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.
In the coming decades, a rapidly expanding world population will increasingly strain the global food system. The vast majority of the population growth will occur in low and middle income countries, including many areas already facing food security challenges. However, with challenges also come opportunities. More mouths to feed means greater demand for the food grown by American farmers and ranchers but only if people have the resources to buy it.
When discussing the importance of strong trade relations for American agriculture, I often mention that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of our nation’s borders. The vast majority of future market growth for agriculture products will not occur domestically, it will be through exports of the food and fiber our farmers grow to people around the world.
Our challenge, however, is not only to reach those consumers through smart trade policies that expand access to foreign markets, but also to help lift people out of extreme poverty around the world so that they have the economic means to buy American products.
For a country that cannot feed itself, nothing else matters. However, a food secure nation resulting from a developed agriculture sector is able to advance other parts of its economy, creating jobs and greater opportunity for its people. Strong agriculture systems — with integrated supply chains, functioning markets, and developed infrastructures – provide the foundation for further economic growth and opportunity in developing countries.
By investing in global agriculture development, not only can we guide food insecure countries down a path that leads to greater peace and prosperity, but we can also develop long-term trading partners who purchase Kansas grown food and agriculture products. That’s a win-win.
We’ve seen in nations like South Korea how, through efforts to promote food security, countries can move from being U.S. food aid recipients to major export markets for American farmers and ranchers. Last year, the U.S. exported over $1 billion in beef and $870 million in corn to South Korea – dividends that are being paid back today on America’s past investments.
We are witnessing economic gains in parts of sub-Saharan Africa today, where overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown by 60 percent and the middle class has expanded by 90 percent over the last decade. Rising household income has led to improved diets and increased demand for imported food – American agricultural exports to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 20 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics.
Thanks to continued development and economic growth, USDA expects sub-Saharan Africa to remain “one of the fastest growing export regions for U.S. agricultural products” – welcome news to Kansas farmers in particular since wheat accounts for about a third of U.S. agricultural exports to the region.
While we have experienced success in South Korea and seen improvement in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the historic level of famine currently facing the world puts into perspective how far we still have to go. For the first time since 2011, a famine has been declared in South Sudan, and near famine conditions exist in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Almost 50 million people face starvation in those four countries alone, in addition to millions of people in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. In total, approximately 70 million people worldwide will require emergency food assistance this year – human suffering on a level that is so vast, it is difficult to comprehend.
The Unites States leads the world in providing emergency food assistance to people in need, including the nearly $1 billion for famine relief efforts I and others fought for in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill. However, to meet the challenges ahead, our nation must also focus on providing the knowledge, tools and resources necessary to help people be able to sustainably feed themselves.
In Ethiopia, there is evidence that development efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and private partners are paying off – households in communities reached by USAID’s resilience programs have been better able to maintain their food security during the severe drought plaguing the region. While the famine situation is historic in scope, without the United States’ development investments, it would undoubtedly be worse.
It’s clear that global agriculture development increases food security abroad and directly benefits the United States by creating stronger trade partners and increased market opportunities for our agriculture producers. The chance to save millions of lives by alleviating hunger in the world, while also developing new export markets for U.S. agricultural products – that’s an investment that all Americans ought to rally behind.
Jerry Moran is a United States Senator for Kansas and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He serves as co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus and is a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and State & Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which allocates funding for USAID and USDA global food programs.