By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
The Obama administration is asking Congress for $7.9 billion to fund global health programs in fiscal year 2013. It also is requesting $1 billion to help farmers in 20 countries targeted by the Feed the Future initiative to grow more food.
“By fighting hunger and disease, we fight the despair that can fuel violent extremism and conflict,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposed budget would help countries “feed, treat and educate their people while strengthening the capacity to own those responsibilities,” he said.
The administration’s total request for the State Department and foreign assistance is $51.6 billion, of which USAID administers a large portion.
Testifying March 6 before the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Shah said the spending request for the fiscal year starting October 1 includes $770 million to support political, economic and trade reforms in the Middle East and North Africa.
“By supporting governments that demonstrate a commitment to undergo meaningful change and empower their people, [the United States] will continue to play a major role in helping the people of this region determine their own fate,” Shah said.
The proposed budget would continue programs to help Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq move toward long-term stability, economic growth and democratic reforms.
The budget request is slightly less than the amount requested for fiscal year 2012 as the result of greater efficiencies, falling costs and increased investments by partner governments, Shah said. It cuts support for Europe and Central Asia by $113 million because of shifting global priorities and progress by some countries toward market-based economies, he added.
If approved by the committee, the budget request will go to the full House for consideration. The House and Senate must negotiate agreement on a final bill before it can be sent to the president for signature or veto.
The administration’s spending request would continue funding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which would save 6 million lives by expanding access to treatment. It includes $619 million to fight malaria by spending more on bed nets and anti-malarial treatment. Those actions would cut child deaths due to the disease by as much as 30 percent, according to Shah. The request also would continue funding for programs in maternal and child health, voluntary family planning, nutrition, tuberculosis and tropical diseases.
Feed the Future spending would focus on lifting smallholder farmers, most of them women, out of poverty in the initiative’s 20 targeted countries, Shah said. The 20 countries were selected based on their need for aid, their potential for agricultural growth and partnership opportunities. Since 2008, USAID’s agricultural programs in those countries have increased their agricultural production by an average of 5.8 percent annually, he noted.
The proposal would fund more scientific research and innovative technologies and help companies bring more poor farmers into their supply chain.
Shah pointed out two areas of research spending. In agriculture, USAID is working with scientists at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to develop drought-resistant varieties of sorghum, millet and beans and a vitamin A–enhanced sweet potato. In health, researchers working through PEPFAR have isolated 17 antibodies that may hold the key to fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Under the proposed budget, USAID would invest in clean energy and in protecting rain forests that sequester carbon and stop the threat of drought and deserts. In education, it would help improve the reading skills of 100 million children.