Will Feed the Future become an Obama legacy?

Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, farmers plant high-value crops that boost both their community’s food security and their household incomes. by: Fintrac Inc. / USAID / CC BY-NC

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Congress will likely jump-start authorization of Feed the Future — a potential legacy initiative of the Obama administration — with a committee mark-up in the House expected as early as mid-April.

If it passes, the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (H.R. 1567), which was introduced late March in the U.S. House by Republican Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey and Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum from Minnesota, as well as 11 other cosponsors, will authorize the $1 billion Feed the Future initiative and ensure its existence beyond the Obama administration. The bill sets a unique precedent: Eleven federal agencies — including the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — would contribute resources and expertise in the new “whole-of-government” approach.

The bill faces fewer barriers than it did when it languished in the Senate last December, according to Katie Lee, policy manager at InterAction. Although the bill passed the House with a unanimous floor vote, “we simply ran out of time,” Lee told Devex, and the bill never reached the Senate floor.

House committee delays remain a possibility, Lee said, especially as other events around the world emerge as new priorities.

With a few minor tweaks and additions, Lee said, the Food Security Act of 2015 looks to meet bipartisan support. In the Senate, Democrat Bob Casey from Pennsylvania and Republican Johnny Isakson from Georgia will present the new bill.

The new House bill includes stronger language on nutrition, land rights, and women, and also a definition of “sustainable,” Lee noted, consistent with the new definition introduced in the Water for the World Act of 2014. In the run-up to the sustainable development goals, development economists like Bill Easterly have criticized the U.S. and others for their broad use of the term, which he said has “lost its meaning” from overuse.

Senate additions may also include a longer authorization of appropriations, Lee added. The Senate similarly attempted to lengthen the authorization in last year’s bill.

Finally, the new draft of the House bill requires that all participating agencies provide “specific implementation plans” that describe “contributions and efforts,” a revision that Lee said reflects the desire to fully understand how the 11 federal agencies are contributing to improving global food and nutrition security through the whole-of-government, comprehensive strategy.

Feed the Future tackles hunger in 19 targeted countries through agricultural programs. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that the initiative has helped more than 7 million smallholder farmers access new tools and technologies to improve yields, and has boosted incomes and reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions in 2013.

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.