August 1, 2019 | By Kat Sisler

USAID's Reorganization: Focusing on Self-Reliance and Stability

Last week, we mentioned FAO’s annual report, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. In addition to the food security gender gap, hunger was found to be on the rise for the third year in a row. This year’s report payed special attention to economic downturns and the impact on food security, noting that hunger has been on the rise in countries where the economy has slowed down or contracted. Furthermore, the FAO found that “economic shocks tend to be significant secondary and tertiary drivers that prolong and worsen the severity of food crises, especially in countries experiencing acute food insecurity requiring urgent humanitarian assistance.”

How can the United States support countries as they seek to stabilize their economy and food systems? That is one of the many questions USAID Administrator Mark Green had as the agency undertook the largest organizational redesign in USAID’s history.

In February of 2017, the Administration released an executive order on government-wide regulatory reform, requiring agencies to reduce costly and unnecessary regulations. This spurred many agencies to examine and evaluate their effectiveness, while asking what they could do better. Following the executive order, USAID released their restructuring plan in April 2018. Administrator Green stated that he would have argued for USAID to undertake the reorganization even without a presidential directive, so that USAID could remain the “world’s leading development and humanitarian assistance organization.” The redesign is part of a broader philosophical change at USAID, “The Journey to Self-Reliance,” where the agency is aiming to support and build aid recipient countries’ capacity to reach self-reliance. The changes, made in consultation with experts and NGO stakeholders, reshape USAID’s approach to food security and humanitarian assistance by reducing undue barriers, acknowledging the role water and climate play on food systems and putting the focus on the field offices where development is taking place.

In the new structure, the new Office of the Associate Administrator for Relief, Response, and Resilience (R3) houses USAID’s food security strategy, with the goal of improving coordination between humanitarian assistance and development. Three new Bureaus will be housed under R3: The Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization.

The new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS) was created by combining the Climate Adaptation Team and the Office of Water with the Bureau for Food Security. This move acknowledges the importance water and climate play in food security and building resilient communities, a topic which the Council released a report on in 2019. Within RFS, there will now be four major centers (Water, Nutrition, Agriculture and Resilience) which will serve as research and technical resources for those both in Washington and in the field. There are also three leadership councils slated to coordinate nutrition, resilience, and water security, sanitation and hygiene across USAID.

Food for Peace (FFP) and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) will now be combined into the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. This shift eliminates the previous division between emergency food and non-food assistance, which USAID believes would “eliminate confusion and unnecessary duplication in the field, and provide beneficiaries and partners with one cohesive USAID platform and voice on humanitarian assistance.”

Finally, the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization combines the Offices of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) to become what the agency feels is the go-to Bureau focusing on non-humanitarian crises and stabilization in the face of conflict and violence. Fragile states make up the largest percentage of USAID’s portfolio and we’ve seen the connection between political instability and food insecurity becoming more apparent in the past few years.

The three new Bureaus exemplify understanding for the complexity of development, moving on the spectrum from conflict and unrest towards food security and stability. There are many other structural changes taking place in the reorganization that don’t directly relate to food security strategy, and Brookings Senior Fellow George Ingram found the shifts to be promising and better aligned with USAID’s mission.

Ultimately, as with all changes, there are still questions to be answered. For example, how will the Center for Nutrition interact with other Bureaus in the agency, such as the Bureau for Global Health? How will the three Bureaus under the Administrator for Relief, Response, and Resilience work together? These and many other questions will be examined as USAID roles out the new structure, which is expected to begin sometime between the end of this year and early next year.


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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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.