. And we’re trying to come back and intervene with capacity and compassion as we deal with these crises around the world.

    SF: Turning to Africa, the locust plague there sounds almost biblical in proportion.

    KT: We know that it started clear over in Pakistan and spread both directions as it came across to India. We’ve got examples of them in Nepal now actually up into China. But then as they came west, they came across Iran, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. Then as they came in to the horn of Africa, into Somalia, we have them in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, a little bit in Eritrea. But yes, it is of biblical proportion. You can see many of them online, and it almost darkens the sky at times.

    We’ve supported the FAO response. The United States of America has contributed nearly $20 million to date. The total response is expected at about $155 million, and it may go up in time, but we know one thing for certain: If we’re not successful in controlling the African desert locusts and their movement across the continent of Africa, this could turn into a $2.25 billion dollar humanitarian aid project. So we’re really working hard to make sure that this is another response that’s efficient and effective.

    SF: What crops are the locusts going after?

    KT: Anything that’s green, basically. I mean, you’ll see them just strip trees down. I can send you pictures of corn crop fields where they’ve gone in. It looked like it just came through a Nebraska hailstorm. I mean, it’s just stripped down to the point where you just see the rib of the leaves. And it doesn’t take them long. It doesn’t take them long at all.

    SF: How does the crop look back on the Indiana family farm?

    KT: They’re telling me it all looks good. We had some very timely rains. We had a little bit of a late spring in northern Indiana. We had a lot of wet weather, from what I understand. What’s really interesting is I can come home from the embassy at night and, if I have time, I may look on this screen and just see where the equipment’s running at. Or I may look at the rainfall patterns over our operations, the digital graphics, or watch a sprayer go live across the field and see how the operator changes rates and applies fertilizer. So it’s good to stay in touch with the technologies and understand what’s going on and continue to see those evolve because it is that evolution that’s taken place in U.S. agriculture for the last 20, 30 years. It’s really helping us deliver on a global challenge of feeding a hungry world.

    SF: You’re still bullish on American agriculture.

    KT: We tend to be in an industry that doesn’t talk about anything too long. We roll up our sleeves and say, let’s go get it done. That's what we’re doing here. And we’re all rolling up our sleeves; whether it’s our State Department employees, USAID, or USDA, we’re working hard to make sure we represent America’s values across all these UN agencies here in Rome representing the United States of America.

    The 6 UN Agencies of the U.S. Mission

    The U.S. mission to the UN agencies here in Rome covers six different UN and international organizations, according to Ambassador Tom:

  • The World Food Programme. It is the organization that provides immediate relief to those around the world who are affected by hunger. Today we’re feeding about 135 million people a day around the world in about 85 countries.
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (or FAO) is the organization – much smaller in size –  that is supposed to create resiliency and capacity in farming systems around the world. But quite candidly, for the last two decades, they haven’t delivered on any of that. Which is why we’re having the issues that we’re having today in food security, making sure that we can feed that hungry world. But we have hope, we really do. We’ve got a new director general here now that seems to be very willing to embrace science and technology and understands that there are other innovations that can be used at the same time. We’re pretty optimistic that FAO is going to deliver going forward into the future.
  • The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). It’s an organization that countries like the United States contribute to, and they go out and make a lot of loans to smallholder farmers, sometimes in the form of grants, helping them access the tools that they need to try to feed themselves. They get involved in some commercial projects, as well, such as a grain processing plant in Rwanda, where they’re sourcing local grains and producing it and selling it back to the World Food Programme. We’re very supportive of that organization and excited about them as well.
  • The International Development Law Organization. This organization goes out and instills public law. So in Afghanistan, for instance, women can own land. Before, it had to be transferred back onto another male or a son. They’ve changed some issues like that. A very good and effective organization. We’re really proud of the work that they do here in Rome.
  • The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), which is another legal organization that works on prior law. One example is if a foreign entity, let’s say Kazakhstan, when it created a national airline and wanted to buy Boeing jets from the United States, financed through a lender, it allowed that lender to perfect that lien. So no matter where that plane is in the world, they have a perfected lien. Especially as you look at development around the world, there is a need for the ability to bring in these resources, perfect the liens, and allow people to invest with confidence. If there’s an issue, they can get that asset. So we’re going to see more movement, and obviously that can expand agricultural opportunities and economic growth around the developing world.
  • International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). This is a cultural preservation organization. It’s probably the smallest one we deal with, but they work on cultural preservation around the world.
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