USDA undersecretary says struggling nations need help developing means to feed themselves

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

US official: Poor nations must learn to grow food

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Governments and aid organizations must help the world’s hungry develop sustainable agriculture systems so that they can feed themselves, a top U.S. agriculture official told those attending an international food conference Wednesday.

Agriculture Department Undersecretary James Miller said it wasn’t enough to just send emergency aid to get people through the day. The U.S. and others must also must help people in poor countries develop ways of feeding themselves consistently, he said.

Miller spoke as the International Food Aid and Development Conference was winding down. He was there to promote a new U.S. initiative called Feed the Future, which is aimed at boosting productivity and improving markets in places where regional trade may be limited and much of what is grown spoils before it reaches starving people.

“We recognize that this is not a project that any one country can achieve on its own, but we are going to have to draw from the experiences, expertise and resources that exist across every part of the United States and all parts of the world — public resources and private resources alike,” he told a crowd made up largely of officials from nonprofits.

Leaders of the G-8 nations — the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom, declared food insecurity a major priority in July 2009 after high food prices caused a series of riots in some countries. As part of that effort, the U.S. committed $3.5 billion over three years to increase food security in developing nations, with a portion of the money going to Feed the Future.

“We will provide financial and technical assistance so that countries can find a way to not only feed the people that are so in need today but find ways to grow their economies so that they are more self sustaining in the future,” Miller said.

The investment comes as research shows more than 1 billion people — about one-sixth of the world’s population — are chronically hungry. And Miller said food shortages may become worse in some areas as people in nations emerging from the global recession use their newfound wealth to enhance their diets.

“That is going to create a challenge both in the availability of food, I believe, as well as in the pricing of food, and we have to realize that the projections are that by the year 2050 the world’s population will exceed 9 billion individuals,” Miller said. “So these challenges that we face, I think require some new and novel thinking as we seek to address the problems and define a better future.”

Humanitarian assistance will continue be needed to help the very poor and those suffering after disasters, he said. But the U.S. will increasingly seek new ways of using private money, businesses and trade to help struggling countries become self-sufficient in feeding their people, he said.

Feed the Future includes an emphasis on allowing poor nations to set priorities for aid projects.

Shawnee Rae Ziegler, a manager with Food for the Hungry, which provides food aid in Ethiopia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guatemala, said that will help give developing nations a sense of ownership in the effort and increase the chances of long-term success.

“If they don’t feel that they own the projects, they aren’t going to continue to develop the project or work on implementing it after we leave or after we try to hand the project over to them,” she said.

As part of the effort to foster agricultural development, African agricultural and economic ministers are meeting in Kansas City this week for a trade meeting that follows the food conference. The ministers, who started the meeting in Washington, will tour a farm, mingle with agribusiness officials based in the Heartland and visit the Kansas City Board of Trade to learn more about commodity markets.

“As important as productivity increases are going to be, they are only one part of the solution,” Miller said. “We have to invest in infrastructure because it does very little good to produce a wonderful crop if you loose half of it before you even get it to the consumer.”

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