Renewed Prosperity, Enhanced Security: The Case for Sustained American Leadership in Global Agricultural Development

November 14, 2011

By: Expert Advisory Group

A Statement to the United States Congress by Members of the Advisory Group of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative

Issued by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

November 14, 2011

THE CHALLENGE: Feeding the World

World population reached 7 billion on Monday, October 31. It is expected to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050. Today, while much of our attention is rightly focused on the glaring needs at home, another crisis is quietly brewing: the growing global demand for food and the deep poverty and hunger of 925 million people threaten the basic human condition and America’s national interests.

The solution to this crisis lies in the improvement of the agricultural systems in the developing world and so reducing poverty in the areas where it is deepest and making nations more economically secure – the twin foundations of international peace and prosperity. Growth in the agricultural sector is twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. This solution also creates opportunities for American businesses while strengthening our national security.

The US Congress and Administration have recognized these benefits and since 2009 have demonstrated transformative leadership on global agricultural development. Yet, the current commitment to global agricultural development is fragile. US leadership is critical to sustaining renewed international attention to these issues.

At a time when it would be tempting to ignore the plight of those so distant, we must realize that they are not so far away. With demand for food expected to more than double in the next 40 years, our futures are tied together in a world facing formidable challenges, including scarce natural resources and the effects of extreme and fluctuating weather patterns amidst ever-growing populations.

THE NECESSITY: How Global Agricultural Development is in America’s Interest

Some Americans ask why the government should spend their hard-earned tax dollars on agricultural development abroad at a time of severe economic distress at home. The answer is simple: America’s prosperity and security will be improved by the reduced hunger, higher incomes, more vibrant markets, and stable societies that agricultural development will make possible.

Increasing opportunities for American business
Faster economic growth in developing countries creates new trade and investment opportunities for American businesses. Nine of the ten economies projected to grow the most in the next five years are in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest sector in many of these economies is agriculture. US agribusinesses are already pursuing this market, but they cannot do it alone.

Hedging against failed states, violence, and extremism
Agricultural investments nurture the roots of stable societies and temper the conditions of misery and despair that create fertile ground for extremism. The recent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were not just about democratic freedoms – they were also about food. A new study demonstrates that high food prices were the single consistent factor in recent unrest around the world, supporting the hypothesis that high food prices create conditions in which social unrest can take root. Small investments in agricultural development prevent future conflicts, saving money and American lives.

Strengthening American institutions and advancing scientific frontiers
Reviving the US role in agriculture encourages creative public-private partnerships with America’s land-grant universities and NGOs, leveraging government investments with far greater private contributions. The reverberations of these investments are global. Just as similar investments in the 1950s led to scientific breakthroughs that seeded the Green Revolution in the 1960s, today’s investments in genetic and agricultural sciences will have broad-reaching benefits at home and abroad.

Harnessing the abilities and improving the lives of girls and women
Empowering girls and women through agricultural development is a key to spurring broader economic growth. Girls and women perform a large share of the work on farms in the developing world. If women had the same access to agricultural productive resources as men do, not only would their lives be improved, but yields on female farms could increase by 30% and the number of hungry people worldwide would decrease by 12-17%.

Meeting the rising global demand for food
By the middle of this century, the global food and agricultural system will have to produce at least 50% more food to feed millions more people. Increasing agricultural productivity in the developing world offers one of the greatest opportunities to overcome this challenge. As the leader in agricultural research and innovation since the Great Depression, America stands ready to help meet this challenge and transform our shared belief in supporting others into concrete and positive change.

Protecting the environment and mitigating the impact of climate change
Agriculture plays a critical role in conserving the planet’s environment, and mitigating the impact of increasing temperatures and rising frequency of extreme climatic events.  Agriculture is responsible for 40% of the world’s land use and 70% of the freshwater consumption. Investments in agricultural research and sustainable agricultural practices will help both increase agricultural productivity in the midst of climate shifts and protect the environment even as the world feeds 2.5 billion more people.

THE CALL: Sustaining American Leadership in Global Agricultural Development

The US government must sustain American leadership for global agricultural development. This means preserving support for US global agricultural development programs and fulfilling the commitment the United States made at the L’Aquila summit in 2009 to dedicate $3.5 billion to agricultural development over three years. In nearly every international policy arena, including agricultural development, America’s leadership has proven essential to global action. When America’s leadership in global agricultural development faltered at the end of the 1980s, efforts of most others faltered as well. More recently, when America challenged the global community to reinvigorate its commitment to agriculture, members of the G-8 pledged $22 billion. The lesson is that without American leadership little will happen.

The cost to America to sustain its support for development is approximately $1 billion a year – less than 1/10th of 1% of total US spending. Even this small investment, when coupled with political leadership on the international stage, enables the US to leverage the international community’s collective effort and advance US political, economic, and security interests. The Congress and the Administration have already taken the first, critical steps. This leadership must now be sustained: the long-term gains far outweigh the costs.


Global Agricultural Development Initiative Advisory Group
Catherine Bertini (cochair)
Former Executive Director
UN World Food Program
Dan Glickman (cochair)
Former Secretary
US Department of Agriculture 
Doug Bereuter
Former Member
US House of Representatives
Earl Pomeroy
Former Member
US House of Representatives
John Carlin
Former Governor
Paul E. Schickler
Pioneer Hi-Bred, A DuPont Business
Wendy J. Chamberlin
Middle East Institute
Ritu Sharma
President and Co-founder
Women Thrive Worldwide
Jason Clay
Senior Vice President Markets
World Wildlife Fund
Robert L. Thompson
Professor Emeritus of Agriculture Policy
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Gordon Conway
Professor of International Development
Agriculture for Impact
Imperial College London
Ann M. Veneman
Former Executive Director
United Nations Children’s Fund
Former Secretary
US Department of Agriculture
Gebisa Ejeta
Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Purdue University
Joachim von Braun
Center for Development Research
University of Bonn
Mark E. Keenum
Mississippi State University
Derek Yach
Senior Vice President
Global Health & Agriculture Policy
Jo Luck
Former President and CEO
Heifer International
Renewed Prosperity, Enhanced Security: The Case for Sustained American Leadership in Global Agricultural Development

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