This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A single draft of the speech, in the form of a reading copy, exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the reading copy and press release are available.
The greatest domestic challenge facing the next President will be the challenge of agriculture. The greatest challenge he faces abroad will be, of course, the challenge of peace - of strengthening the underdeveloped world against the instabilities that lead to either communism or war.
These two great challenges merge into a single challenge - at one point at least - summed up in three powerful words: Food for Peace.
Two-thirds of the people of the world are underfed and undernourished - hundreds of millions know the pangs of unsatisfied hunger each and every day of their life - millions perish from diseases produced by malnutrition - and thousands actually starve to death every year.
And yet, at the same time, America's great storehouses are overflowing with the great abundance of our land - with nine billion dollars worth of surplus foods - wheat and corn, rice and oils and cotton - food which we cannot consume here at home. Only America has too much food in a hungry world.
This vast world-wide shortage of food is one of the major obstacles to world peace. Hunger, and the disease it produces, create disillusionment and discontent among the underdeveloped nations of Africa, Asia and the Near East - disillusionment and discontent which provide a fertile breeding ground for communist revolution. And this same shortage of food also slows down the economic development of much of the free world. Limited resources which are badly needed for industrial development - for schools, and power and roads - or for raising living standards in other ways - must be used to buy food from abroad.
Faced with this paradox of American surpluses in the face of world hunger, Congress in 1954 passed the famous Public Law 480 - an imaginative and badly needed piece of legislation which permits the United States to donate, barter or sell its agricultural surpluses abroad for foreign currencies.
Under this law we have sold more than five billion dollars in surplus foods. Tens of millions of people who would have gone hungry have been fed. And, in addition, much of the foreign currency which we received for our food has been reinvested in vitally needed economic development projects abroad. Public Law 480, India's Prime Minister Nehru has said, has been America's greatest single contribution to Asian Strength and Asian freedom.
But as beneficial as this law has been - as much as it has accomplished - it is not enough. Our surpluses are still piling up - we still look upon our great agricultural productivity as a curse and a burden - millions are still hungry abroad - and the threat of communism is still growing.
It is time, therefore, for this nation to try a bold new expansion of our food for peace program - with new goals, and new steps forward, to relieve our farm surpluses, and to turn our great agricultural abundance into a blessing - for ourselves, and for all the world. I shall propose three steps for such a program - three steps by which we can truly use our food for peace.
First, we should store one-half of our grain surplus abroad - in food banks in the underdeveloped countries. These food banks would serve as visible, tangible believable insurance against disease and famine, and would symbolize America's determination that no man shall starve while we have food to spare.
The food would be stored at the expense of the recipient countries, in warehouses built with foreign currencies. And this country, as a result, would soon begin to save the taxpayers a large part of the one billion dollars a year which it now costs us to store our surplus. For example, it now costs twenty cents a year to store a bushel of grain. It would cost 38 cents to ship that same bushel of wheat to India. Thus, after two years of storage abroad, we would have made up the full cost of shipment - and started saving money compared to our present costly storage program.
No matter how it is viewed - financially, politically or morally - the idea of food storage banks abroad - subject to mutually agreed upon controls - makes sense. They would form a reservoir of food in time of famine - an assured supply of food for purchase in time of shortage or rising prices - and a source of confidence and hope to the people of the free world that hunger would never halt their efforts to build a modern, strong and free economy.
Secondly, we must remove P.L. 480's outmoded restrictions on the use we can make of foreign currencies. We must be free to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities which await us. For example, most of the free world faces a critical shortage of schools and teachers. By using these currencies to help supply badly needed educational facilities, we can help provide the resources of thought and skill essential to successful economic development.
Third, we must take advantage of the fact that we are not the only country with a large agricultural capacity - that other countries too may have "food for peace." We must begin to work with these other nations - nations such as Canada and Australia - to join hands in a great international effort to use our agricultural abundance for the economic and social development of the free world.
There are some of the ways in which we can begin to use more effectively our abundant food for peace. Norman Cousins has written that "when I enter my home I enter with the awareness that my table is only half set, for half the men on this earth know the emptiness of want." Tonight all the tables in America are only half set in this sense - and they will remain half set until we can begin to use our richness, our abundance and our great resources to drive want away from the tables of all men everywhere.