Senator George McGovern, Global Food Champion

Tributes are pouring in for the late US Senator George McGovern, who died yesterday at the age of 90. McGovern represented South Dakota. Very early in his career, he adopted a global outlook to the kinds of agricultural issues that dominated his state’s economy.

McGovern has a long list of accomplishments in his career, so people may not realize the critical role he played in helping to establish the World Food Program in the early 1960s.  Today, director-General José Graziano da Silva of the WFP’s sister program, the Food and Agriculture Organization hailed Mr. McGovern as  “a tireless advocate for the world’s hungry.”

Mr. McGovern, who served in the US Senate from 1963 to 1981, was appointed the first director of the US Food for Peace Programme, created by President John F. Kennedy in 1960, and was instrumental in the foundation of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in 1963. He also served as the US Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture from 1998 to 2001.

In 2000, in partnership with former US Senator Bob Dole, he created the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which commits an annual amount from the US federal budget to provide nutritious meals to poor students around the world.

In 2008, both senators were honoured with the World Food Prize for “their inspired, collaborative leadership that has encouraged a global commitment to school feeding and enhanced school attendance and nutrition for millions of the world’s poorest children, especially girls,” according to prize organizers.

The international prize, which was created in 1986 and is sponsored by a local businessman and philanthropist in the US state of Iowa, recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food.

“He will be sorely missed by the FAO community and by our partners in the fight against hunger.” Mr. Graziano da Silva said.

In Iowa last week, in his speech at the latest World Food Prize award ceremony, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of the then-ailing Senator McGovern, noting that “we at the United Nations have tremendous admiration for his contributions to the battle against global hunger.”

That’s a career to be proud of.