Since 2010, USAID’s Feed the Future program has aimed to reduce hunger and poverty by improving developing countries’ agricultural sectors. In July of this year, the program received renewed long-term support under the US’s new Global Food Security Act. The Act is designed to promote food security, resilience, and improved nutrition through investments in smallholder agriculture in developing countries. It also codified Feed the Future, making it a permanent program.

According to Reuters, aid agencies and development practitioners are applauding the Act, particularly its focus on smallholder farmers and women farmers. The Act emphasizes women’s access to financing and market linkages, as well as land rights and leadership opportunities in farmers’ organizations. By focusing on increasing women’s engagement in agriculture, Feed the Future aims to close the 20-30 percent gap yield that exists between male and female farmers.

Specifically, the Act:

  • requires the US government to develop a government-wide strategy to address global food insecurity and malnutrition;
  • focuses on leveraging resources and expertise from U.S. academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, private voluntary organizations, and the private sector;
  • improves upon existing monitoring and evaluation practices to ensure transparency and the effective use of funds; and
  • requires annual reporting, both to Congress and to the public, about the Feed the Future strategy, its results, and the use of foreign-assistance funds.

In a related event on July 20, the White House held a Summit on Global Development. The event brought together leading development practitioners, public and private sector partners, civil society stakeholders, diplomats, and entrepreneurs, in addition to US President Barack Obama.

Since the launch of Feed the Future, IFPRI has been heavily involved in monitoring and evaluation of Future the Future programs and has found that the overall the program has led to significant impacts. According to IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, IFPRI research shows that over four years, hunger decreased by 26 percent and poverty declined by 16 percent within the program’s Zone of Influence. In addition, household incomes increased by 11 percent and women farmers saw a 50 percent increase in empowerment.

One of Feed the Future’s most important research areas, in which IFPRI and the CGIAR have collaborated, has been biofortification, or the development of micronutrient-rich crops. For example, orange-fleshed sweet potato contains more vitamin A than white varieties of sweet potato; IFPRI research through the HarvestPlus program (supported through Feed the Future) has found that adoption of this crop in Africa south of the Sahara can reduce the prevalence of diarrhea among young children (under the age of five) by as much as 50 percent. Further research shows that a combination of increased access to orange-fleshed sweet potato vines and increased knowledge regarding the nutritional benefits of the potatoes can play an important role in adoption of the crop in developing countries.

IFPRI also collaborated with Feed the Future on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), along with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI). This data-driven program provides the first standardized measure of female empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector. For example, the WEAI has been used to analyze how women’s engagement in climate-smart agricultural interventions can be improved.

As Fan pointed out in his remarks at the White House Summit, however, the Global Food Security Act and similar high-level initiatives need to think beyond agriculture to take a multi-sector approach to battling hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Taking this broader view of the global food system will be key in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including targets related to health, gender equality, education, economic growth, and climate change and resilience. Fan also stressed the need for further engagement in the open data revolution. For example, the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Initiative, of which IFPRI is an active partner, should be used to facilitate more transparent data collection and sharing across sectors and countries. This will allow policymakers in both developed and developing countries to have access to reliable data that can better guide informed policies and investments.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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