U.S. President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the White House Summit on Global Development at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, U.S., July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Last week was a big week for global agricultural development. On Wednesday, I attended the White House Summit on Global Development during which the President and several of his most senior foreign affairs advisors outlined the success and importance of U.S. international development activities, with agricultural development being one of the bedrocks of those efforts. As if that wasn’t enough, during his remarks, President Obama announced that earlier in the day he had signed the Global Food Security Act for which he received an extended ovation. This legislation provides Congressional authorization of the Administration’s international agricultural development efforts—fulfilling a recommendation that the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has been making since 2008.
While the President rightly deserves a lot of credit for his efforts to make evidence-led and results-based international agricultural development a cornerstone of his foreign policy efforts, the breadth and depth of support in the Legislative Branch is truly astounding and deserves an ovation. The Senate passed the legislation without opposition and the House passed the measure overwhelmingly by a vote of 369 to 53. During his remarks, President Obama paid a compliment to the audience by saying it was a room full of “do-gooders.” There are apparently a lot of “do-gooders” on Capitol Hill as well with respect to international development.
Dan Glickman and Catherine Bertini were also in attendance at the White House Summit and in a lot of ways represent the context in which international agricultural development support on Capitol Hill can be understood. They are both members of the Council’s international agricultural development advisory board and they have been advocating the importance of international agricultural development since the beginning of the Council’s work in this area. In fact, they were the first chairs of the Board. Dan Glickman is a former Secretary of Agriculture appointed by President Clinton and Catherine Bertini is the former Executive Director of the World Food Program and was appointed on the recommendation of George H.W. Bush. Both of them, Republican and Democrat, are emblematic of the bipartisan policy vision.
But doing good takes many forms and many people here and abroad benefit from teaching better sustainable farming techniques to improve outputs. For instance, the faith-based organizations in attendance at the Summit support alleviating hunger for obvious moral reasons. The private sector businesses and entrepreneurs in attendance support increased agricultural productivity and income which creates greater market demand. For instance, the food and agriculture sector is estimated to reach $1 trillion in Africa alone by 2030. The Administration supports fighting food insecurity to promote regional and global stability which in-turn increases US national security and enhances US prestige. The international financial institutions, bankers, and financiers in attendance support increasing agricultural productivity by strengthening infrastructure and food systems to increase economic growth. The research institutions in attendance support the dual international and domestic application of applied solutions of complex agricultural research. When all of those things are dependent on the same policy, then good policy and good politics are intertwined.
But one could rightly ask, why would we care that Congress—whether there is a partisan or nonpartisan solution—agrees to authorize something that the President is already doing? First, the bipartisan passage of the legislation sends a message that Congress overwhelmingly understands that this is good, smart, fiscally-responsible foreign policy that pays domestic dividends for national security and economic opportunity by literally growing markets overseas. Second, passing this legislation gives Congress greater mechanisms to conduct oversight on the policy and the program. Third, the authorization ensures that international agricultural development policy has a foundation from which the next Administration can continue this work. And finally, it sends a message to the global community that the whole U.S. government is committed to leading on international agricultural development and other issues.
The breadth and depth of bipartisan support found on Capitol Hill for global food security efforts transcends party politics, regional differences, and rural-urban divides. It is not and should not be exclusively a development priority nor is it the sole responsibility of the agricultural community. Both communities can and do see the merit and success of policies that take into account the importance of gender equality, the importance of nutrition, the impact of strained water resources, and the impact of more severe climate and weather patterns.
The White House Summit on Global Development and the enactment into law of the Global Food Security Act are reminders that people can support government programs with clearly established goals, data, and metrics to evaluate success. The less effective programs can be tweaked or jettisoned. In this circumstance, government provides efficiency while at the same time monitoring outcomes. There are very few that can argue against that approach and very few do.