At the United Nations on September 21, 2022, President Biden announced $2.9 billion in assistance to address global food insecurity and urged other countries to follow suit. President Biden stressed: “If parents cannot feed their children, nothing else matters.” 

The announcement comes as the Biden administration takes several steps to combat the global food crisis caused by climate change, supply chain disruptions, civil wars, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s part of the Biden administration’s plan to invest more of the $6 billion+ in aid that Congress approved earlier this year to address one of the worst food crises that we’ve ever seen. The President also announced $2.76 billion in aid at the G7 meeting in June earlier this year.

Beyond funding, there continues to be a strong emphasis on nutrition security both globally and domestically. The United States hosted the Global Food Security Summit,  and the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health will start a process to address domestic hunger and nutrition insecurity. Remember, the Nixon White House Conference was successful because of the programs enacted during the next decade along with the publication of Dietary Goals for the United States, which became the first edition of the USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980. Our challenge now is to fill the gaps in our food programs and at the same time improve the nutritional quality of these programs. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recommendations to improve the WIC program that are pending now. They should be adopted.

Biden-White-House-Conference-on-Hunger,-Nutrition-and-Health.jpgPresident Biden speaking at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. (Photo: Marshall Matz)
In 2019, the UN Secretary General with his eyes on the UN Sustainability Development Goal #2 of eliminating hunger, announced the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (FSS). Just about a year ago, it brought together 140 countries to focus on the importance of food security and was chaired by Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the former Agriculture Minister from Rwanda, and the current President of the Kenyan-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Between 2019 and 2021, however, the number of those who were hungry grew and has continued to grow.

Climate change is causing massive disruptions, including a years-long drought in the Horn of Africa resulting in catastrophic food insecurity. COVID-19 brought supply chain shocks that added stress to the global food distribution system. Further instability, including civil wars and Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has compounded the challenge.

Funding and policy conferences are all concrete actions that will impact the growing domestic and global food crisis.

The President’s speech at the United Nations put a bright spotlight on the importance of global food security. It was former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) who said in a variety of ways, on many occasions, “Food security is a matter of national security.” He was spot on, and so is President Biden. 

In the short run, humanitarian food assistance is essential to prevent millions of people from starving. In the long run, technology must reach smallholder farmers around the world so they can feed themselves and become profitable businesses. Half the hungry people in the world are farmers who do not produce enough food to feed their families.

Earlier in September, President Biden issued Executive Order 14081 to advance biotechnology and innovation, including especially in agriculture. It directed all Departments and Agencies to engage the international community to enhance biotechnology. Under the order, Secretary Vilsack is required to submit a report assessing how to use biotechnology for food and agriculture, especially for improving food quality and increasing yields.  

Also in September, the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld the election of pro-biotech politician William Ruto as President. Ruto has said in the past that he supports biotechnology and will not let the world advance and leave Kenya behind. If Kenya adopts biotechnology, accepts GMO food donations, and allows GMO food to pass through its ports, it could also change thinking throughout Africa. This could have a profound global impact not just for Kenya, but also for the entire world.  

The Biden Administration is investing in the technology of the future. And, in short, agriculture is still the future. 

Marshall Matz is Chairman of OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He was General Counsel to Senator George McGovern in the 1970s and a friend thereafter. Elisa Bayoumi is the Legislative and Regulatory Coordinator at OFW with a special interest in international food nutrition and security. 

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Breakdown of $2.9 Billion in additional funding to strengthen global food security (from the White House Fact Sheet)

  • $2 billion in global humanitarian assistance through USAID
  • $783 million in global development assistance funding, including:
    • $140 in new development funding through Feed the Future’s new Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative to help smallholder farmers get access to agricultural tools, technologies, and production methods.
    • $220 million for eight new school feeding projects in Africa and East Asia through USDA, awarded through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program
    • $178 for seven international development projects to promote climate-smart agriculture, trade, and more across four continents, awarded through the USDA’s Food for Progress Program
    • $245 million for the Accelerated Growth Corridors Project in the U.S.-Malawi compact to be signed later this month
  • $150 million for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program