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US ponders role in world hunger fight

Not Iran, not Soviet aggression, not inflation or the energy crunch, but hunger is the most unsettling force in the world today, says Sol Linowitz. Many in the United States agree, and the conviction is widespread in Congress and among other Americans that the US should take the lead in the fight against hunger.

But how?

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Mr. Linowitz, who is best known as the US State Department's leading Mideast negotiator, is chairman of a blue-ribbon panel of world hunger experts that recently completed two years of research. Now the Presidential Commission on World Hunger is sponsoring hunger education programs around the nation telling about its findings and recommendations.

Basically, two tough questions are being asked about the commission's report:

* Would its proposals for dealing with hunger sacrifice US interests?

* Has it looked hard enough at how US policy actually contributes to world hunger?

Many hunger analysts agree with the commission's broad conclusions. To abate hunger, the commission says, US policies will need to help poor countries become more food self- suffiecient. They should support political changes on the world scene that give rural masses more participation in their countries' development. They should ease the devastating poverty that prevents the hungry from buying food, even when it's available.

More controversial -- within and without the commission -- are its specific proposals for US hunger strategy:

* Make ending hunger the focus of US foreign policy toward developing countries. To move in this direction, give Cabinet-level status to the director of the International Development and Cooperation Agency, the top foreign aid agency.

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* Coordinate all US development programs abroad more closely to the goal of ending hunger, improving income-earning opportunities for the poor, and encouraging more equitable land-holding patterns in developing countries.

* Radically increase US aid from the current 0.27 percent of the gross national product to the United Nations goal for developed countries of 0.7 percent of GNP; and increase contributions to international institutions lending to the neediest nations.

* Free direct US aid from military aid planning and from congressional oversight that has become, the commission believes, too restrictive in recent years.

* Open international trade opportunities for developing nations, especially the poorest, so that economic systems can give higher priority to development programs.

* Set up a government-held national grain reserve to back up US grain aid, and reopen negotiations to set up an international grain reserve to stabilize world grain prices and ensure supplies in times of world shortages.

Commission members Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D) of Vermont, who contested some of the proposals, have withdrawn their endorsement of the findings. But both men still support the report's aim to bolster the US commitment to ending hunger.

Senator Dole argues that the commission has not had time to think through the impact of its proposals on the US economy. For this reason, he questions the report's proposals to liberalize trade and debt arrangements with poor countries. he fears that setting up world grain reserves to stabilize prices could discourage grain producers and interfere with competition (at which th US farmer excels). He also opposes devoting scarce budget funds to an international grain reserve that he fears would not necessarily benefit the most needy nations.

Other analysts say they believe the hunger commission has not delved critically enough into how US political and economic policies may work against long-term solutions to hunger.

Senator Leahy and Rep. Richard Nolan (D) of Minnesota also a commission member, say the report has not dealt with how US agricultural policy, based on increasing exports, may clash with the need of poor countries to become more food self-sufficient.

Other critics do not approve of the report's emphasis on increased aid.

Frances Moore Lappe of the Institute for Food and Development Policy in San Francisco, says US aid tends to enforce hunger. In many parts of the world, she says, the bulk of it is given to repressive regimes with little concern for easing the hunger of the masses.

As long as aid is channeled through the powerful, she writes in the magazine of the Freedom from Hunger Foundation, it is not likely to be used to benefit the powerless hungry.

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute says the report's proposals do not deal sufficiently with the problem of the world's surging population, and the critical loss of cropland to deserts and non-agricultural purposes.

The report also is criticized for giving too little attention to the good and bad effects multinational corporations have on hunger, and to ways which women -- who provide over half the agricultural labor in poor countries -- could be given better status and benefits through development programs.

Despite the debate over the commission's findings, many hunger analysts say it has sparked greater US commitment to the problem. The commission, whose formal existence expires at the end of June, now will concentrate its efforts on dialogue with the public, Congress, and President Carter.

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