As budget talks in the U.S. Congress lurch toward a frenzied conclusion this week, the House is scheduled to vote today on a bill that gives staying power to U.S. President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future initiative.
If passed, the Global Food Security Act of 2014 would grant congressional authorization — though on a somewhat shorter-term basis than many hoped — to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s $1 billion effort to fight hunger in 19 targeted countries through agriculture programs.
Food security advocates are hopeful that with the passage of this bill, Feed the Future — considered a signature initiative of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah — could find some long-term security in the new legislation and live on as a development legacy of the Obama-Shah administration.
According to USAID, Feed the Future helped more than 7 million smallholder farmers' access new tools and technologies to improve yields and boost incomes and reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions in 2013.
But despite bipartisan support for the food security program, challenges remain.
“We anticipate [the bill] will receive a floor vote in the House under suspension of the rules,” Katie Lee, policy manager at InterAction, told Devex. “Then the question would be whether the bill could move by unanimous consent in the Senate.”
And although the amended legislation now shortens the program’s authorization to only one year, Lee said simply getting Feed the Future through Congress is an important first step.
“The one-year authorization is not ideal,” she explained, “but it allows for the bill to move now and hopefully be passed so that we have even more momentum behind working on a longer-term authorization bill next year.”
Meanwhile, other USAID initiatives currently vying for congress’ attention — namely the Electrify Africa Act of 2014, which builds on Obama’s Power Africa initiative, and the Global Development Lab Act of 2014, which authorizes the creation of that entity within the agency — will likely fall by the wayside during this congressional session, according to experts tracking the legislation.
“These particular bills have not gotten enough traction to pass on their own,” Kate Eltrich, partner at Sixkiller Consulting, told Devex. “It would be difficult to attach them to the omnibus appropriations bill moving forward because they are not priorities for the Republican leadership.”
Without long-term authorization by Congress, initiatives like Power Africa, USAID’s Global Development Lab and Feed the Future risk fading into the background or disappearing when a new administration takes over implementation of U.S. development policy.
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