Food Insecurity & Economic Development: How Abt Associates is Working to Feed the Future

November 22, 2022 By Chloe Bohn

As the world faces its largest food crisis in modern history, the threat of a global recession is also looming. An unprecedented 345 million people’s lives are in danger from acute food insecurity. Simultaneously, a new report from the World Bank states that the global economy is “now in its steepest slowdown following a post-recession recovery since 1970.” This is a reminder that current food accessibility issues threaten not just food security, but economies as well, as central banks around the world are responding to inflation with hiked interest rates.

The relationship between economic growth and food security means that when more people are food secure, American dollars are saved. Productivity loss due to undernutrition and stunted cognitive development costs the world economy $3 trillion per year. This is the economic cost of malnutrition. The 2022 Global Report on Food Crises stated high food prices and widespread loss of income-generating opportunities due in part to the economic impacts of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021 contributed to the high levels of acute food insecurity across all southeast Asian countries. Financial crises, including the effects of COVID-19, have worsened malnutrition in many regions, not only southeast Asia, but also the U.S. After steadily declining for a decade, hunger is on the rise, affecting nearly one in ten people globally. Today, a perfect storm of ongoing violent conflict, rising prices, and climate shocks is worsening this number and has pushed an additional 70 million people closer to life-threatening starvation in just the past ten months. Global supply chain disruptions due in part to Russia’s war has raised food commodity prices at home and made it much harder for import-dependent countries to purchase food for their citizens. The U.S. is currently experiencing the economic impact of the global food crisis, with inflation rising, and purchasing power decreasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from June 2021- June 2022, consumer prices increased by 9.1 percent, the largest increase the U.S. has seen in 40 years. Families are forced to choose between fulfilling medical needs – and putting food on the table. As such, food insecurity abroad hurts American families at home.

On August 9th, 2022 USAID awarded a $25 million grant to USGLC member Abt Associates to support Cambodia’s agricultural sector becoming increasingly competitive by strengthening and diversifying connections between producers and markets. The initiative, “Feed the Future Cambodia Harvest III,” or Harvest III, aims to strengthen inclusive and sustainable market systems, and to solidify linkages and trust among market actors, within both domestic and international markets. Speaking about this project, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy noted, “In this global food crisis, it is critical that Cambodia strengthen its food security and Harvest III reflects the US government’s commitment towards this goal.”

Abt also managed USAID’s Harvest II initiative. In May 2022, the company wrapped up the Harvest II initiative, which began in 2017 and successfully developed $28 million of new private sector investments, created more than 2,500 jobs, contributed in the development of 17 agriculture policies, and assisted horticultural businesses and producers generate over $75 million of incremental sales.  

Sarah Kozyn, Abt Associates’ Senior Manager for Economic Growth and Agriculture has been involved with the implementation of both Harvest II and III. In the majority of the communities that Kozyn works in, agriculture is the main employer, bringing greater job security to poorer communities. Kozyn explained that this is why Abt Associates is “connecting producers to markets,” so they are able to access markets and sell their products at higher prices. In the long-term, greater access to and knowledge of “potential market opportunities” creates more sustainable and robust sources of income. Abt focuses on “value addition along a supplier value chain.” For example, harvesting tomatoes and sorting them based on quality will “fetch a higher price, but only if you did that sorting process right, and only if you know that there’s a buyer who’s willing to pay a premium for it.” Kozyn noted that as Harvest II concluded, USAID realized the mechanisms Abt was implementing in the horticultural sector during Harvest II were mechanisms that could be transferred and implemented more broadly to the agricultural sector. This spurred the launch of Harvest III. Programs like Harvest III are a great advancement in fighting food insecurity and growing economies, both at home and abroad.

Food security does not just mean feeding families abroad, it means supporting economic development so American families are fed too. Projects like Harvest III bring hope of increased food security and stronger economies worldwide. The positive impacts of food security include increases in trade opportunities, job creation, poverty reduction, increased global security, and improved health – all good things for the American economy.