A Food Fight for the 114th Congress
May 27, 2015
Updated May 29, 2015
On May 7, 2015 Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Global Food Security Act, or S. 1252. Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously voted the House version, H.R. 1567, co-sponsored by Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), out of committee on April 23, 2015.
Q1: What is global food security and how has the U.S. government sought to address it?
A1: Food security means having the physical access to and economic ability to purchase safe, nutritious food. There are nearly 800 million people worldwide who suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. Agricultural development is key to breaking the cycle of extreme hunger and poverty.
After decades of declining assistance, the United States government renewed its commitment to food security after food price spikes in 2007-2008 in low and lower middle income countries led to dozens of food riots and protests. The Obama administration launched Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, in 2010. Congress has appropriated nearly $1 billion dollars per year over the past five years for the initiative. Led by USAID, Feed the Future is meant to be a whole-of-government initiative with a total of eleven federal agencies contributing to the effort. While the interagency effort is far from structurally perfect, it coordinates and leverages U.S. government resources in a way that traditional foreign assistance programs cannot.
The executive initiative has been applauded for the way it has engaged the private sector, integrated nutrition, and prioritized women; however, it also has been criticized for poor collaboration among U.S. implementing agencies and between projects, lack of engagement with local civil society, and confusing measures of success.
Q2: What is the significance of the Global Food Security Act of 2015?
A2: Advocates argue that the Global Food Security Act of 2015 would support sustainable funding and congressional oversight of Feed the Future. The bill preserves Feed the Future’s country-led approach and prioritizes increasing smallholder incomes, improving agricultural productivity, and boosting nutrition.
Although Congress has appropriated funding for Feed the Future since its inception, Congress has never officially authorized the initiative. These bills would formally do that, creating heightened congressional oversight and engagement with Feed the Future, as well as an expectation of ongoing future funding. The Obama administration sees the Global Food Security Act of 2015 as an opportunity to build upon the Feed the Future legacy, broaden its base of support, and strengthen its future. For advocates, passage of the bipartisan bills means food security is cemented as a foreign policy priority for the United States. On the other hand, even if the bills do pass, the next administration would still have to prioritize food security efforts and annually request funding.
Q3: Are there major differences between the Senate and House bill and what happens next?
A3: S. 1252 authorizes appropriations for five years, whereas H.R. 1567 authorizes $1.06 billion for only one year. H.R. 1567 requires the president to coordinate the development strategy, whereas S. 1252 gives the option of a presidential designee, presumably the USAID Administrator, to lead the interagency effort.
Both bills face an uncertain future. The Senate bill still needs to be voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and it is possible that Senate leadership on the committee will try to combine the bill with food aid reforms, which would significantly reduce its prospects of moving forward. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Agriculture has filed with the Parliamentarian to have jurisdiction over the bill and may ask for a hearing, which could further delay passage. Both bills have broad bipartisan support, which is a rare occurrence for a typically divided Congress. Policy makers disagree, though, on the urgency of the Global Food Security Act and why it should remain separate from food aid reform. Even if current authorizing efforts stall, the reintroduction and subsequence debate signals the seriousness interest in Congress and lays the groundwork for future support.
Q4: How does Feed the Future relate to food aid and the Farm Bill?
A4: Feed the Future is not about delivering food aid to vulnerable populations, which is what the bulk of international funding outlined in each Farm Bill is allocated to do. Feed the Future addresses the root causes of hunger and poverty by aiming to build resilient communities through multi-year projects that improve agricultural production and increase incomes of smallholder farmers, often women. Feed the Future prioritizes agricultural technologies, research and development, expanded private sector investment, stronger regional and global markets, and improved nutrition, all fundamental to sustainable agricultural development.
Humanitarian assistance initiatives, such as those funded through USAID’s Food for Peace program, complement Feed the Future, but are supported by separate funding streams. Each iteration of the Farm Bill supports programming to distribute food aid to the most vulnerable populations and to respond with emergency food aid to natural disasters. Immediate relief and agricultural development are two different facets of food security, requiring different sets of resources, expertise, and funding mechanisms.
Q5: Why is global food security important to U.S. leadership abroad?
A5: Through Feed the Future, the United States has mobilized local leaders to put in place country-led approaches in 19 focus countries across Latin America, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa to end hunger and extreme rural poverty. Advocates argue that passage of the Global Food Security Act would not only sustain and strengthen a coordinated food security strategy within the U.S. government, but would also demonstrate to the world that the United States remains a leader in the fight against hunger. Some critics feel that foreign assistance funding would be better spent on domestic issues, particularly when the federal budget is already tight.
Feed the Future was launched in response to the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, which caused political and economic instability and social unrest across the world. Abandoning development programs that tackle poverty at its roots, improve nutrition, and empower farmers could foster international instability.
Just as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has advanced to be a part of the larger U.S. development legacy, Feed the Future – an initiative conceived at the end of the Bush administration and formally created and led by the Obama administration – has the potential to be sustained beyond the current administration. With the 2016 elections around the corner, now is precisely the time to have this dialogue and set the foundation for sustaining a bipartisan, comprehensive agenda for global food security.
Kimberly Flowers is director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
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