Building a food-secure world helps America prosper

By Tjada McKenna

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Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.


Agriculture has been critical to America's growth as a nation. For many countries like ours, the path from poverty to prosperity has run through agriculture, but agriculture's promise has not yet been fully realized around the world.

This was no more apparent than in 2007 and 2008, when food price spikes pushed millions back to the brink of poverty and led to global instability. After a three-decade decline in global agricultural investment, in 2009 at the L'Aquila G8 Summit, the United States rallied world leaders to increase investments in agriculture that would boost global food security and nutrition. Feed the Future, President Obama's multi-agency global hunger and food security initiative, was born during this pivotal moment. At that time, President Obama pledged an initial $3.5 billion in investments in global agriculture, which leveraged more than $18 billion from other donor countries. Since then, Feed the Future and related U.S. Government efforts have mobilized tremendous public and private support to unlock the transformative potential of agriculture to connect more people to the global economy and offer a path out of poverty. Our efforts focus on supporting the sustainable food security and nutrition priorities outlined by the host country governments and partners in the countries where we work.

Lets Talk Food

Nearly 800 million people still suffer from chronic hunger today.  By 2050, the world's population is projected to increase to more than 9 billion; in order to meet the demands of this growing population, the world must increase agricultural production by at least 60 percent. Our work globally helps accelerate agricultural productivity growth trends, ensuring that we are not only helping meet food security needs for future generations, but also protecting our planet in the face of challenges like climate change and a growing population.

Feed the Future is one of the most successful ways America is leading in the world today, in part because we've partnered with others to make a real impact. We share a common vision of a world without hunger in which children have enough nutritious food to reach their full potential. Together, we are committed to a comprehensive approach to agricultural development that changes the lives of hungry people, most of whom depend on agriculture and the jobs it generates. By leveraging our strength in agricultural research and innovation, working in partnership with host governments and private sector partners, focusing on areas of greatest need and rigorously monitoring results, we're seeing positive change take root in a short amount of time.

One of Feed the Future's core tenets is bringing the best of American resources and know-how to bear to help poor farmers abroad. To do this, Feed the Future works with U.S. companies, universities, farmer organizations and other nonprofits to share America's agricultural expertise and entrepreneurial legacy to help developing countries deliver on agriculture's promise. We work together to drive innovation and connect farmers to tools, technologies and information that increase yields and incomes, even in the face of drought, heat and other climate changes. This work brings benefits back home, too. Our research partnerships generate new knowledge that is used here at home to help America's farmers stay ahead of new pests and disease. And our efforts foster investment at all levels, on farm and off, public and private, that boost income growth in developing countries and increase demand for the products U.S. farmers and businesses provide. In addition, by helping to ensure that everyone has enough nutritious food to eat, it helps reduce the risk of instability and turmoil often driven by a lack of access to food.

Earlier this summer, President Obama traveled to Africa, where he highlighted the work of some of his signature development efforts, including Feed the Future. While in Ethiopia, he toured the Faffa Food Share Company headquarters, a factory supported by Feed the Future through a partnership with U.S. agribusinesses like General Mills and Cargill. Faffa Food is one of the leading low-cost suppliers of nutritious foods for children over the age of six months in Ethiopia, a country in which more than one third of the population lives in poverty and 40 percent of all young children are stunted. The President's visit underscored that agriculture is essential to Ethiopia's economic growth, just as it is across Africa. In fact, the sector employs 65 percent of Africa's labor force and accounts for 32 percent of gross domestic product. As one of 19 Feed the Future focus countries, our work in Ethiopia focuses on supporting the country's  own priorities for agriculture-based economic growth by strengthening strategic crops and value chains, promoting private sector engagement, and improving market access, among other efforts.

Just last year, Feed the Future helped nearly 7 million smallholder farmers adopt and use improved tools and technologies, reached more than 12 million children to improve their nutrition, and helped farmers boost agricultural sales by more than half a billion dollars to increase their incomes. These numbers are contributing to a broader impact: Since Feed the Future has been active in Ethiopia, the country has seen childhood stunting decrease by 9 percent nationally between 2011 and 2014. Parts of Kenya saw a more than a 25 percent reduction in stunting in recent years, while areas in Uganda have seen a 16 percent drop in poverty. We may have made tremendous progress, but we have much work ahead of us.  

We cannot take U.S. leadership in boosting global food security for granted. We've made an enormous difference thus far and must continue to make investing in agriculture a long-term priority as we hone our approach and take it to scale. We've seen what happens when economic growth leaves communities and countries behind, and as President Obama said in his inaugural address, we can't afford indifference. We must promote growth that is inclusive. Increasing global food security and nutrition is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. Progress today makes us safer, more prosperous, and better prepared to meet tomorrow's challenges.

About the author: Tjada D'Oyen McKenna is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Food Security and Deputy Coordinator for Development, U.S. Feed the Future initiative.

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