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Feed The Future, Obama

Among the tragedy-strewn headlines and bipartisan bickering, it is so very good to read this: 

The number of chronically undernourished people in the world has fallen by more than 100 million over the last decade and the future is looking even brighter – overseas and here at home. Last week the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report noting that the number of hungry around the world has dropped from 1 in 5 in 1990 to 1 in 9. Yes, there is more work to be done, but that is a huge accomplishment.  

{mosads}It was a mere half dozen years ago that food prices hit all-time highs, making staples like rice and wheat unreachable for those among us who are most vulnerable. The U.S. acted, bringing urgency to an issue that had drifted out of the headlines: food security. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. began a longer-term response to boost agricultural productivity and food security in the developing world, which laid the foundation for President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, the United States’ flagship global hunger and food security initiative and one of the first foreign policy acts of his presidency.

The results have been astounding. The cycle of poverty, hunger and hopelessness is being broken. Last year, nearly 7 million small farmers and other food producers, especially women, learned new technologies and better ways to manage their crops, expand access to markets, and build resilience to droughts, climate change, and conflict. The result is more food and increased revenue in places that always seem associated with catastrophe, like Bangladesh where Feed the Future reached 3.3 million small farmers, some increased rice yields by as much as 20%. Ethiopia, where the number of children under five stunted by under-nutrition dropped by an estimated 160,000 in three years. “Stunted” children suffer life-long health issues, cognitive and physical impairment, resulting in considerable social and economic damage for future generations.

By empowering the most vulnerable in the world to feed their future, we are helping to secure our own. A 2014 threat assessment by U.S. intelligence officials said global food security is inherently tied to our national security. The “lack of adequate food will be a destabilizing factor in countries important to United States national security,” the report stated, and “might also provide opportunities for insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid, and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs.”

The problem is, as a presidential initiative, Feed the Future does not have a guaranteed future without legislation that makes it a long-term foreign aid priority. Which is why leaders in the House and Senate have smartly introduced bipartisan-supported legislation to secure Feed the Future’s future. It’s called the Global Food Security Act (H.R 1567/S. 1252).

Here’s why the Global Food Security Act is a very good idea. It targets countries that are poised for agricultural success but need some help. It requires transparency and accountability so that needed reforms can create agricultural markets ready for long-term growth and investment.  It builds on the efforts of Feed the Future, where U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), coordinates the skills, expertise and resources of 11 U.S. government agencies in a strategic approach to reducing hunger, poverty and under-nutrition, and increasing food security around the world.

Feed the Future also leverages private partnerships. It supports agricultural Innovation Labs at U.S. universities that are developing new tools and technologies. It engages global health and development organizations, including many trusted faith-based groups like Catholic Relief Services, Food for the Hungry, Adventist Development and Relief Agency International, World Vision International and CARITAS Rwanda, Child Fund International.

The results are clear. With proven agricultural technologies in the hands of more people, small farmers are seeing better harvests; more food means economic growth; sustainable yields help communities better prevent — and weather – crises of both natural and human origin.  

We all know our work is not done. The UN estimates over 795 million people still don’t have enough food. Under-nutrition still claims 3.1 million children’s lives every year; and 1 in 4 children under five suffers stunting during the first two years of life. If we tally up federal spending on every U.S. foreign aid program that targets global health and development around the world, it amounts to just one half of one percent of the entire federal budget. Surely we can do more for the least of these.

To start, let’s thank the lawmakers for making global food security a Congressional priority by introducing the Global Food Security Act: Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).  The House has already moved the bill out of Committee, and as a Tennessean I am grateful that our own Sen. Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, can continue his leadership on food security issues and help shepherd this bill through Congress. 

God bless our leaders who are meeting the call to “feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty” and build a more stable future for all God’s children.

Gordy is bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Tags Bob Casey Johnny Isakson

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