Obama signs Global Food Security Act

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, July 20, 2016 - President Barack Obama has signed the Global Food Security Act to help developing nations expand their agricultural capacity and get on a path to self-sufficiency.

Obama announced the action at the White House Summit on Global Development in Washington, prompting a hearty round of applause.

“You're not surprised I signed it, right?” he asked the crowd, eliciting laughter from those in attendance. “We've been working on this for a while. We got it passed, so it's my job to sign it.”

The bipartisan bill authorizes more than $7 billion for international food programs, ensuring that presidential initiatives like Feed the Future “endure well into the future,” Obama said. 

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., lead sponsor of the measure in the Senate, said, “The biggest takeaway of this law is that it will improve nutrition for 12 million children and increase the income of 7 million farmers.”

Lets Talk Food

He gave credit to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., as well as Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn. “I also want to acknowledge Senators Mike Johanns and Richard Lugar, who are no longer in Congress but were my earliest partners on this effort."

The bill requires the executive branch to coordinate the efforts of relevant federal agencies in developing a global food security strategy. It requires the establishment of “specific and measurable goals” to improve nutrition, especially for women and children, and promotes agricultural development for small-scale producers.

Under Feed the Future, Obama said that last year, “we reached over 9 million farmers across the globe, reducing hunger, boosting yields, and increasing incomes by more than $800 million. In many of the areas where we work, poverty has been cut by up to a quarter. Stunting is down by as much as a third. Nearly 18 million more children are getting better nutrition.”

“Let's sustain this progress,” he said. “Let's make hunger history.”

In his remarks, Obama also mentioned the importance of trade, telling the audience that in his travels to developing nations, “People tell me … they do not just want aid, they want trade. They want capacity-building.”

“So having renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, moving ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we can make sure that trade and globalization delivers progress not just for those at the top, but also for the many,” he said.

The law, S. 1252, provides statutory authority for Feed the Future and the Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP), which the U.S. Agency for International Development has been using to provide food aid as an alternative to the Food for Peace program, which requires the use of U.S.-grown commodities.

EFSP uses electronic vouchers and locally procured commodities to help people in distressed areas of the globe. EFSP supporters say that is more efficient than relying on food shipments under Food for Peace.

But the legislation makes clear that EFSP will not supplant Food for Peace. During a House floor debate earlier this month, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said the programs are meant to work in tandem.

EFSP is “meant to complement, and not replace, time-tested approaches to delivering food aid including the Food for Peace program,” Royce told House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. 

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“While the world may be changing rapidly, one thing will never change: The American farmer will always play a significant role in promoting food security at home and abroad,” Royce said. “U.S. agricultural commodities will always be in demand and will always remain a part of the Food for Peace program.”

In conjunction with the global development summit, the White House released a fact sheet touting the achievements of Feed the Future, saying it “reached nearly 18 million children with vital nutrition interventions in 2015.” It added that “new data show that childhood stunting has dropped between 12 to 32 percent and poverty has decreased between 12 to 26 percent over recent years in several areas where Feed the Future works.” 

Also, since 2013, the administration has supported the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative, “which with over 300 partners makes agricultural and nutritionally relevant data available, accessible, and usable for unrestricted use,” the White House said.

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