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What’s Next for Food Security?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nadeen Makhlouf
January 26, 2018

Food security is a major concern of governmental, nongovernmental and international organizations for moral, health, economic and sometimes for national security reasons. History has demonstrated that food insecurity does not only occur after or during political conflict — it may also contribute to conflicts. In fact, there is evidence to suggest the now infamous uprisings in the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring, were triggered in part by increases in food prices. Numerous organizations channel funds and efforts to enhance food security, including the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The United States also has engaged in many food security-related efforts for decades. Early initiatives such as the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was established as early as 1933 as a part of the New Deal reforms for the purpose of buying surplus farm products, then distributing them to lower-income individuals and families. As a result, farmers benefited and so did poor members of society. The United States also took the lead in offering food assistance to developing countries, thanks to surplus farm production in the 1950’s.

In 1954, the U.S. government passed the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act (PL83-480), which established a trade/aid-based policy response abroad. This act led to the establishment of the Food for Peace Program, specifically to help in feeding the poor in developing countries through bilateral agreements. In the 1960 Presidential Campaign, both candidates (John Kennedy and Richard Nixon) pledged to take food assistance to the world poor a step further by working with other countries for the institution of a multilateral food assistance program to complement PL480. Support for the multilateral approach was enhanced by President Kennedy’s call for the 1960’s to be the United Nations’ Decade for Development, including food assistance.

Fast forwarding to the summer of 2016, Congress passed the Global Food Security Act. This was a major bipartisan commitment to ending global hunger, poverty and child malnutrition. However, recent government proposals show that offices such as the Bureau for Food Security will lose 68 percent of its funding. The President’s proposed 2018 budget cuts to food aid and security efforts would certainly hinder previous commitments. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that contributions by member nations as of the end of September 2017 was 61 percent of the expected level. This is down from 68 percent in September 2016.

It is likely that 2018 will be a key year in the food policy arena as the Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the Farm Bill) will be renegotiated. The Farm Bill has a rich history since its inception during the Great Depression and continued growth. The Bill is the country’s primary food and agriculture initiative. It currently funds a wide variety of programs ranging from SNAP to food subsidies. Title 3 of the current Farm Bill focuses on international food aid and agricultural exports. Discussions on these items will be particularly important to follow in the coming year.

Food security, and food policy in general, alludes to several challenges that face public policymakers in the twenty-first century, revolving around issues of policy formation and implementation, accountability, rural development and balanced growth. Attaining and sustaining food security requires careful consideration of both objectives and resources. As we move forward, one ongoing challenge will be the balancing of the desires for prosperity, security, innovation, following internationally recognized best practices and, in the meantime, preserving the essence of traditional cultural values. These issues all underscore the diverse approaches to the management of public resources and the need to develop public sector organizational ethics and governmental regime rules, which promote and sustain inter-organizational cooperation and trust by ordinary citizens.

There has been a growing realization that some countries, particularly the less endowed ones, may be too small as individual entities to best serve the food security needs of their populations. Over the years, the result has been the formation and reliance on intergovernmental organizations as well as civil society organizations to serve needs not met by national governments.

However, with potential funds from countries such as the United States and other donor countries — e.g., members of the European Union — getting slim, food security-focused non-profits will have to make strategic decisions on how to meet, possibly even expand, their missions and objectives. It may be particularly important for them to also maintain partnerships with civil society organizations and other stakeholders promoting a comprehensive approach to raising food security and nutrition.

Author: Nadeen Makhlouf is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her current research interests focus on food policy at the global level but with emphasis as well on the Middle East. She can be reached at [email protected].

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