According to current statistics by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 795 million people across the globe suffer from chronic hunger. During my tenure as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I recognized the direct correlation between hunger and national security and stability. As recently as in 2007-2008 and then during the Arab Spring, I watched as food shortages and price spikes in countries often led to riots and even government instability. I also understood that with the strong and historical expertise of the U.S. in agriculture, it should lead in developing a global food strategy that would seek to reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition, as well as build markets and stimulate economic growth.
Following a comprehensive study and accompanying report that my Committee staff conducted, I introduced legislation – the Lugar – Casey bill - to do just that. Although this bill was not enacted, President Obama recognized the importance of U.S. leadership in this area and created the Feed the Future program as a Presidential Initiative under the leadership of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program operates primarily in 19 focus countries selected on the basis of five criteria including level of need, potential for growth and opportunity to partner.
As the Obama administration nears its conclusion, I am pleased that Congress has recognized the value of sustained, bipartisan U.S. leadership in global food security. During the heat of the summer’s politically charged convention season, the Senate approved the Global Food Security Act of 2016 by unanimous consent, and the House passed it by a vote of 369-53. President Obama signed the bill into law.
As a result the law of the land requires the President to develop a global food security strategy in a transparent and open process that includes a whole-of government approach, including full disclosure of budget activities among the various agencies engaged in implementing the strategy. And Congress has invested itself more fully in oversight of this effort that includes strong requirements for monitoring and evaluation of projects that will be carried out under the strategy. Each of these components represents a change from the current Presidential Initiative, requiring greater transparency in both developing the strategy, providing full budget transparency across federal agencies, and in the kind of reporting required, including benchmarks for graduating countries and communities from the Global Food Security Strategy.
This kind of program brings greater accountability to the U.S. foreign assistance programs – for taxpayers who fund it and to hungry people around the world who may expect to benefit from it and is exactly the model I am hopeful that Congress and the next Administration will continue to support. It represents a win-win for impoverished, hungry people across the global, U.S. taxpayers, and our national security interests.