USAID touts progress of global food aid efforts

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



ARLINGTON, Va., May 20, 2014 - President Barack Obama's Feed the Future initiative reached almost 7 million farmers last year by providing access to new technologies and management practices on about 10 million acres of land, according to a progress report released Monday.

Obama pledged at the 2009 G-8 Summit in Italy to provide at least $3.5 billion toward global food security projects. Since then, the U.S. government has invested $5 billion and other donors have made $18.5 billion in commitments to the initiative, which is aimed at fighting hunger in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) report said.

Lets Talk Food

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said the government has also been able to leverage $7 billion in private investment from 160 companies. 

“It's this power of public engagement and private investment…that can actually make a dent at ending hunger in our lifetime,” he said during the Feed the Future Global Forum in Arlington, Virginia. 

According to the report, which outlines the progress of the global hunger and food security project, the initiative last year provided nutrition assistance 12.5 million children. Shenggen Fan, of China, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that 165 million children around the world under the age of 5 are stunted from malnutrition. 

Feed the Future is part of the government's effort to meet the global Millennium Development Goal of cutting the number of the world's hungry in half by 2015.

Former Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar addressed the forum about his support for the initiative as well as the importance of biotechnology in reaching global food security goals.

“Biotechnology, including genetically engineered seed, will be absolutely indispensable in the long run for feeding people in a changing climate,” Lugar said. “Without a broad application of this technology around the world, our ability to expand food production to required levels will be seriously handicapped.”

Lugar, a Republican, also emphasized the need to increase congressional support for global food projects. He criticized the GOP-dominated House for including a measure in the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 that would require that 75 percent of U.S. food aid for overseas be shipped on U.S.-flagged ships, up from 50 percent. The Obama administration has said the measure would raise shipping costs by about $75 million a year, money that otherwise could go to buy more food.

Lugar said the measure should be blocked, to avoid putting lives at risk and damaging U.S. leadership in global food security.

Lugar, a former chairman of Senate committees on Agriculture and Foreign Relations, said the complexity of global hunger problems “demands we have a plan that emphasizes efficiency and transparency,” while focusing on public-private partnerships.

USAID's Shah agreed with Lugar's assessment, saying that Feed the Future is “not simply a commitment of financial resources.”

The initiative “fundamentally relies on supporting agriculture as a business, especially one that works for women and small-scale agricultural producers in largely agrarian economies,” he said.

Shah noted that the 2014 Farm Bill now allows USAID to directly fund development activities in the region where they are needed, rather just shipping U.S. commodities overseas. The change will ensure that the U.S. buys more food locally in order to create market incentives for smallholder farmers, he said.

The reforms mean USAID can reach an additional 800,000 food-insecure people with the same resources, according to the progress report. 

As part of the initiative, Shah announced during his speech that USAID has formed a $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University's World Coffee Research program to eliminate coffee rust, a plant disease that has caused more than $1 billion in economic damage in Latin America since 2012. 

“Today's farmers face the worst outbreak in Latin American history,” Shah said. Research will focus on rust-resistance coffee varieties, as well as helping the region's institutions address rust outbreaks.

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