Developing strategies to end hunger

Saving Lives with U.S. Support for Food Security, Early Warning, and Prepositioned Food Aid

The hunger and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa is still growing, but regional U.S. aid programs, coupled with efforts by countries in the region, are saving lives. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, investments in food security are paying off. In an August 11 speech at the International Food Policy Research Institute, she said that the United States is now “doing development differently.”

 Photo Credit: IFPRI

Clinton was referring to the Feed the Future initiative, which focuses heavily on strengthening smallholder agriculture, improving nutrition, and involving local governments and building their capacity so that development efforts can be sustained after donor funding runs out. The difference between the current drought in Ethiopia and the last occurrence of a drought this severe (2002-2003), is notable. Last time, more than 13 million Ethiopians faced starvation. Today’s figure is less than 5 million.

“That is still an unacceptably large number, but it is also an astonishing improvement in a relatively short period of time,” said Clinton. “And it is evidence that investments in food security can pay off powerfully.”

In 2005, the government of Ethiopia established the Productive Safety Net Program, with support from the United States and other donors. Its focus is on smallholder farmers—helping them diversify their crops, manage water resources, and improve their nutrition.

Clinton said, “More than 7.6 million farmers and herders have now been helped by this program, people who are not among those in need of emergency aid today.”

More broadly, the governments of both Ethiopia and Kenya have stepped up their investments in agricultural development to nearly 10 percent of their respective national budgets. 

Feed the Future’s goals in Ethiopia include moving 1 million people out of hunger and allowing 430,000 children to benefit from improved nutrition. In Kenya, the goals are to raise the incomes of 800,000 smallholder farmers and improve nutrition throughout the country.

Programs such as the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), which enables analysts to anticipate food shortages related to weather and other conditions, are also beginning to change the impact of extreme weather on human life. FEWS NET supplied data as early as last August that raised concerns about the impact in the Horn of Africa of last fall’s drought; agencies were able to pre-position food aid so that it could be quickly sent to those in need. FEWS NET and other tools offer opportunities to mitigate the impact of drought and prevent some of the related suffering and death, although in the case of the current crisis, the international humanitarian response was not as swift and generous as was needed.

U.S.-led efforts in the G-20 group of states with significant economies resulted in the creation of the World Bank’s Global Agricultural Food Security Program. Thus far, seven donor countries and the Gates Foundation have awarded $510 million to 12 developing countries for food security initiatives. Scaling Up Nutrition and the 1,000 Days Partnership followed. Both emphasize the importance of better nutrition during the critical period of pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. Malnutrition at this stage of human development causes damage that is preventable but irreversible.

According to Clinton, after the great successes of the Green Revolution, whose agricultural investments helped lead millions of people out of hunger and poverty, particularly in Asia, it seems we have “lost our way” in supporting critical agricultural research and development programs. Feed the Future is one effort to get back on track by supporting country-led sustainable development programs and smallholder farmers in building resiliency that can help them cope with crises, whether natural or created by human actions.


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Thanks for reading the blog, Nick. The US has been investing in small holder agriculture for many years, but Feed the Future is the first global development initiative where it is featured in every country as part of the overall assistance effort lead by USAID.

A question to the author. I understand that now the U.S. is striving to help countries by investing in food security. I take it that focusing on smallholder agriculture is something new that the U.S. is trying. What did the U.S. previously do?

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