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.
Global public will alone will not end hunger. Increased donor support—while necessary to address immediate emergency food needs—will not create the food system improvements required for ending global hunger. Yes, even in 2016—after several years of decline—the number of hungry people worldwide rose to 815 million, increasing by nearly 38 million since 2015. Reducing this number and honoring the US pledge from the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending global hunger requires country led, pro-poor food system improvements. As more people migrate to cities, these pro-poor food policies must both include agriculture development strategies and ensure consumer access to affordable, nutritious food.
Attempting to impose requisite change from the global level ignores the leadership of governments and local actors striving to develop their own policies and programs. Effective change requires long-term, local government ownership of macro policy improvements; these improvements in turn drive benefits for everyone—particularly smallholder farmers and poor, non-farm working consumers. These macro policies must create an enabling environment that allows for the formation and growth of local businesses across the agricultural value chain. Businesses of every kind require the predictability that only adequate government policy and legally enforced regulatory frameworks can deliver. Additionally, a consistent operating environment and harmonization across regions benefits US agribusiness working to develop sustainable supply chains demanded by their business model and accountable supply chains demanded by consumers. It also benefits US farmers as communities are able to build local and regional markets for US exports. As interested global donors and policy advocates, we must partner with these local leaders and provide support to facilitate their vision of change.
Partnerships at the country and community level should reflect the needs of the local food system and involve active community members. Government, private sector, academia, donors, NGO’s, and community representatives together can provide necessary tools, such as substantive information, technical advice, distribution, operational implementation, and funding. And context is critical: in no two countries will replicating a successful partnership in one ensure success in the other. The Farm to Market Alliance, for example, is comprised of public and private sector groups looking to link farmers, buyers, and other market actors—such as providers of fertilizer and finance—in order to build demand-led value-chains. While the Farm to Market Alliance has the same objective in each of the three countries it operates, the specific partners in each location differ to reflect the particular needs and actors available in each location. Every country level partnership—while striving to achieve aspirational goals tomorrow—must also provide the tools and talent needed to produce measurable results today.
Consistent progress and results from transparent evaluations are also necessary to ensure that the right policies are enacted and that the correct leaders are involved. Countries that have made the leap from subsistence agriculture to food systems that work for small farmers and consumers demonstrate that information is needed to first identify effective policies, programs, and partnerships—and encourage additional investment. And all of this must occur with the recognition of what is not working and moving on. An aspirational vision of a pro-poor food system takes many years to achieve. What keeps stakeholders and US leadership invested are incremental, measurable results supported by adequate course corrections throughout the process.
The journey from vision to food security also requires research and development, from USDA and land-grant universities as well as international research organizations, to produce the tools necessary for creating catalytic, structural changes across the food system. These research investments must generate more farmer-centered solutions, whether its developing drought tolerant seeds in the Sahel or creating new methods for farmer financing—such as MyAgro, a company which allows farmers to buy seeds, fertilizers, and training services in advance with scratch cards. Not every intervention must be high tech, but admittedly mobile technology will likely drive most innovation through information sharing, data collection and management, and addressing logistical challenges.
Food system improvement strategies have succeeded when implemented consistently over multiple years…and even decades. The Sustainable Development Goals mandates the US—as a global leader and an agricultural powerhouse—to end hunger by 2030. While global public will alone cannot end hunger, we should recognize that it can encourage the investments, partnerships, research, and demands for transparency needed to develop and implement local policies capable of ending hunger.
About the author: Ambassador Ertharin Cousin is currently the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford's Spogli Institute and a Visiting Fellow in their Center on Food Security. She also serves as Distinguished Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She formerly served as Executive Director of the World Food Program and as the US Representative to UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture.