Vilsack reflects on Obama’s foreign aid legacy

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and President of the World Food Prize Foundation Kenneth M. Quinn examine the past eight years of agricultural development under the Obama administration’s leadership. Vilsack reflected on the legacy of Obama’s food, agriculture and rural infrastructure initiatives during an address at the 2016 World Food Prize Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Sean McNealy)

By Nora Faris

DES MOINES, Iowa — Barack Obama was elected in 2008 as a world leader, promising hope and change. Nearing the end of his second term, Obama has established a legacy as a world feeder after the passage of the Global Food Security Act of 2016. The law codifies Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s international aid initiative, and requires the development of a comprehensive strategy to support the program.

In the past eight years, Feed the Future and other international aid programs have transformed nearly 200 million hungry people into hopeful people by catalyzing agricultural development around the world.

During an address at the World Food Prize conference on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Feed the Future works because the program lets nations decide their own food futures.

“Feed the Future is focused on country-led efforts,” Vilsack said. “This is not the United States coming in and telling folks what we think they ought to do. It’s us coming in and asking how we can be of help.”

Feed the Future, authorized in 2009, operates in 19 focus countries to improve nutrition, engage private sector investors, build local marketing capacity, implement climate-smart agriculture techniques and equip female farmers with production resources.

In those countries, Feed the Future has increased incomes and shrunk rates of childhood stunting.

Between 2012 and 2014, Feed the Future elevated Hondurans’ incomes by an average of 55 percent, partly due to increased market access and improvements in agricultural production. In Ghana, childhood stunting decreased by 33 percent between 2008 and 2014.

Vilsack said the Feed the Future initiative is not only a matter of food security but also a matter of national security.

He cited two common denominators that are present in the world’s most divided, dangerous regions: the absence of a functioning agricultural economy and populations of hungry, impoverished people.

Programs like Feed the Future that facilitate independence in food production fill stomachs and lead to more fulfilling lives, he said

In Syria, for example, the U.S. directs aid to the development of agricultural micro-economies in refugee camps. By introducing small-scale food production in the camps, individuals are empowered to feed themselves and trade with their neighbors by fostering agricultural growth.

“We do not fully appreciate the power of agriculture and its capacity to make peace,” Vilsack said.

He applauded Congress’ bipartisan support for the Global Food Security Act, which strengthens America’s commitment to funding Feed the Future and international agricultural development.

In accordance with the new law, the U.S. government issued its comprehensive Global Food Security Strategy earlier this month. The document outlines the roles and goals of executive agencies, private sector partners and academic institutions in the implementation of the Global Food Security Act.

When Obama took office, eliminating hunger by 2030 seemed like an insurmountable goal. But now, with a plan in place, many in the agriculture industry say “Yes, we can” when it comes to achieving a food-filled, hunger-free future.

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