Global Food Security Act a Critical Step Forward in Ending Hunger | Commentary

Posted April 7, 2015 at 5:00am

By Daniel Speckhard If Congress passes the Global Food Security Act of 2015, it will be taking a critical step toward ending global hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime. Food security — and the underlying political, economic and environmental stability that make it possible — is a prerequisite for sustained development and stable societies. Yet there are several countries, even entire regions, that face the triple threat of conflict, climate change and vulnerability to natural disasters that threaten the food security and income stability of millions.  

As global economic shifts and other changes attack their livelihoods, small-scale farmers are at a cross roads. The next few years could spell the difference between chronic poverty and thriving small businesses able to feed both local communities and a hungry world. But if they are not addressed, these threats are also likely to create broader challenges for trade, international security and global economic growth.  

That is why the Global Food Security Act of 2015, introduced by Reps. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and nearly a dozen others on both sides of the aisle could make such a significant impact. With more than 800 million hungry people around the world, the U.S. must have a smart approach for addressing global hunger. The act sets forth a comprehensive strategy for assistance to developing countries to increase sustainable and equitable agricultural development, reduce global hunger, improve nutrition and, ultimately, achieve food and nutrition security.  

With this act, the United States has a historic opportunity to help some of the world’s poorest communities get a hand up on developing sustainable solutions to poverty and food insecurity.  

Potential crises may seem isolated but they have knock-on negative effects. I saw it time and time again during my three decades in government service, and now as the president of an international development and relief organization. Local hunger or food shortages — sometimes caused by a natural disaster or other shock — leads to insecurity in local markets, which can lead to political instability and riots. For instance, recent research suggests that an earlier drought was a key spark that led to the uprising against the Assad regime in Syria. Food insecurity and political instability together can lead to exactly the kinds of displacement and ungoverned spaces that U.S. national security strategy hopes to prevent.  

We need a more coherent global food security policy, which includes robust funding for locally-owned programs benefiting small-scale producers. While less than 1 percent of the federal budget goes toward poverty-focused relief and development, fiscal constraints and politics may put at risk this small but critical contribution.  

The Global Food Security Act recognizes lessons from past efforts, including the critical contribution of small-scale farming to global food and nutrition security and requires the United States to ensure that agricultural assistance to other countries benefits and protects small-scale farmers — especially women — and increases their resilience to shocks and stresses that can destroy families’ development gains. It also promotes global standards of transparency and calls for strengthening programs around land tenure among small-scale farmers.  

The U.S. government’s flagship food security program, Feed the Future, has begun to focus on this commitment, with promising results, but will need to go further to achieve the goal of eradicating extreme poverty. Deepening our commitment to this issue also means understanding the importance of climate adaptation and climate smart agriculture in these programs.  

In order to help address and mitigate the worst effects of disaster, we must work collectively to inform and engage the international community about the danger of these “creeping” food and economic insecurity disasters, and also to share what works. This includes innovations for sound management of natural resources and rural communities’ physical assets in order to improve resilience and livelihoods.  

By authorizing a U.S. food security strategy that emphasizes coordination and integration of agriculture, nutrition and resilience-building programs across all U.S. government agencies and also with civil society, the private sector, and other actors, the Global Food Security Act would promote strong and coherent U.S. leadership on food and nutrition security around the world.  

Lutheran World Relief, along with a broad coalition of non-profits engaged in the fight to end hunger and promote international stability, urges Congress and the administration to support the Global Food Security Act as a critical step forward in sustainably tackling hunger and malnutrition in the most effective and efficient ways possible around the world.  

Everything we invest in preventing or mitigating the worst effects of crises is also an investment in regional stability and security and in our own well-being here in the U.S. and for the rest of the world.  

We have to take action now instead of waiting for the worst.  

Ambassador Daniel Speckhard is president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, an international humanitarian organization. He previously served in both Republican and Democratic administrations as ambassador to Greece and to Belarus, deputy chief of Mission in Iraq, and a senior official at NATO.

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