Politics of Poverty

The Global Food Security Act is pushing to the finish line

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Amenata Nibaly, in purple, and other women sell vegetables at the market in Sare Yoba village, Senegal. (Photo: Holly Pickett / Oxfam America)

Good news for global food security.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, April 20th, the Global Food Security Act Passed the Senate. The bill – S.1252 – was co-sponsored Senators Isakson and Casey. Thanks to their hard work and efforts, this bill enshrining food security as a primary aim of US foreign assistance is on the brink of becoming law.

Seven years in the making, the Global Food Security Act is poised to finally become law.

In the House of Representatives, work on the bill culminated in passage on Tuesday where, in a broad bipartisan show of support, the vote tally was 370 to 33. Since the food price crisis of 2007/08, the US has placed increased emphasis on agriculture development, as demonstrated by the increasing spending levels for agriculture, the creation of a Bureau for Food Security within the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – thus giving agriculture a heightened profile within the Agency – and launching the Feed the Future initiative. This bill, introduced in the House by Representatives Chris Smith (NJ) and Betty McCollum (MN), reminds us that a “whole of government” approach to food security includes Congress.

The House bill, along with its Senate companion, builds on existing programs to support agriculture development around the world, notably by recognizing the importance of transparency and building local ownership for aid initiatives. It also emphasizes ways in which our aid needs to be better targeted and more sustainable. The United States’ aid to the agriculture sector must be inclusive, providing pathways out of poverty for even very resource constrained farmers with limited assets farming on marginal lands. It must specifically focus on the needs of women farmers who are often disadvantaged in receiving the support and resources they need to feed their families and their communities. And it must ensure that agriculture programs help build resilience to shocks such as the massive El Niño drought currently affecting millions of people in East and Southern Africa.

Action now moves to the Senate where a version of the bill has passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and awaits a final vote in that chamber. But, the Global Food Security Act faces a key hurdle before it can become law: there are substantive and substantial differences between the House and Senate versions. Most notably, the Senate bill authorizes funding for an Emergency Food Security Program, providing for the use of International Disaster Assistance (IDA) to meet emergency food security needs. Currently, USAID has the authority – and uses–IDA funds for this purpose, a move that has added an important set of food assistance tools to US efforts to address hunger. Authorization of the Emergency Food Security Program provides Congressional approval for this strategy.

How differences between these two bills are reconciled remains to be determined. But, the prospect of having in place authorization for a whole of government approach to tackling food insecurity and malnutrition around the world is worth celebrating.

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