For those of us who were listening to the President’s State of the Union address this week, listening for a reference to the fight against hunger through agriculture development, we heard this near the end of the speech:
“This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.”
That is the essence of the presidential initiative known as Feed the Future – helping the smallholder farmers of the developing world, particularly those in Africa, feed themselves, rather than us feeding them. It is an effort to reverse the decades of neglect of agriculture development in the poorest countries of the world. It is a recognition that those farmers have a vital role in adding to the global food supply, in helping to feed not only themselves, but to feed all of us.
That the President mentioned this, even if it is only five words – helping farmers grow more food – puts Feed the Future at the center of the administration’s diplomatic and development efforts, a prime deployment of America’s soft-power. The speech was dubbed “Winning the Future.” Feed the Future will be critical to assuring victory. It will help the world meet the need to double food production by 2050 to keep up with the rising appetite of a world population growing both more numerous and more prosperous.
LIKE national defence, securing food supplies usually counts as a core task of government. Hence, as prices surge, food security is rising to the top of the political agenda. Or so it sounds.
On January 24th the British government’s chief scientific officer said that “the case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling.” He was presenting a report from hundreds of scientists that concluded with “a stark warning for both current and future decision-makers on the consequences of inaction—food production and the food system must assume a much higher priority in political agendas across the world.”
Politicians say they are listening. “If we don’t do anything,” France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy said on the same day, “we run the risk of food riots in the poorest countries and a very unfavourable effect on global economic growth.”
Companies are attentive, too. At the Davos gathering of the self-proclaimed great and good a few days later, a score of firms, including seed companies, food processors and grain traders proclaimed: “The world needs a new vision for agriculture.” They promised to work with farmers and governments to boost farm output, cut emissions and reduce rural poverty, all (in an amazing coincidence) by 20% each decade. Amid this sense of renewed urgency, though, lurks fear: that politicians will prove as fickle about food today as they have been in the past.
Once again, the great paradox of Africa emerges: hunger in one part of a country, food surplus in another.
A persistent drought is biting hard in the northern and eastern reaches of Kenya, threatening herders and their livestock. Already, the World Food Program is feeding about 1.6 million people. This week the government said the number of Kenyans requiring food relief would increase to five million in the next three months.
At the same time, farmers in the Rift Valley are sitting on surplus maize following good harvests last August. “Can the government tell us what food shortage they are talking about? Most farmers have maize but there is no market,” a North Rift parliamentarian was quoted as saying in the Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation.
January 10, 2011 - As 2011 dawns, the United States government is poised to lead the greatest assault on global hunger through agriculture development since the Green Revolution half a century ago. This renewed commitment is exceedingly timely, with rising commodity prices foreshadowing a repeat of the 2008 food crisis and with the ever-expanding appetite of an ever-growing population demanding a doubling of global food production by 2050.
During the past two years, the administration has constructed a framework to implement the foreign policy priority unveiled by President Obama on the day of his inauguration: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish…” The action has been swift and along a wide front, reflecting the urgency and scope of the challenge.
By the end of 2009, the Presidential initiative known as Feed the Future was already at work; its ambitious goal is to harness the power of agriculture development to increase the harvests, nutrition and incomes of poor farming families, particularly in Africa. In April of 2010, to mobilize international partners, the U.S. spearheaded the launch of a multi-donor trust fund called the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP); within two months, initial grants were being awarded to improve farming in some of the world’s poorest countries. This past fall, a Bureau for Food Security was created within the U.S. Agency for International Development to drive the implementation of these projects. Then, in December 2010, the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) completed by the State Department and USAID placed Feed the Future and the Bureau for Food Security at the center of a strategy emphasizing more assertive and effective deployment of the country’s civilian power to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century.
Now, to keep the momentum rolling, this new policy framework needs a firm foundation that can withstand the tests of time and political trends. Providing sustainable funding and authorizing a strong, consistent national commitment to American leadership on agriculture development and global food security would be a truly historic achievement of the 112th Congress. The next year or two will be critical in determining whether this leadership becomes an effective and lasting feature of U.S. development policy – or whether this moment of great opportunity will be squandered. For if the U.S. falters, the entire effort to conquer hunger and increase food production will likely crumble. Absent American leadership, it is doubtful that agriculture development will receive the sustained international policy attention and resources necessary to achieve the long-lasting results vital for nourishing the planet’s population. This would be an epic failure for us all.
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