U.S. Congress passes Global Food Security Act

A Rwandan mother and farmer works the soil in the northern part of the country. (Credit: Tom Paulson/Humanosphere)

In a rare act of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252). It bolsters efforts by the U.S. to eliminate hunger and malnutrition globally by providing backing to existing programs, including the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program.

“Today’s passage of the Global Food Security Act will help fight hunger around the globe and allow smallholder farmers an equal chance to support their communities,” said Lindsay Coates, president of InterAction, the alliance comprised of international NGOs.

Following the unanimous passage of the bill in the Senate, it will only need the signature of President Barack Obama to become law.

“This initiative is morally right and economically smart. Plus, it helps our national security,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., following the bill’s passage in the Senate in April. “This legislation will make a real, direct impact in the lives of children, mothers and families around the world. Chronic hunger and malnutrition are serious problems that have a much larger and lasting effects on nations’ economies, the world, and therefore U.S. national security. I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., built support for the bill by showing Isakson and other senators that it is in the interest of the U.S. to improve food security in developing countries. As is often the case with foreign aid legislation, the connection to national security was made on the grounds that investments in agriculture help reduce poverty and insecurity. It also helps that the bill builds on existing food security work by the U.S. and does not require additional spending.

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Upon its final passage, the Global Food Security Act will require the White House to develop a whole-of-government strategy for addressing global food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. A yearly report on progress made by supported countries and impacts of programs will be required. Casey uses the bill to define success as reduced hunger and transitioning countries so that they are independently supporting their food security needs.

“The need to address global hunger is an urgent foreign policy and national security priority. It is in the United States’ best interest to promote initiatives that work to eliminate the causes of food and nutrition insecurity,” said Casey, in a statement upon its passage in the Senate. “I am proud to be the sponsor of this legislation and happy that my colleagues joined me in passing this important initiative to combat food insecurity in the developing world.”

The cornerstone initiative is Feed the Future, a program touted by the Obama Administration and a potential legacy that extends beyond Obama’s term in office. Obama pledged at the 2009 G8 summit that the U.S. would spend $3.5 billion in three years to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Food security was a major point of discussion during the meeting because of the problems caused by swings in food prices between 2007 and 2008, leading to a total of $18 billion in pledges during the summit. Feed the Future was founded in 2010 to help the White House follow through on its pledge by making investments in programs that would build resilience in farmers, helping them deal with sudden shocks like drought and food price spikes.

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Today, 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Central America partner with Feed the Future. It believes that hunger and food security can be eliminated by investing in the growth of the agricultural sector and by providing nutritional support for women and children. The program says it helped support more than $500 million in new agricultural sales and reached more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions, among other achievements, in 2014.

With partnerships in the public and private sector, it is an initiative with broad support beyond Capitol Hill. Given that the Global Food Security Act supports Feed the Future, the program backers are also coming out in support of the bill.

“When the Global Food Security Act comes to the House floor, members on both sides of the aisle have ample reason to lend their full support,” wrote Land O’Lakes CEO Chris Policinski and former head of Africa operations as Deputy Commander for U.S. European General Charles Wald, Ret., in an OpEd for The Hill last week. “Not only will this bolster the American economy and developing countries, but it will also strengthen our national security and promote our nation’s humanitarian values. This bill is a unique and important opportunity for Congress to strengthen American global leadership and make a world of difference around the globe.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.