Ending hunger should remain universal goal

By Lindsay Coates

This year will bring many changes to the halls of power in Washington, but America’s longstanding, bipartisan commitment to global leadership in the fight against hunger and malnutrition should remain a point of pride all of us can support.

And, with more-controversial issues dominating headlines, it’s an area where the new administration and Congress can come together and continue our nation’s proactive work with nongovernmental organizations in addressing human suffering and building a more secure and stable world.

The belief that vulnerable communities should have a steady supply of healthy and nutritious food — often referred to as food security — has been a core U.S. foreign policy principle for decades. In July, Congress renewed America’s commitment to ending global hunger with the passage of the Global Food Security Act. This legislative milestone, which passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, will help the U.S. government better leverage the collective resources of the nongovernmental organization community, private sector, universities and American farmers in improving food security and nutrition around the globe.

Slightly more than three-quarters of a billion people around the globe suffer from undernourishment, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And that’s actually good news. For despite the figure’s enormity, it represents significant improvement. Only a decade ago, the number was higher by 167 million. In the early 1990s, it was over a billion.

Much of this progress is due to the U.S. government’s active collaboration with nonprofit organizations and smallholder producers — who grow one or two crops and largely rely on family labor — to develop effective tools and strategies to help end global hunger. And it’s vital for leaders in the new administration to work with the new Congress to keep this invaluable public-private-NGO collaboration going.

U.S. efforts to end world hunger have made tremendous headway over the past 12 years. For instance, Feed for the Future is an innovative federal interagency initiative with roots in the George W. Bush administration that was expanded under President Obama. In 2015 alone, it helped more than 9 million small-scale food producers apply new technologies and practices to boost their harvests.

This, in turn, led to an increase of more than $800 million in agricultural sales for supported producers and an up to 36 percent decrease in poverty within 11 focus countries.

Indeed, investment in agriculture has proven to be one of the most effective methods of reducing overall poverty. The World Bank estimates that growth in the agriculture sector is twice as effective as growth in other sectors in reducing poverty. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization also notes that between 1990 and 2015, progress made in more than 60 target countries toward Millennium Development Goals — global goals aimed at eradicating extreme poverty — halved the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Through farsighted U.S. policies, food-related development programs are increasingly working in partnership with smallholder farmers to create new local and global economic opportunities — especially for women. This increased coordination helps communities move across the spectrum of hunger, from emergency food assistance to increased market access and improved resilience, culminating in sustainable development.

But we can do better. With new policy tools, such as those provided by the Global Food Security Act, we can further efforts to increase local community ownership and build resilience in food production and distribution systems to both natural and man-made emergencies. We can better coordinate linkages between U.S. emergency and development food programs. And we can continue to invest in research through innovation, scaling up proven interventions to improve agricultural techniques and inputs.

Despite the recent progress, there are still too many hungry people around the globe. The new administration and Congress must remain committed to enacting smart, inclusive and effective global development policies so that everyone, regardless of where they are born, can have access to affordable, healthy, nutritious food. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing as well.

Lindsay Coates is the president of InterAction, the largest U.S. alliance of international nongovernmental organizations. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.