The United States Launches New Food Security Initiative

Last week, John Buchanan, CI’s Food Security Lead, and I attended the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security. This event launched Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s new global hunger and food security initiative strategy and implementation guide. The day-long event also had an impressive array of keynote speakers, including USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Secretary of USDA Thomas Vilsack, AGRA President Namanga Ngongi, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

Global hunger is a serious global challenge; more than 1 billion people, or 1/6 of humanity, are food insecure. This has many devastating consequences, with more than 3.5 million children dying every year from malnutrition, along with severely undermining the ability of societies to produce healthy, productive citizens that contribute to sustainable social and economical development. At the G8 Summit in L’Aguila, Italy last year global leaders called for increased investment in agriculture and rural development as a demonstrated mechanism that effectively addresses food insecurity and drives economic development and stability. At L’Aguila, President Obama pledged $3.5 billion over three years and helped to leverage more than $18.5 billion to address this important global issue.

Most of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and of the rural poor, most are smallholder producers. Feed the Future (FTF) will focus on smallholders, with women representing a key part of this targeted focus. Often in the past, agricultural development activities have neglected women in their interventions, even though in most developing countries women produce between 60-80 percent of the food. Studies have shown that targeting women can increase agricultural output, and income gains are more likely to be spent on food and children’s needs. As USAID Administrator Shah said in his speech, “We know the people who matter most aren’t the financiers, or the agriculture ministers, or the assistance workers and farmers. They are the women farmers who are the untapped solution to this problem.”

Another key component of FTF is an approach that is focused on country-led plans. Shah explained that in a shift in the USAID model, Feed the Future will be “country-led and country-owned.” To insure that the administration’s food security efforts are aligned to the same goals, Shah said USAID will collect baseline data from the start on three metrics: women’s incomes, child malnutrition and agricultural production. This data collection will begin in 20 focus countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Another theme throughout the symposium was the commitment to pursuing a “Whole of Government” approach, which will coordinate across the U.S. government to harness and align a diverse range of resources for greatest impact. Ambassadors William Garvelink and Pat Haslach will take the lead on implementing the new FTF initiative, ensuring that FTF is aligned with other food security-related programs and policies across the government.

Throughout the day, many U.S. government representatives cited the need to work across the entire value-chain, utilizing a diverse array of interventions, to improve food security. CI’s New Food Security Initiative emphasizes this holistic approach, asserting that nature must also be included, especially in the face of climate change, water scarcity and land degradation. The poor and food insecure will feel these impacts the most. CI is committed to working in partnership with developing countries to find ways to increase production and diversify and improve livelihoods, while also maintaining and restoring the natural resource base on which these activities depend.

Bemmy Granados is the coordinator of CI’s Food and Livelihood Security Program.

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