Obama unveils detailed food security plans

Farmers in southern Kyrgyzstan learn how drying their tomatoes can diversify their business in a 2008 project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: Winrock Int'l/USAID

The Obama administration has identified five African countries in whose food security it wants to “invest significantly” in fiscal 2011.

In the congressional budget justification for foreign operations, the White House designated Ghana, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania as high-priority countries for their readiness to launch and implement “country investment plans” and improvements to their agricultural and nutrition policies.

Overall, the president requested $1.84 billion for his Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, which does not include agricultural programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama has made food security a pillar of his foreign policy agenda, and promised to give $3.5 billion from fiscal years 2010 to 2012.

Of the total for GHFSI for fiscal 2011, $1.24 billion would go to U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department agricultural and rural development programs, with the five African countries receiving $246 million in Phase II funds “for countries demonstrating readiness for large scale investments,” according to the document.

“The [U.S. government] budgeted investments made in Phase II are significantly increased, align closely with the CIP, build on the country’s own resource commitments plus those of other development partners, and acknowledge access to additional sources of support via multilateral organizations,” the document said.

Another 15 countries worldwide, named on page 43 of the justification, would be eligible for $352 million in Phase I funds to develop CIPs.

“In countries that are in the process of preparing their CIP, assistance includes organization and skills training of key government officials to lead country plan development and implementation, support for stakeholder consultation, public expenditure review and analysis that identifies priority investment opportunities, and identification of needed actions to improve the policy environment – investments all focused on accelerating countries’ efforts toward building a conducive environment for successful country plan implementation,” the justification said.

The 20 countries selected for Phase I and Phase II were judged to meet the following criteria: chronic hunger and poverty in rural areas, potential for quick and lasting agriculture-led growth, good governance and possibilities for coordination on trade and “other mechanisms” within the region.

The president requested an additional $55 million through a food security strategic reserve fund, sized to scale up operations in four of the 20 countries on a contingency basis. In the past, Obama pledged to allow more funding flexibility for development programs.

The president’s proposal also allots $200 million for nutrition programs through the Global Health and Child Survival account and $408 million, via the Treasury Department, for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a multilateral trust fund program administered by the World Bank.

U.S. contracting priorities

Once GAFSP begins lending later this year, the fund will contract both public and private-sector organizations with focuses in the following areas: raising agricultural productivity; linking farmers to markets; reducing risk and vulnerability; improving non-farm rural livelihoods; and technical assistance, institution building, and capacity development, according to the appendix to the State Department and foreign operations budget. GAFSP will give preference to proposals featuring partnerships, including those between the public and private sectors.

The remaining $583 million for GHFSI comprises the following: research and development ($145 million); monitoring and evaluation ($14 million); regional food security programs ($130 million); strategic partner countries ($45 million); community development for underserved populations ($75 million); and, “other ongoing agricultural development programs ($174 million).

“The 2011 proposal goes a long way to increase what has been woefully underfunded activity in agricultural development and to begin to fund this emerging global initiative,” said Avram “Buzz” Guroff, the senior managing director of food security for ACDI/VOCA, a nongovernmental organization with expertise in agricultural and rural development, and a former national food security coordinator and secretary for the U.S. delegation to the World Food Summit. “We’ve been talking about agricultural and rural development as the engine that pumps development for decades. So it’s music to our ears.”

In addition to the GHFSI, the president requested $1.69 billion for Food for Peace Title II, a food assistance program for emergencies and non-emergencies administered by USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also seeking $300 million for international disaster assistance programs on emergency food assistance.

“We’re still far from funding all of the work that could be done to combat hunger,” Guroff said. “We should not think of it as an either-or but rather as a situation where we need all of the resources we can bear.”

Obama seeks stakeholder input

The Obama administration will release further clarification of its global food security strategy in April, a spokesperson for USAID told Devex in an e-mail. The State Department and USAID continue to accept comments from stakeholders and other interested parties on the next iteration of the consultation document on food security. The original consultation paper, issued in September, outlines the U.S. government’s “principles and approach” to combating global hunger, according to its authors. The forthcoming version will focus on implementation of the strategy.

The government has been conferring with the private-sector, civil-society organizations and small-scale farmers, among others, to compose the second consultation document.

Guroff, who manages a portfolio of more than $100 million for ACDI/VOCA, encouraged the government to assure nonprofits are included on the implementation side.

“I am a little concerned that NGOs don’t have sufficient access to the funds. With large sums of money involved, there’s a tendency to put out proposals to some of the larger for-profit organizations,” Guroff said. “The administration has indicated an understanding of our concern and a willingness to address it, but obviously the proof is in the pudding. We’re hopeful. We keep talking and have to see what happens.”

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concern, the advocacy arm of a Catholic organization with poverty-alleviation programs in the Americas, Africa and Asia, submitted a proposal to the State Department in alliance with other faith-based development practitioners.

Among other suggestions, the interfaith bloc recommended the government expand its definition of food security.

“Food security means having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life,” the recommendation said. “Broadening the definition grants respect for cultural and religious customs, practices and preferences around food better ensuring that the dignity of the human person is reverenced.”

ONE, an advocacy organization that focuses on programs to help the poor, placed “an emphasis on ensuring that women’s needs are considered in the planning process and calling for a stronger link between productivity and environmental sustainability,” a ONE spokesperson said. ONE submitted its comments through InterAction, an umbrella organization for U.S.-based NGOs.

Congress considers reform

Ultimately, funding for the Obama administration’s food security initiative hinges on congressional backing. Legislators already have introduced several bills in response to the 2008 global food crisis, and currently are reviewing the White House’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal.

At a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the fiscal 2011 budget, ranking member Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) pointed out commonalities between the White House’s food security plan and the Global Food Security Act that he and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced in 2009.

“Both the Lugar-Casey bill and the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative focus on increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, promoting research and technology, being attentive to the special role of women farmers, and emphasizing the nutritional needs of children,” he said. “Both initiatives would construct partnerships with host country governments, indigenous organizations, institutions of higher learning, and the private sector.”

The Lugar-Casey bill passed the committee and has been placed on the Senate calendar. A related bill in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), has higher funding requests for agricultural, rural development and nutrition programs, and calls for all government agencies and programs addressing global hunger to implement a single strategy. The McCollum bill is still awaiting a hearing in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The fiscal year begins in October. Congress has begun meeting on fiscal 2011 appropriations; final legislation often differ substantially from presidential requests.

About the author

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    Josh Miller

    Josh joined Devex's Washington office in early 2010 as an international development correspondent covering U.S. aid reform, the D.C. development scene and Latin America. He previously served as a marketing communications coordinator for TechnoServe, a news production specialist for the Associated Press and a news desk assistant for the PBS NewsHour. He has reported for publications in Caracas, Chicago, Madrid, New Delhi, Philadelphia, and Washington, and holds a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.