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USDA To Have ‘Important But Modest Role’ In U.S. Global Agriculture Initiative, Undersecretary Says

As U.S. plans to fight world hunger take shape, the USDA is gearing up for an “important but modest role,” in which the agency will follow directions from the State Department and developing countries, Rajiv Shah, undersecretary in charge of the USDA’s research arm, said on Wednesday, Reuters reports. Shah said, “We’re really saying this starts with (developing) countries doing their own work about identifying plans and priorities,” adding that USDA will then work “under the leadership of the State Department to help fill those gaps.”

According to Reuters, “The Obama administration has said it will make food security a key plank in its foreign policy, and wants to spend $3.5 billion over three years” as part of a multi-country $22 billion food security initiative. Shah is on “an interagency team working on the plan, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” He said, “She’s been focused on a core strategy that is amazingly refreshing in that it is fundamentally about focusing on smallholder farmers and the most vulnerable producers in the world.”

Shah did not comment about funding and “said it was too early in the planning process to talk about what kind of research the USDA would contribute, and in which countries.” According to Shah, USDA is “not a development agency” but it plans to provide “unique expertise and technical support to help make sure this succeeds in a whole-of-government partnership.” For the global agriculture initiative, USDA will use its own network of scientists, but it will also use grant-funded researchers, he said (10/21).

In a separate article, Reuters examines the changing role of food aid in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. “wants to move to help impoverished nations expand agriculture at home and ease dependence on handouts from U.S. farmers. But don’t expect food aid to stop. The politically powerful lobby of farmers, shippers and processors who profit from the shipments – as well as the aid groups who distribute the food – are prepared to defend that use of U.S.-grown commodities overseas,” the news service writes.

The article includes several perspectives about scaling up agricultural development abroad and the role of direct food aid. “Some experts say that the United States should buy as much of its aid as possible from developing countries … But American interests involved in the food aid chain say that argument ignores the benefit of food aid, including its political support, which guarantees funding year in, year out,” Reuters writes. “Organizations that use food aid say they agree with the administration’s new focus on helping poor farmers boost production, but hope leaders don’t overlook the positive impact that food aid and monetized aid can play” (Rampton, 10/21).

New York Times Examines Global Food Security

“Scientists and development experts across the globe are racing to increase food production by 50 percent over the next two decades to feed the world’s growing population, yet many doubt their chances despite a broad consensus that enough land, water and expertise exist,” the New York Times writes in an article exploring global food security.

The challenge is whether “food can be grown in the developing world where the hungry can actually get it, at prices they can afford. Poverty and difficult growing conditions plague the places that need new production most, namely sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” the newspaper writes. The article outlines several issues that could get in the way of efforts to prevent hunger.

It notes that pledges for the $22 billion agricultural development initiative “remain murky.” According to the New York Times, “Senior diplomats estimate that less than a third to slightly more than half of the money represents new commitments that had not already been made, with the rest being repackaged existing aid. Washington and its European allies have also jostled over putting the money in a World Bank account, the American preference, or working through United Nations or domestic aid agencies, an approach the Europeans favor. An initial American proposal of one unified fund was largely rejected.” The article includes information about global funding for agriculture over the years (MacFarquhar, 10/21).

Senior U.S. Treasury Official To Visit Africa

Reuters reports that next week, “Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, the No. 2 official in the Treasury Department,” will travel to Africa to have talks about “strategies to reduce poverty and boost African economic growth, the Treasury said on Wednesday.” Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 5, Wolin will visit Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania. This is the first time a senior U.S. Treasury officials has visited Africa since the Obama administration took office (Lawder, 10/21).