Politics of Poverty

What is the future of “Feed the Future”?

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Oblin Tuse, 56, prepares the soil for planting in Belladere, Haiti in May 2010. The region has problems with very severe erosion and with landslides. Photo: Ami Vitale/Oxfam America

The House is one step closer to solidifying US commitment to global food security.

The Obama Administration’s signature initiative on food security and agriculture, Feed the Future, received an important push forward yesterday in the House of Representatives. The Global Food Security Act, bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) that essentially codifies Feed the Future in law, passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Next stop: a vote by the full membership of the House.

Stretching back to 2008, a number of bills have been offered to shape international assistance programs for agriculture and food security. For most of the 1990s and early 2000s, agriculture received scant attention from donors, the US included. This changed in recent years, prompted by the food price spike that drove millions of people into hunger. Against this backdrop, Feed the Future, and now the Global Food Security Act, provide important guidance for US efforts to fight global hunger and malnutrition.

The legislation builds on what is already working with the Feed the Future (FtF) program. It:

  • sets US government policy on agriculture, food security, and nutrition;
  • mandates the development of a whole of government strategy;
  • identifies USAID as the lead agency in the Feed the Future initiative; and
  • specifies reporting requirements to monitor progress of FtF activities.

As with any bill, there are elements that could be strengthened in the Global Food Security Act. The legislation discusses building “resiliency to natural disasters,” but the idea of mainstreaming natural resource management into FtF projects (as USAID is currently committed to doing) is absent from the legislation.

Similarly, promotion of “lawful land tenure rights of local communities” is an element of the required FtF strategy, and earlier versions of the legislation included specific reference to the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries in the Context of National Food Security. The Tenure Guidelines have been strongly endorsed at the Committee on World Food Security, including by the United States. It’s a missed opportunity to not include specific reference to the Tenure Guidelines in the House bill.

Even with these caveats (and others that I’m omitting here), bipartisan action on the bill is a positive development in making sure that Feed the Future is sustained well into the future. There is still a long way to go to get this bill to the President’s desk, but we celebrate the important step taken forward. Kudos to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and staff who made this happen.

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