Feed the Future initiatives reinvest in agriculture

The Feed the Future presidential initiative focuses on advancing global agricultural development through institutions such as MSU.

Farmers threshing pigeon pea

Financial turmoil in 2007 and 2008 pushed millions of people worldwide to the edge of poverty. Fuel and food prices had hit all-time highs, catapulting basic staples such as rice, beans and wheat beyond the reach of many vulnerable people.

This spike in costs arrived on the heels of a 30-year decline in agricultural investment and served as a wake-up call to policymakers. Clearly, more needed to be done to address the symptoms of food insecurity and break the cycle of poverty, hunger and crisis.

Reinvesting in agriculture was key. Under the Bush administration, the United States allocated resources to boost agricultural productivity, strengthen supply chains, and promote sound market-based principles for agricultural development and regional trade. This built on efforts underway by leaders in Africa to invest in and revitalize agriculture as a means for pulling residents out of poverty.

Then in 2010, under the direction of President Obama, the U.S. State Department officially launched the Feed the Future initiative, with implementation of the program through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The main objectives are to:

  • Advance global agricultural development.
  • Increase food production and food security.
  • Improve nutrition and decrease stunting, particularly for vulnerable populations such as women and children.

The priorities of Michigan State University (MSU) align closely with those of Feed the Future. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said there is a high economic payoff from agricultural research when farmers adopt technologies and other innovations. That is why MSU researchers work closely, not only with commodity organizations in Michigan, but also with farmers around the globe.

“Providing practical solutions to everyday challenges, especially those in agriculture, will reap dividends for everyone in the long run,” Simon said. “Much of what we discover in our research can be applied elsewhere, here at home and around the world.”

Under Feed the Future, 24 innovation laboratories were created. These endeavors tap into the scientific excellence of more than 65 U.S. colleges and universities, including MSU. The pioneer land-grant university is home to two Feed the Future labs: the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Grain Legumes (Legume Innovation Lab or LIL) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy (Food Security Policy Lab). Total funding for LIL, including associate awards, is $35 million; and for the Food Security Policy Lab, $70 million.

The labs at MSU, one of the most highly funded universities engaged in the global development of food security, work to develop climate-resilient crops and livestock that tolerate warmer climates, better withstand drought, and resist pests and diseases. In mid-2015, Feed the Future announced an investment of $140 million in a series of partnerships over the next three years. These partnerships are expected to deliver climate-resilient seeds and associated technologies to 11 million family farms across Africa.

Rob Bertram, chief scientist for the Bureau for Food Security at the USAID, said the professional skills of researchers and the effectiveness of their respective institutions are critical to the development and adaptation of innovations that drive long-term agricultural productivity and sustainability.

“Working in partnership with universities such as MSU was and continues to be a top priority of Feed the Future,” Bertram said. “MSU knows how to do this work and does it well, as evidenced by the continued success of their projects.”

Gretchen Neisler, director of the Center for Global Connections in Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (CGC) at MSU, said MSU was successful in securing the two innovation laboratories because of its roster of world-renowned agricultural researchers with proven track records.  

“MSU’s success has been apparent in our ability to both adequately use our skill base and understand the needs of the people in developing countries,” Neisler said. 

The world population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and global hunger and chronic malnutrition/undernutrition are expected to increase even faster, especially in developing countries. According to the USAID, worldwide food demand will increase by 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050 depending on income growth and chronic health issues in developing countries. Feed the Future is a key step in addressing those needs.

Feed the Future is focusing on 19 countries, selected on the basis of:

  • Level of need.
  • Opportunity for partnership.
  • Potential for agricultural growth.
  • Opportunity for regional synergy.
  • Resource availability. 

The USAID has a six-pronged approach to making the focus countries food-secure: 

  1. Climate-smart development. Feed the Future and partners such as MSU are working with farmers, governments and researchers to assess the effects of potential climate change on food production while helping farmers mitigate any damage that might occur as a result of climate change. 
  2. Gender integration. There is a focus on helping women — who do the bulk of food production in developing countries — gain access to land and other needed resources. The goal is to find a way to not only recognize them for their contributions but also find ways to better support their work.
  3. Improved nutrition. With a major focus on the first 1,000 days of life, Feed the Future is putting significant resources into improving the nutrition of women and children in developing countries.  MSU’s MASFRIJOL project which is focused on increasing the protein intake the of the world’s most malnourished people in the Western Highlands of Guatemala is a perfect example of this work. 
  4. Increased agricultural production. Recent studies suggest that every 1 percent increase in agricultural income per capita reduces the number of people living in extreme poverty by between 0.6 and 1.8 percent. Feed the Future strives to increase agricultural production and the incomes of both men and women in rural areas who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
  5. Engagement with the private sector.  This speaks to core business interests while also addressing critical development objectives. These “win-win” partnerships advance the impact of sustainable development and foster private-sector-led growth in emerging markets, a critical step in reducing poverty, fighting hunger and improving nutrition.
  6. Research and capacity building. Given the challenges associated with providing sufficient food for a growing population, research and capacity building in agriculture and nutrition are necessary to increase food security and help developing countries feed themselves.

In countries supported by Feed the Future and other large-scale U.S. government efforts, local capacity to support food security, agricultural productivity and good nutrition continues to grow stronger. In 2014, Feed the Future had:

  • Supported more than $500 million in new agricultural sales, a 200 percent increase over the previous year.
  • Increased the number of individuals trained in improving agriculture and food security by 40 percent.
  • Increased new agriculture-related public-private partnerships by 90 percent.
  • Increased the number of people trained to support child health and nutrition by 150 percent.

During the same timeframe, Feed the Future also reached more than 12 million children with nutrition interventions and helped nearly 7 million farmers gain access to new tools or technologies such as high-yielding seeds, fertilizer application, soil conservation and water management. These increases represent the maturation and full mobilization of the initiative through its many partnerships with host-country governments, the private sector, the research community and others.

Through Feed the Future and other efforts, the U.S. government has partnered with other donors and other countries to continue to elevate food security and nutrition to the top of the global development agenda. The efforts are aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity, increasing economic stability and helping avoid recurrent food crises.

Feed the Future includes efforts by the USAID; the U.S. Departments of State: Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury and Geological Survey; the African Development Foundation; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Millennium Challenge Corporation; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Peace Corps.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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