On October 29th, Bread for the World President and MFAN Co-Chair Rev. David Beckmann testified at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health on “A Call to Action on Food Security: The Administration’s Global Strategy.”
Also on the panel were: Dr. Helene Gayle, President and Chief Executive Officer of MFAN partner organization CARE; Thomas Melito, Director, International Affairs and Trade Team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Julie Howard, Executive Director of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa; and Richard Leach, Senior Advisor for Public Policy at Friends of the World Food Program.
In his testimony, Beckmann praised the Consultation Document that has been released by the State Department on the U.S. Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, calling it “a thoughtful, coherent, comprehensive approach to hunger and malnutrition.” He added that it “includes several core principles that form a blueprint for broader reform of U.S. foreign assistance that Bread for the World and the other organizations in MFAN subscribe to: investing in country-led plans; enhancing strategic coordination both within the U.S. government and among international institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society; leveraging the assets and tools of existing multilateral actors; and establishing benchmarks and targets as part of transparent and accountable evaluation systems.”
Beckmann made an impassioned plea for an empowered, distinct U.S. development agency: “When we try to achieve defense and diplomatic goals with development dollars, aid is much less effective in reducing poverty. In my mind, that’s the basic reason we need a strong development agency, with its own capacity to plan and carry out programs. These programs should be coordinated with other foreign policy purposes, but distinct from them.”
He further called for the Coordinator of the administration’s food security initiative to be based out of the U.S. government’s lead development agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): “Despite the fact that USAID continues to languish without an administrator, I strongly believe that the coordinator of the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative should reside at USAID. Agriculture production in poor countries is fundamentally a development issue and should be led by our chief development agency. For far too long, we have usurped the critical responsibility of USAID to lead on the key development issues of the day through the proliferation of new entities and work-arounds. This has led to a fragmentation of our development policies so severe that it has perpetuated a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we farm out USAID’s authority, the more incoherent and convoluted our development assistance apparatus becomes.”
“We cannot afford to continue on this road. President Obama and Secretary Clinton are committed to elevating development as a coequal pillar of U.S. foreign policy alongside defense and diplomacy. To do so successfully, the U.S. government needs to have a strong and distinct development voice at the policy discussion table that can speak on behalf of development issues in a credible way. The new USAID Administrator should designate a high-level representative to coordinate the interagency efforts of the global food security initiative.”
In his other points, Beckmann urged that improved nutrition be a primary indicator of success, stating that “focusing our agriculture and food security investments on improving the nutrition of women and children will shape better, more targeted programs that have a lasting development impact… And, because nutrition is affected by other factors such as access to basic health care services and the protection of women and girls, measuring the impact of U.S. investments on the nutritional status of women and children will also tell us how well our overall development efforts are working.”
He also pushed for more consultation with civil society and governments in developing countries: “The United States should insist that the process of developing and implementing country-led food security plans include the network of local institutions focused on alleviating hunger and poverty. By including local civil society organizations, faith groups, farmer cooperatives, private voluntary organizations, and local advocacy groups in identifying problems and solutions to hunger and undernutrition, the effectiveness of U.S. investments will increase. Inclusive participation will also increase commitment at all levels, making the grants the U.S. provides more sustainable over time.”
Beckmann concluded his testimony by underscoring the historic opportunity the U.S. for foreign assistance reform: “The appetite for meaningful reform of our food security efforts – and more broadly our foreign assistance programs – is large right now. But the window of opportunity for enacting reform is small. We must collectively capitalize on this rare moment in history to help poor people around the world… To ensure its overall success, it is imperative that…the Initiative serve as a building block for lasting foreign assistance reform.”
In her testimony, Dr. Gayle called for the following elements of a successful food security initiative: 1) flexible approaches to food assistance; 2) moving away from the practice of monetization as part of modernizing our food assistance system; 3) gender integration and women’s empowerment; and 4) the creation of social safety net systems that prevent people on the margins from falling into extreme poverty.