Washington — President Obama announced a plan to accelerate investments in developing world agriculture to meet rising food demands and improve nutrition, calling the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition a moral, economic and security imperative.
“We’ve seen how spikes in food prices can plunge millions into poverty, which, in turn, can spark riots that cost lives, and can lead to instability,” Obama said May 18, just hours prior to his welcome of the leaders of the G8 nations. The potential for food-related instability increases with surging populations and growing food needs.
“Reducing malnutrition and hunger around the word advances international peace and security,” he said, “and that includes the international security of the United States.”
G8 leaders will join Obama at a presidential mountain retreat for a weekend summit. He spoke at a symposium on global agriculture and food security sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a 90-year-old private institution devoted to encouraging dialogue on international relations.
The president said the new alliance initiatives will begin in three countries that have already demonstrated their capabilities for improvement in agriculture: Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia. The presidents of those three African nations were in the audience for the announcement and will attend the session of the G8 summit in which these proposals will be discussed.
In successive months, Obama said, more countries and partners will join what is hoped to be a long-term effort that will lift 50 million people out of poverty.
The international community has a long history of providing emergency food assistance during drought or disaster, with no lasting effects, Obama said, leaving people “vulnerable as before, waiting for the next crisis to happen.” He called on the international community to rally behind a long-term development strategy that will build on recent successes.
Obama expressed hope that the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will reduce the need for emergency assistance because developing world countries will increase agricultural production, with more sustainability and less vulnerability to crop failure. Even with that goal, Obama said, the United States will sustain its commitments to emergency food aid.
He called on G8 nations to fulfill commitments made several years ago to boost aid to improve developing world agriculture, as he also announced that 45 companies — from major multinationals to African cooperatives — have pledged a combined investment of $3 billion to launch the new alliance.
The alliance grows out of an agreement signed by about 40 states and international organizations in 2009 at a G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. That agreement was accompanied by commitments of more than $20 billion to establish the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program at the World Bank.
More than 30 African nations have created country plans and investment programs for expanding their agriculture sectors through the World Bank program, according to White House Deputy National Security Advisor Mike Froman, who gave reporters a preview of the alliance proposals in a May 17 briefing.
“We’ve seen real progress,” Froman said. “Agriculture productivity growth in our own target Feed the Future countries is eight times that of the global average.” Feed the Future is a related Obama administration priority, investing $3.5 billion in food security development in 20 nations ranging across Central America, Africa and South Asia.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton previewed some details of the new food security activities at a May 17 reception at the State Department. She said progress is already being made.
“In the last three and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting farmers, agricultural scientists, health and nutrition experts in a number of countries,” Clinton said. “And there truly is a palpable sense of excitement that we are on our way, we are poised for the kind of breakthroughs that we haven’t seen since the Green Revolution.”
In his May 18 address, President Obama said the alliance will seek to "fast track" some initiatives so their benefits can rapidly reach those in need. The alliance will also introduce more innovative products and techniques, he said, such as better seeds and storage methods. He also said the strategy will make use of burgeoning mobile phone use in Africa.
Also participating in a press briefing May 17, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah said private-sector partners will play a key communications role in advancing the alliance. “Vodafone, for example, is committing to reach 500,000 small-scale farmers with SMS text-based services that would allow them to ascertain local market prices,” Shah said. “In previous studies, we've found that that service alone helps farmers improve their incomes by 20 percent because they can negotiate better farm-gate prices with middlemen when they have that data at their fingertips.”
To improve food security, the new alliance will include research to better understand and manage agricultural risks, especially with the prospect of climate change.
The new alliance’s final objective, Obama said, will be a sustained focus on childhood nutrition. “When there is good nutrition, especially in those thousand days during pregnancy up to the child’s second birthday, it means healthier lives for that child and that mother,” he said. “And it’s the smart thing to do because better nutrition means lower health care costs and it means less need for assistance later on.”
Obama also emphasized that new alliance activities will be based on partnership, with each host government outlining its own priority activities and donor countries and private organizations aligning their activities with the plan.