Chicago Council Evaluates U.S. Support of Agriculture Abroad

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By Laura Reynolds

The Chicago Council on Global AffairsGlobal Agricultural Development Initiative launched its 2012 Progress Report on U.S. Leadership in Global Agricultural Development in Washington, D.C. today.

The report assesses how successfully the United States has been in sustaining support for global agricultural development. (Image credit: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs)

The report assesses how successfully the United States has been in reinvigorating and sustaining international support for global agricultural development and food security. It details changes in funding and activity on agricultural development by U.S. departments and agencies, by the U.S. Congress, and in three focus countries—Ghana, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh—between 2009 and 2012.

Both the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development receive an “outstanding” evaluation in the report, for their leadership in advancing agricultural issues amid challenging budget restrictions. The report specifically commends Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her development and support of the Feed the Future initiative, which has pledged US$3.5 billion to address the root causes of hunger and food insecurity.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture receive “good” evaluations. The report gives the Peace Corps a “satisfactory” evaluation, noting that its agriculture and environment volunteers still make up only 7 percent of the total number of volunteers in the field.

Stating that “problems of rural hunger and poverty cannot be overcome quickly,” the report urges that “the challenge in the years to come will be to maintain this strong leadership, and sustain the bipartisan support for food security and agricultural development initiatives.”

The report comes at a critical time for renewing interest in global agricultural investment: the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, a 2009 pledge by 13 of the world’s wealthiest countries to invest US$22 billion into global agricultural development, is set to expire in May. The ONE Campaign reported in 2011 that only 22 percent of the pledges have been fulfilled, and argued that this was largely due to a lack of political will and momentum. As of December 2011, the U.S., however, is on track to meet its commitment for the L’Aquila Initiative.

Speakers at the launch event included co-chairs Dan Glickman, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the UN World Food Programme.

Glickman stated that U.S. development strategies are “built on helping people to help themselves.” This has led to “implications on long term development, as well as had an impact on humanitarian and U.S. political implications.” Through programs like Feed the Future, the U.S. has been careful to invest in local initiatives and small-scale farmers.

Although the report presents an overall positive view on U.S. efforts in agricultural development, Bertini concluded that there were still areas of improvement. One major area of improvement she cited was to substitute current practices of monetization, where food aid is sold in local markets by NGOs and other food aid distributors, and replace it with cash transfers. She also called for enhanced participation from higher levels of leadership, such as ambassadors, in agricultural development. Finally, she emphasized the need for increased focus on women and girls, since women contribute to a large population of farmers in developing countries.

Click here to read the full report.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. government’s foreign agriculture development activities?

Laura Reynolds is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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