WASHINGTON, March 10, 2016 - The Obama administration’s $1-billion-a-year effort to improve food security in some of the poorest countries in the world has cleared a key Senate hurdle for the first time.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday approved the bipartisan Global Food Security Act (S. 1252), which would assure that the Feed the Future initiative survives after President Obama leaves office. 

The bill would authorize Feed the Future through fiscal 2018 and establish detailed requirements for the U.S. Agency for International Development to report on the initiative’s progress and to spell out strategies for making the target countries self-supporting. USAID would be required to distinguish between how the program has affected female and male farmers. 

The bill “will ensure that our life-saving investments in food security are continued into the next administration,” said Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who has been the lead advocate for Feed the Future in the Senate. 

He said the legislation would “require more robust reporting and transparency from the White House, including a plan to graduate target countries from Feed the Future when assistance is no longer necessary.

Feed the Future, which is designed to improve food production and nutrition in 19 target countries, was first developed during the George W. Bush administration and was formalized under President Obama but hasn't secured statutory authorization from Congress to date. The initiative has been compared to Bush’s effective anti-AIDS plan known as PEPFAR.

Feed the Future programs, which USAID coordinates with USDA and other agencies, have helped reduce child stunting as well as rural poverty, according toUSAID’s latest annual progress report. 

USAID claims farmers’ sales in the target countries shot from $38 million in 2011 to $538 million in 2014 because of Feed the Future.  

When Casey introduced the Senate legislation last year, the bill would have authorized the program through 2020, but the revised version the committee approved Thursday shortened the authorization to two years to give the measure a better chance of House passage. The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a one-year authorization in 2015 but the measure (HR 1567) has yet to reach the full House. 

The House passed a similar bill in the waning days of the last Congress, but Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., blocked it from passing the Senate. He later said he wanted to wrap the Feed the Future measure into a separate proposal to overhaul the way the Food for Peace aid program operates but has now dropped that plan. 

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Corker supports efforts to shift Food for Peace from delivering U.S. commodities to purchasing food closer to the regions where it is distributed, an idea that supporters say would help more people and reduce overhead costs. 

Corker believes the bill that his committee advanced Thursday would make a step in that direction. The legislation would authorize USAID’s use of the International Disaster Assistance account, which isn’t bound by the restrictions on Food for Peace, through a Emergency Food Response Fund. 

The legislation also would authorize USAID’s continued use of the International Disaster Assistance account to respond to emergency food needs through the Emergency Food Response Program. “This authorization marks important progress in eliminating inefficiencies that prevent us from feeding more people in need around the world more quickly,” Corker said.

Corker is now cosponsoring Casey’s bill along with John Boozman, R-Ark.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.;  Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.;  Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Sixty-seven aid and advocacy organizations, including CARE, InterAction, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America and World Vision, signed a statement applauding the committee’s action Thursday. “The Global Food Security Act is an exciting step forward in building the political will needed to end global hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime,” the statement says. 

The bill text, in the form of a substitute amendment, is here