Starving for Growth: Food Security and Economic Recovery

May 23, 2012 By Nicholas Rogacki

At the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last week, President Barack Obama said, “We can unleash the change that reduces hunger and malnutrition.  We can spark the kind of economic growth that lifts people and nations out of poverty.”  During the G8 Summit later that week, he called on the world’s most influential nations to continue to devote resources to food security, devoting a special session to the issue.  It’s no coincidence that the President has been emphasizing global hunger and economic growth.

This month’s foreign direct investment numbers are encouraging, showing near-record growth in African economies.  African businesses are booming, American investment is up, and confidence in the region is on the rise.  But according to the United Nations Development Programme, the considerable economic growth of Sub-Saharan African nations will be impossible to maintain unless steps are taken to eliminate the chronic hunger which continues to plague the continent.

As illustrated in the UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2012, chronic hunger affects one in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In the Sahel region, more than 15 million people are at risk of malnutrition.  While 17 countries in this region have maintained rates of economic growth between five and seven percent annually over the last decade, the growing food insecurity across the continent could stifle their economic success stories, and that’s bad news for the United States.

There is a clear relationship between African growth and American prosperity.  The poorest two-thirds of the world’s population represent $5 trillion in purchasing power.   As African economies develop, their connection to U.S. markets continues to grow, further providing American businesses new markets to export their products and services.  However, the v­alue of these emerging markets is tempered by their ability to retain relevancy and continue to expand in the coming years.

As with any business venture the U.S. must protect its investment, and that means coordination between private sector investments and government-funded food security initiatives.  U.S. efforts to address chronic hunger in Africa have been ongoing through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  These organizations have been actively engaged in Africa, quadrupling dairy production in Uganda through USDA and partnering with Ghana to produce over 3,600 metric tons of rice through an MCC compact.

The Obama administration has also placed particular focus on the issue since unveiling the Feed the Future initiative in 2009. Unlike USAID or USDA, Feed the Future emphasizes sustainability by combining private sector cooperation with investments in research and technology. This initiative, in conjunction with other U.S. food security programs, serves not only to showcase American compassion and belief in human dignity, but also to demonstrate a long-standing commitment to expanding U.S. global business interests and reinforcing strong investment decisions.

The African Human Development Report report’s title, Toward a Food Secure Future, is a reminder that opportunities in Africa are growing at a rapid rate, but the uncertainty around development gains remains a concern.  The ongoing potential for significant American economic gains in the region necessitates continued investment in African food security.  The inherent relationship between nutrition and economic prosperity cannot be ignored and highlights the importance of a robust International Affairs Budget as a component of continued U.S. economic recovery.