Obama Announces Food Security and Agricultural Development Plan
ACDI/VOCA commends the initiative announced by President Barrack Obama to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of extreme poverty within 10 years. On May 18 the president unveiled A New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition at a forum sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the Ronald Reagan building, headquarters of USAID.
“We agree with the president that the fight against hunger and malnutrition is more than a moral imperative. As he said, it's an economic imperative, and it is a security imperative,” said ACDI/VOCA Senior Vice President Paul Guenette.
“ACDI/VOCA was founded nearly 50 years ago by U.S. farmercooperatives to contribute to global food security,” Guenette continued. “But food security is both a key to livelihood and an intractable problem in many parts of Africa. Hunger and malnutrition cannot be dealt with simplistically or haphazardly.”
Three-part Sensible Approach
President Obama, with G8 and African leaders, businesses, international organizations, civil society (and, yes, Bono!), presented a three-part plan to advance global agricultural development, food and nutrition security in Africa in advance of the Group of Eight summit at Camp David.
He said, “Governments, like those in Africa, that are committed to agricultural development and food security, they agree to take the lead—building on their own plans by making tough reforms and attracting investment. Donor countries—including G8 members and international organizations—agree to more closely align our assistance with these country plans. And the private sector—from large multinationals to small African cooperatives, your NGOs and civil society groups—agree to make concrete and continuing commitments as well, so that there is an alignment between all these sectors.”
A White House fact sheet set a goal of increasing domestic and foreign investments in African agriculture and noted, “We recognize and will act upon the critical role played by smallholder farmers, especially women, in transforming agriculture and building thriving economies.”
ACDI/VOCA’s Senior Adviser in Agribusiness Dr. Ali A. El-Saied agrees with this emphasis.
“Smallholder farmers are the engine for agriculture growth,” he said. “We have to deal with the smallholder farmers as real private sector entities. We need to help them to move from producing to feed themselves to produce for the market. So they can feed themselves and generate income to improve their lives and livelihoods.”
But What about Millennium Development Goals?
Avram “Buzz” Guroff, who heads up ACDI/VOCA’s food security programs, had a muted reaction to the administration’s announcement. Guroff coordinated U.S. participation in the 1996 World Food Summit while at USDA and was disappointed at lowered expectations.
He noted that the summit commitment was to cut hunger in half by 2015—that would be 500 million people by 2015. This new initiative sets an objective of raising 50 million people out of poverty by 2022.
“While it is disappointing that the international community is on course to fall well short of that target, any new initiative to fight the scourge of world hunger is certainly welcome,” Guroff said.
The Challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world to see no substantial agricultural growth in the past 40 years. Corruption, government restrictions and farmers’ lack of access to loans or insurance all deter growth, keeping the agricultural output stagnant.
And yet there is no region with greater need. By 2050, the region’s total population will double.
The president’s initiative comes at a propitious time not only because of growing food need but because African governments, regional and multilateral organizations and aid compacts have never before had such strategic harmony.
And the U.S. whole-of-government approach is generally agreed to be effective. In his remarks the president referred to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the global partnership to promote open government, the Global Health Initiative, and of course the administration’s signature food security initiative, Feed the Future, of which ACDI/VOCA is a major implementer. The president reminded his audience that the United States is the “single largest donor of aid in the Horn of Africa.”
“African governments are cutting red tape and making pro-market reforms,” Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator said.
The affiliated African countries, a group that now includes Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana but is expected to expand to a majority of the region’s 47 nations, have each committed to 10 to 12 specific political reforms.
Africa as an Exporter?
President Obama said, “I’ve spoken before about relatives I have in Kenya, who live in villages where hunger is sometimes a reality—despite the fact that African farmers can be some of the hardest-working people on Earth. Most of the world’s unused arable land is in Africa. Fifty years ago, Africa was an exporter of food. There is no reason why Africa should not be feeding itself and exporting food again. There is no reason for that.”
In February ACDI/VOCA’s Hayden Aaronson visited the Obama homeland in Kenya as part of a project tour. He saw the maize, beans, sorghum and sweet potatoes growing around Sarah Obama’s house.
Aaronson said, “We’ve been active in Kenya for eight years on a maize development project that has tripled yields and increased access to more profitable market opportunities. While the activities had not yet reached her, we too know there is potential.”
And need. Ms. Obama told Aaronson that she has two groups, a group of widows, such as herself, as well as 103 orphans that she supports who would benefit from ACDI/VOCA’s work empowering farmers to become more self-sufficient.