Want to understand the promises and limits of Feed the Future? Look to Tanzania.

Members of the Wanawake Kwanza (Women First) growers association in Maza village, Morogoro, Tanzania, have received Feed the Future support through USAID to boost their incomes and improve nutrition in the village. Photo by: USAID Tanzania

Tanzania has received more funding from Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security program, than any of the initiative’s 18 other focus countries — $330 million so far.

As East African countries grapple with El Nino’s impacts on food systems, food security experts are looking to the East African development partner’s experience to find lessons that can shape the future of a key initiative in the Obama administration’s development legacy.

“Alignment, alignment, alignment,” said Jennifer Baarn, deputy chief executive officer for the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies panel last week. “Make agriculture work as an ecosystem.”

“We want to enhance food security. We want to make sure that any intervention manages natural resources sustainably. But we also want to make sure we have a social and economic impact on smallholder farmers and their communities,” she said.

“What is unique is that the mandate to achieve all of this is by mobilizing private sector investments," she added.

Last month, CSIS published “Tracking Promises,” a report that unpacks progress on food security in Tanzania — a country that is part of every U.S. presidential development initiative. Kimberly Flowers, director of the CSIS Global Food Security Project, traveled to Tanzania to produce it. Among other things, Flowers noticed that many of the people she met wanted to be associated with the U.S. effort — particularly its emphasis on nutrition during the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.

“People not only understood 1,000 days, but were proud enough to introduce themselves [as participants in the initiative] and tie themselves to it,” Flowers said.

Tanzania has seen both major milestones and setbacks in its effort to enhance food security. Under the leadership of recently elected President John Magufuli, who is the son of a farmer and whose anti-corruption stance has earned him the nickname “the bulldozer,” the country has shown a renewed commitment to a reform agenda.

Sharon Pauling, mission deputy director for economic growth for Tanzania at the U.S. Agency for International Development, pointed to the end of a ban on maize exports in 2013 as one positive development. She also emphasized that the country has boosted its grain production and rehabilitated critical infrastructure.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s decision to suspend its second compact with the country over rights and governance concerns last month could put some of those rural infrastructure goals at risk. And a range of other constraints still stand in the way of commercializing smallholder farming, including a lack of accountability in service delivery, inadequate research and climate change.

Where do you see Feed the Future’s greatest potential for success? How should future U.S. administrations adapt the initiative for greater impact and effectiveness? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.