Shah stepping down as USAID chief

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2014 - Rajiv Shah, the architect of President Obama's $1-billion-a year effort to increase food production and reduce hunger in the world's poorest countries, is stepping down as administrator of the U.S. Agency of International Development.

In a statement this morning, Shah said he planned to leave the agency in February but didn't say what he would do next.

Shah, who joined USAID in late 2009, ran agricultural programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before briefly joining USDA in 2009 to oversee its research. Shah, who has a medical degree, moved to USAID as the administration was launching its Feed the Future initiative that funds agricultural and nutrition projects in 19 target countries.

Feed the Future projects are designed to test approaches to increasing food production and reduce malnutrition in young children.

“President Obama's call to end extreme poverty - made in two State of the Union addresses - re-energized our Agency and elevated our work in the national security agenda,” Shah said in his statement and in an email to agency supporters.

 

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“In the years since, we have seized upon this challenge, advancing a new model of development that harnesses the power of business and innovation to achieve this goal.”

 

Marshall Matz, a longtime lobbyist on nutrition programs who co-founded a Washington-based group that advocates for the United Nations World Food Program, said in an email that Shah “has reinvigorated AID and redirected it toward agriculture development.”

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Other initiatives under Shah include Power Africa, which is designed to promote sustainable energy in sub-Saharan Africa. 
Shah and USAID also faced a number of crises, including this year's Ebola epidemic in west Africa.

 

Shah's announcement came the same day that Cuba released a USAID contractor, Alan Gross, who been in custody for five years. White House officials said the release of Gross had nothing to do with Shah's departure, which had been expected for some time.

 

Shah will leave some unfinished business. Although Congress has agreed to fund Feed the Future each year, the initiative's future is somewhat uncertain in that it does not have any authorization in law.

The House, with urging from the administration, passed a bill, H.R. 5656, to authorize the initiative for one year but the bill died in the Senate because of resistance from Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who will chair the Foreign Relations Committee next year, sources say.

 

The success of the initiative won't become clear for several years. Researchers are tracking the projects to measure their impact on food supplies, poverty and malnutrition.

Shah also was unsuccessful in getting Congress to overhaul Food for Peace, the main U.S. international food aid program. He pushed for using the program's funding to buy more commodities in or near the countries where the food is distributed rather than relying solely on supplying U.S. products. Congressional appropriators have so far rejected the idea, even though the 2014 Farm Bill authorized up to $80 million a year in overseas commodity purchases.

 

Obama said in a statement that Shah, “the son of proud Indian immigrants, has embodied America's finest values by proactively advancing our development priorities, including ending global poverty, championing food security, promoting health and nutrition, expanding access to energy sources, and supporting political and economic reform in closed societies. “

 

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