House panel approves bill to strengthen Feed the Future program

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2014 -- The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday favorably reported to the full House a bill that supporters say would strengthen President Obama's Feed the Future Initiative as it works to alleviate hunger around the globe.

The bill, HR 5656, is sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn. In the Senate, a companion bill, (S. 2909), has bipartisan support from Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware and Ben Cardin of Maryland plus Republicans Mike Johanns of Nebraska, John Boozman of Arkansas, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Lets Talk Food

The measure would for the first time give congressional authorization to the program, which was launched in 2010 in response to the global food price spikes of 2007 and 2008. Coordinated primarily by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the program last year was instrumental in providing nutritional help to more than 12 million children and assistance to nearly 7 million farmers and food producers in the poorest regions of Africa, Latin America and South Asia, according to its most recent progress report.

"This legislation is important, it is urgent," Congressman Smith said Thursday morning at a markup of the legislation. In September, when he introduced the bill, he said it would "save lives, reduce suffering and help stabilize regions of the world. HR 5656 takes direct aim at the extreme hunger and malnutrition that exist today in the poorest countries around the world in order to help mitigate the suffering and help nations help themselves.”

 

According to Johanns, “This small investment is not only the right thing to do, it also leads to greater stability and insulates against desperation that opens the door to tyranny and terrorists. Our legislation would ensure that the United States continues and improve upon its efforts to partner with countries in pursuing long-term agricultural development and eradicating hunger. In addition, our bill seeks to increase transparency and reporting so we can ensure our investments are made wisely.”

 

The bill would require the White House to develop a “whole-of-government strategy” to address global food insecurity and malnutrition. Additionally, it calls for improved monitoring and evaluation practices to make sure taxpayer dollars are being used effectively, and requires the administration to report to Congress annually about program strategy, results and the use of foreign assistance funds.

While the legislation has bipartisan support, its fate in the lame duck session of Congress, which will end before Christmas, is uncertain. A markup of the legislation has not been scheduled in the Senate where some lawmakers want the bill to give more credit to the USDA for its contribution to the initiative.

Meanwhile, during an event Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol to encourage backing for Feed the Future, a letter written by Strive Masiyiwa, chairman of Econet Wireless, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, was distributed. Masiyiwa, whom Forbes magazine calls “the Bill Gates of Africa,” wrote to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., in support of HR 5656.

“The Feed the Future program is critical for promoting shared prosperity in Africa,” he wrote. “While I am founder and chairman of an African telecommunications firm…., I strongly believe that catalyzing agriculture holds the key to Africa's future, since it accounts for more than 60 percent of our jobs and for more than a third of our economy.

“The Green Revolution has started taking root in Africa and this legislation… is very important to accelerating our progress.”

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