Lesson learned: US policy on agriculture has far-reaching impacts

Jennifer Wynn, an intern with ONE’s policy team, reports on a recent event on the Farm Bill and its global implications at an event at George Washington University.

How does the US Farm Bill relate to global hunger? Until last week, when I attended George Washington University’s “Shaping the Farm Bill for a Sustainable Future” event, I would have never thought to make a connection between our farms and farms around the world. But after an evening with some of the field’s experts, it’s clear to me that domestic policy on agriculture has far-reaching impacts.

TAMALE, GHANA - JANUARY 11, 2012:. (Photos by Morgana Wingard)

A woman processes rice at Nyohini Women’s Group in Tamale, Ghana. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ONE.
The panel discussed the major domestic components of the Farm Bill: subsidies to US agribusiness and farmers, domestic nutrition programs, sustainability and conservation. These issues of hunger and nutrition in the US led to a discussion of their global implications. Panelist Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, suggested that the most important thing about agriculture is that it is “forever” for everyone, meaning it’s not an issue with a one-time silver bullet — we will always need to produce food.

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion. In order to meet the demands of this growing population, current food production must double by that year. Yet currently, more than 1 billion people are hungry and have insecure food supply — and the majority live in sub-Saharan Africa. Whether in the US or abroad, experts agree that the root of hunger is poverty and that famines are a man-made problem. Famines are not caused by inadequate food supply, but rather by the fact that hungry people cannot afford to buy food. Food aid, something also covered in the Farm Bill, is often seen as the solution, but sustainable agricultural development is perhaps more important in order to prevent such crises.

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Thus, the panel also looked to how the US can direct its foreign policy to promote sustainable agriculture that effectively addresses hunger. Panelist Margaret Krome of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute suggested that the answer lies in research and public funding, as well as in assistance to direct markets that increase local access to food. Former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who moderated the event, wrapped up the evening by summarizing the Obama administration’s current efforts to tackle global hunger and promote agricultural development through the Feed the Future Initiative. Although the US Agency for International Development leads Feed the Future, the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service is involved in programmatic research and education programs.

With the threat of budget cuts and political stalemate on Capitol Hill, it will be interesting to see how the new Farm Bill will play out and how its provisions will affect global hunger and the world. Stay tuned to the ONE Blog for regular updates on the Farm Bill, food aid, and Feed the Future.