Sustaining U.S. Commitment to Food Security and Agricultural Development

By Anna Applefield

In 2010, President Obama committed $3.5 billion over three years to global food security programming. This commitment became USAID’s flagship initiative on food security, called Feed the Future (FtF), which over the last four years has been committed to reducing food insecurity in its 19 focus countries.

In the eleventh hour of the 113th Congress, a bi-partisan bill to continue funding for FtF, introduced by Representatives Smith (R-NJ) and McCollum (D-MN) passed the House of Representatives and went to the Senate for consideration. The bill was not passed by the Senate, so it will be left to a new Congress to decide the future of food security programming.

FtF has been a major priority for USAID, but without authorized funding the budget is vulnerable every year, which weakens the program’s overall ability to function. Because Obama has spearheaded the effort and refocused USAID’s priorities heavily on this program, many people have politicized the initiative, which further jeopardizes its ability to gain sustained funding.

Regardless of the political dynamics, FtF has revitalized the U.S. commitment to agriculture abroad in a way hasn’t been seen in decades.  Although there are certainly ways that FtF can and should be improved, there are several key reasons we should be thinking about how we can cement long-term success by continuing to improve and expand programming, rather than cutting back on food security funding at this critical time.

Poomparai Village is a farming community in Tamil Nadu, India.

A farming community in Tamil Nadu, India.  Photo obtained via Parthan’s flickr photostream under a creative commons license

Food security and agricultural development are an effective use of foreign aid. As cross-cutting issues, food security programming addresses all of the following priories simultaneously:

  • reducing malnutrition for thousands of children across the developing world
  • empowering women by reducing their hard labor and providing mechanisms to more easily access capital to invest in their farms
  • providing a viable economic alternative to urban migration; which curbs the influx of young people into already oversaturated labor markets and improves our national security
  • maintaining global food price stability
  • improving the enabling environment for local and international companies that want to grow the agricultural economy in these emerging markets

Agricultural development is a long-term endeavor. Although FtF has shown some impressive results, its most significant impacts are yet to be felt. Adopting new agricultural technologies and practices, growing markets, and building agricultural research capacity in local universities does not produce its most powerful results in the short term. With the initial investment made and the groundwork laid, continuing activity will exponentially increase the impact of the significant investments that have already been made.

Continuity of programming is essential for the U.S.’s effectiveness as a bi-lateral donor. When FtF began, it took time for many USAID mission offices to adjust their priorities and integrate agricultural development into their ongoing activities. To undercut the activities that are now underway would do a genuine disservice to the communities we have invested in, as well as both the local and international staff implementing these projects.

A new Congress will have the advantage a fresh perspective, but hopefully this momentum is not lost. While Congress should be appropriately critical in order to ensure a healthy change and evolution of programming, it should also recognize the areas where FtF has been successful and continue to support the massive impact our commitment to reducing hunger and food insecurity is having globally.

Anna Applefield in the Assistant Director for Grants and Contracts, and a Research Associate on the Global Food Security Project at CSIS.

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