This past Saturday was World Food Day, which gave us a chance to take stock of global food security and examine the policies and resources needed to feed a hungry world.
Many Americans do not realize that over half of food aid globally comes from the U.S., making the Midwest not just the breadbasket of our nation but the breadbasket of the world. At USGLC’s inaugural 2021 Heartland Summit, we asked local, national, and international leaders what America’s investments in agriculture and international affairs programs to feed the hungry were worth. Their answer? Everything.
Food insecurity is a global hurdle that requires immediate solutions. Rates of hunger skyrocketed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with between 720 and 811 million people in the world facing hunger in 2020 according to the UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 Report. That’s 118 million more people facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019. Even before COVID-19 reduced incomes and disrupted supply chains, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise due to a variety of factors, including conflict, socio-economic conditions, natural disasters, climate change, and pests.
Agriculture plays a key role in promoting healthy populations, and it is a critical economic sector in lower income countries with many families relying on farming as their main, but not always sufficient, source of income.
As the world focuses on Afghanistan, there are an estimated 14 million Afghans, including two million children, who are food insecure — a total of about one in three people in the country. This crisis predates the fall of Kabul and is a situation that has been made worse all around the world.
In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, food insecurity is widespread, and USAID has warned that up to 900,000 face famine conditions in what has been called the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Moreover, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that acute food security is likely to further deteriorate in August to November 2021 in 23 countries, including Ethiopia and Afghanistan.
Last month was the first-ever UN Food Systems Summit, where hundreds of UN member states, private sector representatives, farmers, producers, and civil society participants made nearly 300 commitments toward ending hunger, malnutrition, and poverty and building more sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems. This includes the United States’ “$10 billion commitment to end hunger and invest in food systems at home and abroad,” which can yield a powerful return on investment for the American taxpayer.
“The convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have reversed decades of gains made previously and underscore the need to not only end the pandemic, but to invest in more resilient food systems at home and abroad,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Summit.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power shared the agency will update its Global Food Security Strategy to “focus more on inclusive agricultural growth that lifts up women, girls, and marginalized communities,” make food more nutritional, and to fight against climate change through “climate-smart investments.” She reported that, Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, “aims to contribute to a 20 percent reduction in poverty and stunting in target countries over the next five years.”
USDA and USAID’s new commitments build on years of United States government efforts to eradicate food insecurity. Joining the food fight is the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which committed last month to investing $1 billion in food security and agriculture projects over five years. DFC aims to provide “financing, technical assistance, and insurance to private sector projects in developing countries that advance agricultural production, irrigation, food processing, food storage, shipping and logistics, and fintech related to global food systems.”
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) is contributing to “food safety, security, and sustainability through the deployment of state-of-the-art U.S. irrigation, production and storage technologies” in India and countries across Africa. USTDA, which “generates an average of $117 in U.S. exports for every dollar it programs,” is an innovative resource for emerging markets engaging in the global agricultural and food supply chain.
International organizations are also playing a leading role in fighting global food insecurity, with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) all dedicated to this mission. In 2020, the WFP assisted 115.5 million people in 84 countries, and the organization was additionally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Food insecurity touches every aspect of life from health to security to the economy to education to the environment and even democracy. Addressing hunger pays dividends in all those areas. In his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, President Biden stated, “At a time when nearly one in three people globally do not have access to adequate food — adequate food, just last year — the United States is committing to rallying our partners to address immediate malnutrition and to ensure that we can sustainably feed the world for decades to come.”
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