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NewsNotes, July-August 2010
Vol. 35, No. 4

Food security: U.S promotes “Feed the Future”

On May 20, the U.S. Agency for International Development revealed its new global food security initiative called “Feed the Future.” The following article affirms some of the positive elements of the program and questions the “whole of government” approach envisioned by the initiative, as Maryknoll experience has revealed that seemingly unrelated U.S. policies and practices can and have had a negative impact on global food security. Go here to read a response to Feed the Future from the interfaith community.

In his inaugural address, President Obama made clear his commitment to fight global hunger and to support international farmers: “[T]o the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish.” After several months of gathering public comments and data from country assessments, an interagency team hammered out the details of Feed the Future, the implementation strategy for USAID’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Some of the positive aspects include the fact that the plan incorporates U.S. international commitments, especially the Rome Principles of Sustainable Food Security, endorsed at the 2009 World Summit on Food Security. Additionally, it commits the U.S. to following country-led plans; its goal is to reach small-holder farmers; it recognizes the important role women play in agriculture; and it includes a focus on the vital role of nutrition. Although it includes references to a “whole of government” approach, there appears to be no specific involvement of, nor connection to, key U.S. agencies, policies and practices that have had a huge negative impact on global hunger, especially the U.S. trade representative, U.S. trade policy, research and intellectual property rights, as well as market controls and price volatility.

In terms of trade policy, insistence on trade liberalization and the drive to market U.S. agricultural commodities to poorer countries have in many cases destroyed livelihoods for local farmers and undermined rural development and national food security. In order to make a lasting impact, the U.S. would have to reconcile its trade and development policies so that they reinforce, not undercut, each other. The priority should be to develop strong local markets to increase both the availability of (and affordable access to) healthy, safe and culturally appropriate foods. And in emergency cases the U.S. should prioritize local and regional procurement of food aid whenever possible in order to provide further support to local farmers’ agricultural production.

Feed the Future will increase agricultural research, but questions remain about whether small holder farmers living in poverty will be able to reap benefits from research that is ultimately patented and sold. Patents on publicly funded agricultural research should remain in the public domain to encourage ongoing innovations in socially and environmentally appropriate technologies. It would be most appropriate for Feed the Future research to involve and directly assist farmers at the community level.

The Feed the Future initiative was unveiled at an all day event in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan think tank. Although no particular technology is highlighted in Feed the Future’s implementation plan, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made it clear that the U.S. will be helping farmers to understand the benefits of genetically modified and other advanced technologies that are used widely in the United States. Vilsack feels that these technologies are vital to increasing yields in response to the challenge of world hunger.

In analyzing the situation, countless researchers have discovered that globally there is enough food produced each year to make every person living on the planet nice and fat. But having access to enough nutritious food is a bigger issue than crop yields. In 2003 a team of 400 scientists funded by the World Bank concluded that agroecological approaches (investing in understanding site-specific practices for soil preservation, crop rotation, conservation, forestry and water) would have the most success in responding to hunger, development needs and to climate change threats in their compressive report, The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Feed the Future should heed the IAASTD findings rather than quickly technology tied to a system of food production and global trading where corporate concentration ensures that fewer and fewer corporations control more and more of the food we eat. (See related story here.)

NewsNotes has often reported on how 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. The Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security recommends that Feed the Future implementers 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, and encourages the U.S. to foster local and regional food commodity reserves so that developing countries can better cope with price shocks or crop failures.

Read the Feed the Future implementation plan here.

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