Investing in Agriculture: It Makes Dollars and Sense

Posted by Tjada McKenna
October 15, 2014
A Crop Grows Near Mt. Meru in Tanzania

It’s been a busy year for Feed the Future. From Capitol Hill to the African Green Revolution Forum to September's UN General Assembly, there was a lot of buzz about food security, agriculture, and nutrition.

And for good reason: With continued effort and progress, a world without hunger (and poverty, for that matter) is truly within our reach. In fact, the United Nations recently released new data with encouraging news: The number of hungry people in the world continues to fall. Our task now is to accelerate this progress.

A few of the highlights from September are below. As we look forward to the rest of this autumn and to 2015, we’ll bring you more on how the United States is leading the fight against hunger and poverty -- and how our new approach through Feed the Future is working.

Ending Extreme Poverty

Growth in agriculture is one of the best ways to spur economic growth that can reduce poverty. Last month at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum, we hosted a panel that explored the intersection of poverty, hunger, and food security and how we can take to scale tools, know-how, and partnerships to end extreme poverty by 2030.

The takeaway was clear: If we want to improve food security and generate growth that pulls people out of poverty and builds a more stable, secure world, we need to continue to invest in women. This isn’t just the right thing to do, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in her opening remarks, but the smart thing economically too. As she put it: “Food security is global security.”

Panelists emphasized the need to reach out to and engage more youth in agriculture as well, especially if we want the gains we make in food security to last.

Browse our Storify summary below for more.

 

Now more than ever, we need to work together to ensure that our food security efforts aren’t just smart, but climate-smart, if we are to make truly sustainable gains.

President Obama recently announced a series of actions the United States will take to help the world become more resilient to climate change, including an Executive Order on Climate-Resilient International Development. Feed the Future has served as a model for this approach, working with the U.S. Global Climate Change Initiative and other U.S. Government partners like the U.S. Department of AgriculturePeace Corps, and Millennium Challenge Corporation to help farmers overcome current and future challenges.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture is the next step in driving broad-based economic growth while preserving the environment. This makes economic sense and it saves lives, a sentiment that was shared by Secretary of State John Kerry at the Frontiers Forum.

Climate change affects all of us, but often those most vulnerable to its impacts are also the most food insecure. You may have heard earlier this year about the devastating coffee rust outbreak in Latin America that has already caused $1 billion in economic damages in the region. Climate change is making it worse, spreading the plant disease to higher elevations, affecting even more poor farmers.

I traveled to the region in early September to witness this firsthand, visit Feed the Future project sites, and engage with partners at a conference on food security policy to address what we can do together to accelerate progress. I was left with a strong sense of how integral U.S. leadership has and will continue to be for confronting the challenges of feeding the future.

As we discussed at the conference, Central American economies need to continue to grow if they are to alleviate hunger, even as they face challenges like climate change, coffee rust, and poor nutrition. Through Feed the Future, the United States has mobilized global leaders and our partners to increase investments in agriculture to help achieve this kind of growth.

We’re also working with them to tackle issues like coffee rust, meet humanitarian needs for food in the meantime, and help set up systems needed to ensure greater food security. All this is helping feed families and helping them become more self-sufficient.

As President Obama has said, this is something we can all be proud of.

Pioneering a Scientific Revolution

Science and technology are helping us get there. We’re bringing America’s legacy of innovation and generosity to bear against some of the greatest challenges of our time, like feeding the world and ending extreme poverty even as the climate changes. 

We’re pairing the expertise and ingenuity of more than 60 U.S. universities with some of the best and brightest minds around the world through Feed the Future Innovation Labs to pioneer breakthroughs that help farmers address today’s challenges and prepare for those in the future. Last month, the leaders of our Feed the Future Innovation Labs gathered in Washington, DC, to collaborate, network, and showcase their work. A few even stayed in town and participated in USAID’s Innovation Marketplace, which highlighted technologies that are helping end poverty, such as a CoolBotdrying beads, and an entrepreneur incubation center.

To move from research to results, Feed the Future is working across sectors and value chains to scale technologies like these to end poverty and hunger -- benefitting farmers abroad and right here at home.

Improving Nutrition

In late September, we joined a discussion on Capitol Hill on the new USAID Nutrition Strategy, hosted by our nutrition partners. The launch of this strategy earlier this year was indeed cause for celebration. Undernutrition is a complex problem that hampers human and economic development. Recognizing this, the strategy calls for integration of nutrition across sectors, from agriculture to health, education, and humanitarian assistance.

Through its leadership of the Feed the Future initiative, USAID is already building partnerships and evidence around how we can integrate agriculture and nutrition. This strategy builds on that work, elevating nutrition across all our development efforts. Much like investing in women, nutrition is also both the right thing to do to help children survive and thrive, and it’s a good economic investment for long-term success.

Leading the Way

Also on Capitol Hill this September, leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced global food security legislation. Feed the Future’s approach is showing exciting progress early on, pioneering a new model for development -- one that sets the standard for how the United States leads around the world. It’s encouraging to see such strong bipartisan support for and commitment to improving global food security and nutrition.

“Food insecurity knows no boundaries, but the good news is it is preventable and we are in a position to help,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

“Investing in agricultural development and improving nutrition is essential to confronting hunger,” noted Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. “Defeating hunger, helping smallholder farmers, and keeping children fed and healthy is an investment the American people understand and support.” 

Indeed, as USAID’s Administrator Rajiv Shah has said, America is at its best when we lead with our values and when we partner with others to achieve common goals. What better way to lead than through evidence-based, results-oriented, and country-led approaches to ending global hunger and poverty?

We’re honored to be doing this important work on behalf of the American people through Feed the Future.

About the Author: Tjada McKenna serves as Assistant to the Administrator in USAID's Bureau for Food Security and Deputy Coordinator for Development for Feed the Future. Stay up-to-date with Feed the Future on Twitter @FeedtheFuture.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on Feed the Future's Blog.

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