The face of hunger is not partisan

by Rajiv Shah | Rahim Kanani Media Group, Inc
Monday, 13 October 2014 14:08 GMT

Ethiopian farmer Eshete Eneyew threshes maize in Abay, north of Addis Ababa, on October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Barry Malone

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

U.S. "Feed the Future" effort crosses party boundaries, the USAID chief writes

At Pennsylvania State University, scientists are developing new bean varieties that can thrive in drought and resist heat. Researchers at University of California, Davis are studying wild chickpeas to improve yields for farmers in Ethiopia. Students at Purdue University are designing new ways for farmers to dry and store their grains so that food is not lost on the way from the farm to the table.

From laboratories to fields, we are harnessing the power of innovation to transform agriculture in developing countries into a thriving business that can withstand the effects of climate change and lift millions of families out of extreme poverty.

Six years ago, on the heels of a food, fuel, and financial crisis that sent tens of millions to the brink of extreme poverty, President Obama pledged in his inaugural address to work alongside the people of poor nations to make farms flourish. His commitment recognized not only the realities of the world we live in today, but also those we will face tomorrow, as pressure on our natural resources only continues to grow. 

By launching Feed the Future, President Obama has pioneered a new approach to food security—rallying unprecedented resources in the fight to end hunger and delivering on his promise for millions of the world’s poorest people. In the past, we often thought our job as development professionals was done when we taught a farmer how to plant a new crop.

Today, our job is not done until we also help her learn how to run a successful business. That means ensuring credit is available, new technologies are accessible, and the entire chain—from farm to market to table—is profitable.

We are applying this new model in 19 countries around the world. In southern Senegal, we introduced a new breed of drought-tolerant, high-protein rice. Yields tripled in a single year.

For the first time, farmers produced a surplus, enabling them to invest more in health care and education. We also helped farmers learn how to collect data on fertilizers and seeds in order to accurately forecast their harvest. And we helped seed associations get certified to sell on the open market and write business plans to negotiate better loans. Local finance institutions now offer weather-indexed crop insurance so farmers can manage their own risk, just like any business owner.

Senegal’s results are reflected in Feed the Future countries worldwide. In 2013, we improved nutrition for 12 million children and empowered nearly 7 million farmers with the climate-smart tools they need to lift their families out of extreme poverty.

We have established 24 Feed the Future Innovation Labs at U.S. universities, the bedrock of our nation’s agricultural expertise. Country partners are making tough market-oriented reforms, and private sector partners have committed $10 billion in new agricultural investments—half from local firms—through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

Ethiopia has liberalized its seed sector—allowing companies to market and distribute their seeds independently of the government. Encouraged by these reforms, DuPont partnered with USAID and a local agricultural cooperative to help 35,000 farmers increase their yields by 50 percent.

At the same time, Guts Ago Industry, a local Ethiopian company, is sourcing chickpeas from 10,000 farmers and developing a ready-to-use therapeutic food to revive malnourished children. Once one of the most food insecure countries in the world, Ethiopia has driven stunting rates down by a stunning 4 percent in just three years. As a result, 160,000 children are laughing, playing, and learning—free from the devastating effects of hidden hunger. 

Inspired by the progress, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders stepped forward in mid-September to introduce Feed the Future legislation in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives—a powerful statement of support for the results we are delivering together. 

The face of hunger is simply not a partisan issue. It is a moral mission, with great importance to our shared security and prosperity. Children will grow up with their bellies full and minds fueled. Parents will be able to use their profits to pay for school fees—investing in the next generation. And farmers will be equipped to face increasingly uncertain and extreme weather. There is no question that we have the seeds to sow a climate-smart future: tremendous sources of untapped capital, cutting-edge innovations, and unprecedented presidential and bipartisan leadership. The rest is up to us.

Rajiv Shah is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development

As the 2014 Borlaug Dialogue takes place October 15-17 in Des Moines, Iowa, the World Food Prize Foundation and CGIAR Fund are co-hosting an online, high-level op-ed series titled The Greatest Challenge in Human History: Sustainably Feeding 9 Billion People By 2050. This will highlight how agricultural research and development are not only tied to food security and nutrition, but that they are also central to achieving many of the forthcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Read more: 

How can we sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050? - Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation and Jonathan Wadsworth, CGIAR

The future of food and farming depends on climate action today - Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO, Kanayo F. Nwanze, International Fund for Agricultural Development and Ertharin Cousin, WFP

Progressing crop research to impact at scale -  Marco Ferroni, Syngenta For Sustainable Agriculture

Delivering on Norman Borlaug’s call to action - Andrew Youn, One Acre Fund and Tony Kalm, CGIAR Fund

Elevating civil society from advisers to partners for a food secure world  - Tony Hall,  Alliance to End Hunger

New wheat breeds can help avert food security disaster - Sanjaya Rajaram, 2014 World Food Prize Laureate

Rising to "the greatest challenge in human history" - Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO 

Achieving zero hunger with help from smallholder farmers - Ertharin Cousin, WFP 

Tending the future - Pamela Anderson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Sustained investment in global agricultural research key to feeding 9 bln people sustainably - Gebisa Ejeta, Purdue University

Africa will feed 9 billion by 2050 - Pedro A. Sanchez, Earth Institute, Columbia University