How should the U.S. “Feed the Future?”

By Alex Tung

This is the first of a series of blogs on the Oversight of the Feed the Future Initiative This post will discuss the initiative’s overall focus, and coordination within the US government to implement the initiative.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight and the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health held a joint hearing on the Oversight of the Feed the Future Initiative.

(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Feed the Future was launched in May 2010 to realize President Obama’s commitment at the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila Italy to give at least 3.5 million dollars over three years to reducing hunger and improving global food security. Twenty focus countries have been identified for this initiative, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia in Africa; Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Tajikistan in Asia; and Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and, Nicaragua in Latin America.

Speakers at the hearing included the Chairman Russ Carnahan and Chairman Donald Payne, ranking members and other members from the respective committees; representatives from US government agencies working on the initiative to experts from the non-governmental and private sector communities working in the developing world.

The majority of the speakers showed strong support for the initiative and are optimistic about its future direction.  They saw it as an important step towards achieving food security and praised the initiative’s strong emphasis on empowering women. But there were questions raised regarding the selection criteria of the 20 countries, how the US will be working with them and how funds will be used.

Overall Focus of the Feed the Future Initiative

While Feed the Future is spearheaded by the US, it is “not just a US initiative, but a Global Initiative,” said Ambassador Patricia Haslach, Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy at the Office of the Coordinator for the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative at U.S. Department of State.

Chairman Payne expressed his hope that this initiative will depart from the “wrong direction” of the past which has led African countries to be dependent on “food imports” and “food aid.”  He called for the initiative to “focus on leveraging our resources to ensuring food security.”

Regarding how to best place the government’s resources, Ms. Diane Watson, member of the subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight called for a “multifaceted solution” and “comprehensive approach” that include “biotechnology that will help crops grow in stress conditions, technical assistance that teach farmers building roads and…ensuring access to reasonable priced fresh produce.”

Russ Carnahan, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the stressed the importance of “security” in the term “food security.”  It is not just about feeding the hungry.  His sentiments were echoed by Ms. Lynn Woolsey, member of subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, who reminded us that “food assistance is more than just [addressing] hunger.”

Hans Herren, President of Millennium Institute, who is also a member of the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group , believed that “Nourish the Future” should be the name of the initiative, as its focus is on the “nutrition security” of populations.

Co-ordination of efforts across the US Government Departments

In his opening statement, Chairman Carnahan praised the “whole government” approach of this initiative which involves coordinating work across the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Treasury, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Millennium Challenge Account. Ms. Haslach says that regardless of their affiliation, they are working “as one team to feed the future.”

Monitoring and evaluation of the program was stressed by all speakers and an important component to measure progress.  To carry out their monitoring and evaluation plan, USAID will turn to USDA and organizations such as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPI) for accurate baseline data in different countries.

There is concern over the declining agricultural expertise within USAID, which currently relies heavily on contractors to consult on matter regarding agricultural development. Chairman Payne questioned whether the work in this initiative will continue to be outsourced to contractors.  He wondered if “there is a goal to have competent staff in USAID to have this expertise or develop it.”

Mr. William Garvelink, Deputy Coordinator for Development Office of the Coordinator for the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative USAID, assured the speakers that USAID is “working hard to expand” and looking to USDA and contractors only to “fill gaps.”  They hope to “establish US government as leader in agriculture development.”

Stay tuned for part two and three of this series, which will address the issues of working with target governments and civil groups, and the appropriate use of technology.

To learn more about the US government’s work in improving food security, read USAID Wants to Jumpstart Agriculture in Southern Sudan and To Improve Competitiveness of Rural Businesses, Linking Farmers to the Private Sector.

Visit the Feed the Future Initiative website for more background on the initiative.

Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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