Doing some research on food security today.  Stumbled across a post from Food First, reflecting on the latest conversations around the President’s strategy to “Feed the Future”.

On May 21st, I posted on “Feed the Future”, after attending the Chicago Council on Global Affairs food symposium.  The Chicago Council audience applauded the initiative, without much criticism.  While that experience–listening to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and top government officials from Mali and Banladesh–was interesting, I had this hunch that certain parts of the conversation were being skipped.

Congress Discusses Ways to “Feed the Future”
Posted July 21st, 2010 by admin

By Scott Lensing

Yesterday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard from a panel of seven experts on the State Department’s new program to fight global hunger, the “Feed the Future” initiative. Originally released in May of this year, the Feed the Future Guide presents plans for bringing greater food security to countries in the Global South, with $3.5 billion dollars in funding over the next three years. Despite a number of laudable goals, several congressional representatives and panelists voiced concerns about misguided focus.

Of the seven panelists, the most flattering proponents of the Feed the Future plan were the two federal officials who helped design the guide, as well as the representatives from biotechnology specialists Monsanto and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Facing questions from Rep. Rohrabacher about the necessity of the Feed the Future, Patricia Haslach of the State Department not only addressed international foreign security issues, but also noted that the initiative could benefit American companies looking for markets abroad. The biggest corporate beneficiary that Ms. Haslach was undoubtedly alluding to would be GMO-seed giant Monsanto, whose representative Gerald Steiner spoke primarily of the importance of presenting farmers with choices. “The beauty of helping with better seeds is that they can be used by and benefit every farmer,” elaborated Steiner, who later failed to answer Representative Payne’s question on whether African countries and farmers were fully informed of the ramifications of biotech seeds.

Seated directly next to Steiner, Dr. Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute proposed a starkly opposing viewpoint to that of his neighbor. Although he acknowledged that the Feed the Future Guide was a forward-looking document, Dr. Herren expressed deep concern about the initiative’s focus on production agriculture and “improved” GM seeds. Excellent local seed varieties already exist, explained Herren, who instead insisted that current unrealized seed potential could be maximized by improving soils and using methods of biological control. Dr. Herren expressed confusion as to why the ecologically sound principles of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology (IAASTD) report, a document of international scientific collaboration, had not been included within the language of Feed the Future. An ecological approach using IAASTD research would also be much cheaper and more sustainable for the local populations. Further alluding to biotechnology, Dr. Herren said that there were no quick fixes to agriculture, and that a systemic approach that accounts for diversified food systems needed more attention.

Like Dr. Herren, Evelyn Nassuna of Lutheran World Relief and Jennifer Smith Nazaire of Catholic Relief Services also voiced reservations regarding the current direction of Feed the Future. Ms. Nassuna reiterated several times that rather than starting new member groups, Feed the Future officials should embrace the existing, organized farmer groups within target countries who represented the primary stakeholders in the program. Unhappy with the inclusion of civil society groups thus far in the local development of Feed the Future country plans, Ms. Nazaire feared emphasized that Feed the Future should ultimately seek to feed the poorest people in the poorest countries, and not to boost the growth of agribusiness.