Will Food Security be Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy?

By Dr. Arthur B. Keys

In 2003 the Bush Administration announced the creation of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. At the time, roughly 50,000 people in the developing world were taking life-extending AIDS antiretroviral drugs. Today, the U.S. government supports more than 4 million people on AIDS medications. Due to President Bush’s bold commitment to eliminate AIDS and its individual, social, and economic devastation, these people are still alive and millions more have been saved from contracting HIV and AIDS.

Now President Obama has committed the country—and the world—to a similarly audacious goal: The elimination of food insecurity in developing nations.

Last month the President announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The initiative’s goal is to increase farmers’ incomes and raise 50 million men, women, and children out of poverty over the next 10 years. Three billion dollars has already been pledged by global and African companies to create an effective model for nations around the world struggling to achieve real food security. And the UN continued the discussion of how to accelerate sustainable economic and social development at this month’s Conference on Sustainable Development, otherwise known as Rio +20. As with PEPFAR, much of the conversation centered on Africa, a continent buffeted by natural and manmade disasters, including armed conflict, which has impeded development and trapped millions in poverty.

One African nation provides a view into how to achieve food security and drive sustainable development in the process. The smallest country on mainland Africa, Gambia, has long had representative political institutions, a market-based economy and significant agricultural potential, including products for export.

Through the Enhancing Cashew Value Chain in the Gambia River Basin project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Peace Corps, NGOs, and local governments are helping thousands of farmers increase cashew output in The Gambia and the neighboring countries of Senegal and Guinea Bissau. The goal is to move beyond subsistence into market-oriented production that raises incomes and produces wealth that can be put to use in the cashew sector and others.

Through better seeds, improved farming practices, new post-harvest techniques, and training in business management, cashew farmers and others along the cashew “value chain” are building a globally competitive sector. The value chain approach allows seed sellers, traders, processors, shipping companies, exporters and others to better appreciate how prices are set, where the opportunities exist for greater revenue, and how to position themselves to gain maximum benefit from their efforts. It is a comprehensive approach with an eye to selling in regional, and eventually, global markets.

The Gambia River Basin cashew program is designed to help increase the incomes of at least 80,000 people in Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau. The market skills developed in the cashew sector can then be transferred to other agricultural sectors in all three countries, further raising incomes and deepening the economic ties that help maintain peace and stability.

As the economies grow, they will increasingly look towards the U.S. for capital and other goods, increasing trade and spurring job growth in this country. While there is a role for relief in addressing food insecurity, the only real solutions to ending hunger, center on sustainable economic and social development.

In The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, and other countries, programs funded by the USDA, USAID, and other development organizations have already paid dividends to dozens of communities that now have access to larger quantities of healthier food, and earn higher incomes to invest in their futures.

As his predecessor did with PEPFAR, President Obama has laid out a vision and begun to mobilize the resources to eliminate another scourge afflicting millions around the world. Similar to conquering AIDS, helping people help themselves to create sustainable food security is a goal that all people of good will can unite around.



Arthur B. Keys, Jr. is Founder and CEO of International Relief & Development (IRD) based in Arlington, VA. IRD implements the Enhancing Cashew Value Chain in the Gambia River Basin program in Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau for USDA.

[Photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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