On May 7, 2015, Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) introduced the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (SB 1252), a bill that would authorize United States foreign assistance to third-world nations for the purpose of reducing global hunger and poverty. The bill is also geared to improving food and nutrition security in developing countries, and to promoting sustainable, agricultural-led economic growth. The bill includes provisions that would provide additional assistance to women and children and vulnerable populations.
At the heart of the bill is the U.S. Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative called Feed the Future initiative. The program selected 19 countries based on five criteria: (1) level of need; (2) opportunity for partnership; (3) potential for agricultural growth; (4) opportunity for regional synergy; and (5) resource availability.
Through the program, the U.S. Government makes foundational investments in participating countries that help initiate policy reform, develop investment plans, and build the countries’ capacity for implementation. Investment sectors include women’s empowerment, post-harvest infrastructure, and financial services. The success of the Food for Future program is measured annually.
In 2014, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that over 100 million previously undernourished people had been provided with reliable food sources between 2004 and 2014. Programs like Feed the Future contributed to this effort by assisting small farmers in impoverished countries with increasing their crop yields.
Although women constitute up to half of the agricultural labor force in these countries, women typically experience a higher level of food shortage because of reduced access to land ownership, education, training programs, and the many hiring barriers that exist in developing nations.
Some sources estimate that this legislation could impact over 805 million people in chronically undernourished countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where 25 percent of the population suffers from food shortage issues. And, according to UNICEF, over 161 million children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Based on the text of the proposed bill, the statute would authorize the development of a “whole-of-government” strategy to accomplish the policy objects outlined in the bill, including the eradication of hunger and malnutrition and assisting foreign countries with achieving longterm, sustainable, and inclusive agricultural development.
The bill would draw support from private sector participants, agricultural producers, international and local civil society organizations, faith-based groups, and research and academic institutions.
The bill has already gained support from a number of groups, including The Chicago Council. According to a statement on its website, The Chicago Council believes the bill “emphasizes the importance to our national security of aligning the Feed the Future Initiative with existing in-country food security investments and building farmers’ resilience in the face of environmental and market shocks, like natural disasters.”
Despite this support, some highlight a number of shortcomings with the legislation. First, the bill only contemplates authorization for a one-year period. As a result of the current federal budget situation, any legislation in the House of Representatives that calls for multi-year appropriations must have funding offsets to mitigate any increase in overall spending. As a result, an increase in one program’s spending budget often means cuts for another program’s spending budget.
To avoid falling within this requirement, the bill only seeks $1.06 billion in funding for the 2016 fiscal year and requires passage of a new bill to continue the program beyond this term.
Because the bill is based on a short-term operations premise, the likelihood that any longterm programs will be established through its ambit has been called into question. Agriculture by its very nature is not something that can be transformed overnight. Research indicates that multi-year programs are more effective at helping countries establish self-sufficient practices as opposed to continually relying on other sources for short-term solutions.
From a substantive standpoint, some critics have questioned the bill’s priorities, noting that the text does not place a premium on scaling-up local programs and capacity-building endeavors. In many developing countries, agriculture remains a largely local enterprise. To be effective, therefore, the distribution of knowledge and skills and the ability to adapt to unique geographical factors like water supply, weather, and soil content, need to happen at the local level.
The legislation represents a continuation of earlier efforts to secure funding and support for the Feed the Future Initiative. Last year, the House passed a similar version of the bill, but the legislation failed to make it out of the Senate. Supporters of the bill remain optimistic about the current version’s chances of success.