By Grace Burton and Louise Iverson
On April 23, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously voted the amended Global Food Security Act of 2015 (H.R. 1567) out of Committee. Co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, the legislation is an effort to ensure the future of programmatic funding for food security efforts. While this bill authorizes the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future Initiative through September 2016, supporters of food security efforts hope that the legislation would ultimately secure Feed the Future beyond the 2016 elections by passing into law a whole-of-government food security strategy, rather than allowing it to remain an executive initiative. Without such a multi-year authorization, the next Administration could either continue or abandon Feed the Future, according to their own policy agenda. Now, following last week’s vote, the bill will be sent to the floor for a vote by the House.
The House Global Food Security Act of 2015 should be applauded. It emphasizes the importance to our national security of aligning the Feed the Future Initiative with existing in-country food security investments and building farmers’ resilience in the face of environmental and market shocks, like natural disasters. It highlights the importance of nutrition in advancing food security, a call The Chicago Council made a few weeks ago in its newly-released Healthy Food for a Healthy World report. It also seeks to foster relationships between US universities and local institutions within certain countries and makes new strides in ensuring mothers and children have access to proper nutrition in the 1,000 day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.
However, the legislation has its shortcomings. First, the authorization is only for one year. Due to the current budget environment, all legislation in the House of Representatives calling for multiple year appropriations is required to have funding offsets to mitigate an increase in overall spending. This means there must be cuts to other programs in order to keep the overall spending budget from increasing. Therefore, to avoid this provision, the Global Food Security Act only authorizes $1.06 billion in funding for FY2016. In short, if H.R. 1567 becomes law, Congress will be having the exact same conversation this time next year.
Second, the limited appropriation also incentivizes short-term programming rather than long-term investments. Research has shown that multi-year agriculture development projects successfully foster long-term growth, graduating countries and farmers from food aid. Multi-year programs help countries to become self-reliant rather than continually dependent on short term solutions.
Finally, the legislation does not prioritize scaling-up local extension and capacity-building programs. Agriculture is a local endeavor, meaning research and knowledge need to be adapted to local environmental factors such as soil, weather, and water availability. Local research institutions make this adaptation possible, yet they are absent in most low-income countries.
Moreover, agricultural know-how means very little unless it reaches food producers. In the US, we disseminate agricultural know-how through the land-grant university extension system and technological innovations. Yet, too often farmers in low-income countries don’t have access to extension services or new technology. Without these two components – locally adapted research and extension – farmers will not be able to increase their food production and handle weather shocks, market disruptions, and pests and diseases.
The US can provide leadership in these efforts through its land-grant university system, its research infrastructure, and advances in mobile technology. Yet, the legislation does not focus on the importance of building out research, education, and extension agricultural capacities for the most vulnerable communities in low-income countries.
H.R. 1567 is a continuation of previous efforts, led by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), to secure USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative. In 2014, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote a similar version of the Global Food Security Act, but its Senate companion never made it out of committee. With support remaining in the House from last year, observers are generally optimistic that the bill will pass. The Senate companion bill, however, has yet to be introduced and many fear it will face substantial barriers.
Feed the Future is a USAID-administered agricultural development program focused on 19 target countries. The program complements other aid programs – such as USDA’s Food for Peace program – by focusing on increasing the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers. Initiated following the food price spikes of 2008, Feed the Future, according to USAID, has helped more than 12.5 million children gain greater access to nutrition interventions and provided nearly 7 million farmers and food producers with new techniques, technology, and helped them implement new land management practices.
With the 2016 Presidential election campaigns already underway, it is critical to put into law a coordinated food security strategy to ensure the excellent investments made in the past five years have long-term gains in poverty alleviation and economic growth. The Chicago Council applauds Congress’ attention to these important issues.
Grace Burton and Louise Iverson are Research Associates at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.
The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.
Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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