Interfaith community response to Feed the Future, the U.S. Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative
The following statement, delivered to officials in the Obama administration in June 2010, was signed by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. A PDF version is available here. Read more about the MOGC's analysis of Feed the Future in the July-August 2010 issue of NewsNotes.
Faith communities and allied organizations have long worked throughout the world to alleviate human suffering and to support individuals and societies striving to meet basic human needs. Our common traditions encourage us to approach this work in ways that are culturally, economically and environmentally sustainable and to walk alongside those who suffer. For these reasons, and many others, our organizations often have deep and trusted relationships with communities affected by hunger and food insecurity – the intended beneficiaries of Feed the Future.
In 2009 we welcomed newly inaugurated President Barack Obama’s commitment to fight global hunger and support international farmers, applauding when he said, “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish.” On May 20, 2010, the administration made substantial progress toward fulfilling the President’s pledge when it released the strategy and implementation guidelines for its flagship food security initiative, Feed the Future. We congratulate the administration on this achievement.
We affirm Feed the Future for recognizing and incorporating U.S. international commitments, especially the Rome Principles of Sustainable Food Security, endorsed at the 2009 World Summit on Food Security.
In particular, we also want to affirm the following:
At the same time, we encourage the administration, as it begins to implement the new initiative, not to forget that a “whole of government” approach should include assessing and addressing the impact seemingly unrelated policies and practices have on world hunger. Engagement will be necessary on many fronts but should include issues related to:
U.S. trade policy. Insistence on trade liberalization and the drive to market U.S. agricultural commodities to developing countries have often destroyed livelihoods for local farmers and undermined rural development and national food security, as former President Bill Clinton recently noted in regards to Haiti. Trade policies (including those related to producer subsidies and emergency food assistance programs) can seriously disadvantage small-holder farmers in developing countries, thereby contributing to food insecurity. In order to make a lasting impact, the U.S. needs to reconcile its trade and development policies so that they reinforce, not undercut each other. The priority must be developing strong local markets to increase both the availability of and affordable access to healthy and culturally appropriate foods.
Research and intellectual property rights. While we support Feed the Future’s effort to increase agricultural research, we also know that research that does not involve farmers in their communities will not work. And we remain concerned about the ability of poor farmers to reap benefits from research that is ultimately patented and sold.
In the unavoidable rush to apply technological solutions to the challenge of world hunger, we urge the administration to fully explore the documented achievements of agroecological approaches, to work with the farmers themselves and to invest in understanding site-specific practices for soil preservation, crop rotation, conservation, forestry and water. Research reported by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development actually concluded that such approaches would have the most success in responding to development needs and to climate change threats. Patents on such publicly funded research should remain in the public domain to encourage ongoing innovations in socially and environmentally appropriate technologies.
Price volatility. Agricultural price spikes and volatility in U.S. markets have also contributed to increased hunger in developing countries, many of which are dependent on food imports and rely on U.S. markets for predictable purchase prices. In addition to addressing the issues mentioned above, we hope Feed the Future implementers will work with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Congress to ensure that excessive commodity speculation does not harm vulnerable populations in the developing world. We would also encourage efforts to foster local and regional food commodity reserves so that developing countries can better cope with price shocks or crop failures.
Land tenure. Feed the Future indicates that it will provide support for developing country policy reforms, including land tenure reform. We believe that small-holder access to and control of land (as well as institutional support that allows small-holders to enforce individual and collective land rights) is crucial to improving productivity. As a result, we encourage the administration not to ignore the threat that large-scale land acquisitions may pose to land tenure efforts and to provide more detail on the efforts it will undertake to ensure that small producers, especially women, have needed access to and control over farm land.
In conclusion, we thank the administration for its demonstrated commitment to fight world hunger by supporting the world’s small farmers. Feed the Future can set USAID on the right path to making a real difference in food security for millions of people – if the vision articulated in its formation is realized in its implementation. Because we know that how you invest in farmers is as important as the investments themselves, we commit ourselves to working with you to ensure that small producers are reached, to provide necessary bridges between research and intended beneficiaries and to see Feed the Future become the development success it has the potential to be.
Africa Faith and Justice Network