Since then, food prices have dropped and rates of chronic hunger have abated. Several countries met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing hunger by half. We do not know if these reductions are due to development interventions or are simply the result of lower prices. Certainly prices play a major role but may not be a factor in far flung rural areas that are cut off from global and even national markets. Indeed, the U.S. government’s food security program, Feed the Future, has pointed to increased productivity and higher incomes among populations receiving its support.
The next target – Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 adopted last year – is to end hunger by 2030. This is a daunting goal. Daunting because there are a number of factors that will continue to put pressure on achieving global food security. First, there will be more mouths to feed. Populations continue to grow, particularly in food insecure countries, with the world population predicted to exceed 9.5 billion by 2050. Second, in addition to people there will be more cows to feed. As more and more people establish themselves in the ranks of the middle class, they will demand more meat. Producing meat is a resource-intensive enterprise that diverts grains into feed. Third, climate change, which will disproportionally hit food insecure countries, will undermine agricultural productivity, soil health, and water quality. Fourth, trade regimes have not been written to support food security (in the free flow of commodities) but rather have been written to serve the interests of domestic agriculture. This is not exclusively a rich country trait of the United States and Europe. During the last spike in global prices, several rice growing countries banned exports, further destabilizing prices.
What does all this mean for ending hunger by 2030? Each of these important factors will need to be addressed in order to achieve the goal. Further, donors will need to sustain their support even as partner countries devote more of their own resources to food security and reform counterproductive market interventions.
The Feed the Future program has had 6 years of experience. While spending for international agriculture began to ramp up near the end of President Bush’s term, Feed the Future has become a legacy of President Obama and Hillary Clinton in her former capacity as Secretary of State. Until recently, the administration had not sought an authorization from Congress. In fact, at one point, the State Department actively worked to scuttle legislation sponsored by Senator Lugar and Senator Casey.
Now with the presidential election process in high gear, the Obama administration has changed its tune, seeking to finally authorize Feed the Future. Some DC insiders believe the authorization is too narrowly focused, leaving out aspects managed by agencies other than the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In all fairness, USAID is the lead agency for Feed the Future, and it uses inter-agency agreements to tap into the expertise of other agencies. But, others argue that the potential across government is not being fully exploited. As long as a whole of government framework is used, there will be debates about who does what under which agency’s leadership. An independent assessment of the framework might help this and future programs.
There are always improvements that could be made, but the more difficult task is to get a foreign policy initiative on the agenda of Congress. What is clear is that the future of Feed the Future is not guaranteed in a new administration. Having Congress endorse it will go a long way toward sustaining an approach that just may be working.
Lori Rowley serves as Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness and Dr. Connie Veillette serves as a Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center.