December 10, 2010 | By Roger Thurow

Budget-Cutting Consequences

The budget-cutting has begun, and governments around the world are paying attention to the sharp-knives in Congress.  So when the House of Representatives released a draft Continuing Resolution this week with only $100 million in fiscal year 2011 allocated to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) – a severe reduction from President Obama’s request for $408 million – a host of humanitarian organizations were quick to pen a letter to the White House sounding a stern warning about the consequences of the cut:

“The US was an original donor to the GAFSP, and failing to fulfill our commitments to the GAFSP will be very damaging. Canada, a country with significantly smaller economy than ours, has already delivered nearly $180 million to the GAFSP. Without a strong financial contribution from the United States, we are worried that the GAFSP may lose the support of several potential new donors who are actively considering contributing to the Trust Fund, but are watching the level of US contribution very closely before finalizing their decision.  Critical projects to reduce hunger, invest in nutrition, and increase food security in several countries will go unfunded. And momentum towards meeting the important pledges President Obama made at the G-8 Summit in 2009 will be lost.”

The fear is that foreign aid budget cuts in the U.S. will be replicated elsewhere.  It will be easy for other countries to abandon their pledges if the U.S. doesn’t fulfill its commitments.  Particularly on the hunger front, where America has been leading.  If the leader pulls back, why should other countries (also facing budget pressures) push forward?  If this happens, GAFSP will be gasping for air.

The letter was sent to President Obama himself, imploring him to keep up the offensive.

“Given your leadership in negotiating the terms of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, we are writing you to urge the administration to voice its strong support for this critical tool in the fight against global hunger,” write the 21 signing organizations, which represent a broad front of both faith-based and secular activism.  “We are asking senior administration officials to weigh in with key Congressional leaders to ensure that at least $250 million is allocated to support the GAFSP in the FY2011 budget negotiations currently in their final stages.”

When the new multi-donor trust fund was launched in April, GAFSP was stocked with commitments of $880 million to provide financing to support agriculture development projects that developing countries are already implementing.  The initial commitments came from the U.S., $475 million; Canada, $230 million; Spain, $95 million; South Korea, $50 million; and, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $30 million.

These initial donations were supposed to attract other donors, and the GAFSP pot, it was hoped, would fill up to beyond $1 billion by the end of the year.  But some of those initial commitments have yet to come in, and other donors have been reluctant to join.  The U.S. provided $67 million from its fiscal 2010 budget and the administration requested the remaining $408 million for fiscal year 2011.  But even before the November elections, appropriations committees in both the House and Senate were whittling back the request, to $250 million in the Senate and $150 million in the House.  Now, as the letter points out, the House Continuing Resolution is down to $100 million.

In the meantime, the GAFSP ambitions are also being whittled back.  In June, the fund got off to a fast start, allocating a total of $224 million to five countries: Rwanda, Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Togo.  But last month, in a second round of allocations, it had enough money to fund only three of the proposals submitted by 20 countries.  That meant 17 countries went home empty handed, their raised expectations crashing.  GAFSP and the U.S. initiative called Feed the Future were created to end the decades-long neglect of agriculture development in the poorest countries of the world.  Instead, if the lack of funding persists, those countries may move from being neglected to feeling betrayed.

“The world is looking to the US to continue its strong leadership on global food security,” concludes the letter to President Obama, “we hope we can count on your full engagement at this critical moment in support of robust funding for the GAFSP.”

In addition to landing at the White House, copies of the letter clamoring for administration support of GAFSP were also sent to the Departments of State and Treasury and to the National Security Council.   But the message also needs to be given to every member of Congress.  Particularly, it seems, to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  She has already indicated that she will be hunting for savings in the budgets authorized by her committee, including foreign aid.

There may indeed be some “fat,” as she says, in need of trimming, but not on the food security front.  Not now that the U.S. has reclaimed leadership in the fight against hunger through agriculture development, not now that increasing food production in the developing world, particularly in Africa, is a critical element in feeding the world in coming decades.

Archive

| By Roger Thurow

Remembering the Post-9/11 Promises to Raise Foreign Aid

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is bringing back a rush of memories and emotions.  Everyone it seems is recalling, with respect for the victims, where they were on that day when they heard or watched the horrific news.

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Coping with Drought

With drought devastating farms from the Horn of Africa to the Panhandle of Texas, I journeyed to one of the frontlines of climate change to “chew the news,” as the Maasai say.

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Harvest and Hunger – Part 2

At 6:30 this morning, as the sun was coming up, Sanet Biketi walked out of his small house made of mud and sticks.  Carrying a machete at his side, he headed straight to the edge of his maize field and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the arrival of harvest day.

| By Roger Thurow

Harvest and Hunger

Two scenes from the great African paradox of surplus and shortage – feast and famine – in the same country.

| By Roger Thurow

Empty Promises, Empty Stomachs

The promises made by the leaders of the rich world in L’Aquila, Italy, two years ago were supposed to stop what is now happening in the Horn of Africa. But those pledges haven’t been kept, and starvation is raging once again.

| By Roger Thurow

Rowing in the Same Direction

Vision.  Strategy.  Tactics.

These were the priorities that emerged at my table during a discussion about the role of U.S. universities, government agencies, NGOs, foundations and the African diplomatic community in advancing African development.  

| By Roger Thurow

Political Will

The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S., Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, tells an acerbic joke to illustrate the importance of good leadership.

| By Roger Thurow

Countering Drought

This growing season in south-central Kenya has been a good test for the new drought tolerant maize varieties being bred in Africa.  This is a semi-arid area, but this year they can drop the semi.  Farmers report only three short periods of rain since the February planting time.

| By Roger Thurow

Cool Beans

For some farmers in western Kenya, the hunger season I wrote about last week is coming to a mercifully early end.  A new variety of bean is ready for harvest.


| By Roger Thurow

Big Brains on Little Brains

Little brains were on the minds of some pretty big brains in the fight against hunger at the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security this week.

| By Roger Thurow

The Importance of Innovation

Bill Gates came to the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security with a confession.  “I’ve never been a farmer,” he said.  “Until recently, I rarely set foot on farm.”

| By Roger Thurow

Public Policy Matters

I enjoyed the great privilege of giving my first commencement speech on Sunday, to the graduating class of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.  I had eagerly anticipated the ceremony, knowing that the passion to shape a more just world inspires young policy makers as mightily as it fuels journalists.

| By Roger Thurow

Something to Cut

With many words in this column, we have discussed what not to cut from the federal budget.  Namely, administration requests to fund agriculture development, especially in Africa, under the Feed the Future initiative and the Global Agriculture Food Security Program.

| By Roger Thurow

Yin and Yang of Foreign Aid

Here is the Yin and the Yang of development aid spending: In the U.S., it is on the chopping block, threatened by budget cutters sharpening their knives; in China it is on an expansion course, favored by a government seeking to accumulate influence and riches in the developing world, particularly Africa.

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Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

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» Order your copy of the book.

Books

The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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EnoughEnough

Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

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