By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
October 13, 2011
Washington — The Feed the Future program to increase agricultural production, raise rural incomes and improve nutrition in developing countries continues to make progress, two top U.S. agricultural development experts say.
Jonathan Shrier of the State Department and Greg Gottlieb of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) discussed the three-year-old program during a State Department webcast October 11. With funding from the U.S. government, the program invests in countries that have made plans to produce more food, improve the nutrition of their citizens, raise rural incomes and create strong markets.
Food security — or having a steady and accessible supply of food — is a challenge for countries needing assistance as well as for international donors, they said. One-sixth of the world’s population suffers from chronic hunger, and malnutrition is responsible for millions of child deaths every year, they said. Currently, across the Horn of Africa, 13.3 million people need emergency assistance due to severe changes in weather. “But people in the region are showing strong leadership in addressing the problem,” said Shrier, who is acting special representative for global food security. He said the Kenyan government recently hosted a meeting of leaders in the region to discuss medium- and long-term solutions to its food shortages over recent years. “There is change in the works.”
The webcast was in advance of a gathering of more than 1,000 global government and private sector leaders, and agricultural experts for the Borlaug International Symposium October 12–14 in Des Moines, Iowa. The meeting to address future needs in feeding people around the globe coincides with the award of the 25th World Food Prize. The webcast also was in honor of World Food Day, October 16.
A key feature of the $3.5 billion Feed the Future program is working with all sectors of society in its targeted 20 countries to draw up multiyear strategies for achieving sustainable agricultural growth and increased nutritional levels, especially for mothers and their young children, Shrier said. Additionally, donors work in partnership with private sector investors.
“We are going to work with fertilizer companies and seed companies to make sure that if they invest, we can invest with them to produce the long-term, sustainable results needed to supply farmers with the inputs they need,” Gottlieb said.
He cited the example of a three-way partnership announced in September among USAID, the PepsiCo Foundation and the United Nations World Food Programme to increase chickpea production and improve long-term nutritional gains and food security in Ethiopia, Africa’s largest chickpea producer.
Another feature of Feed the Future is support for more research to develop better seeds for crops that can resist drought, excessive heat, flooding and diseases such as the wheat stem rust Ug99 that has spread from eastern Africa to the Middle East, said Gottlieb, who works with USAID’s food security program.
Biotechnology, or genetic modification, is one technique for developing improved seeds in a much shorter period than if seeds are cross-bred conventionally, Shrier said. He added that transportation links also need to be upgraded so farmers and livestock herders can get their output to markets.
Feed the Future also aims to bring modern agricultural skills to farmers, especially women producers, through stronger extension services. “Women produce so much in the world,” Gottlieb said.
Read more about Feed the Future on the program’s website