We know that poverty alleviation is inextricably tied to global food security, which is why Opportunity provides financial services to farmers, processors, input suppliers and other enterprises in the agricultural market system. As one of the largest donors of global food security and agriculture, the U.S. government has a key role to play in ending hunger and malnutrition around the world. In 2016 the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) codified into law the efforts and resources of the United States to address issues of hunger and malnutrition around the world. On October 11 legislation to reauthorize the GFSA was signed into law by President Trump, extending its authority through 2023. Our Vice President for Public Sector Business Development, Mark Castellino, recently sat down with Rebecca Middleton, the Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger, to discuss why this legislation is so important for alleviating hunger and poverty around the world.
Mark Castellino (MC): Opportunity International and the Alliance to End Hunger have been working together on the issue of global food security for several years, but some of our supporters and followers may not be familiar with our work on the GFSA, and why it is so important to us. Can you give an overview of the Act?
Rebecca Middleton (RM): Certainly. At the core of the GFSA lie two fundamental truths: 1) there are too many hungry people in the world, and 2) with increased public and political commitment, and a change in development paradigms we can end hunger everywhere. These understandings came to a head after the global food crisis in 2008 and led to the multilateral agreement at the G-8 L’Aquila Summit in 2009 to decrease hunger and increase food security worldwide. In addition to pledging funds, the U.S. government created the Feed the Future Initiative to operationalize the United States’ commitments. Feed the Future coordinated efforts across multiple agencies to build genuine bilateral partnerships and country ownership around food security policy and programs. Following the initial successes of the program, there was a notable bipartisan push to ensure these successes continued beyond the Obama Administration. Thus, the GFSA was developed and passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, which codified the official U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy and, in effect, legislated a more lasting Feed the Future initiative. And with the recent reauthorization of the legislation, we see the importance of GFSA recognized and reaffirmed.
MC: Opportunity launched our Agriculture Finance work around the same time as global food prices were spiking. Agriculture is a key sector in the countries we work, contributing to both the labor market and economic output. At the micro level, agriculture finance helps entrepreneurs earn a meaningful living, and at the macro level, it contributes towards meeting growing food needs. Over the last nine years we’ve disbursed over 500,000 loans to agricultural entrepreneurs in seven countries across Africa. Our work has been supported in part by U.S. government funding. Since its passage into law in 2016, what do you think have been some of the most notable impacts of the GFSA?
RM: The GFSA, and the subsequent Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS), build on what Feed the Future has achieved and learned. The GFSS elevates the importance of nutrition, especially in the critical first 1,000 days of a child’s life from the mother’s pregnancy to age 2. The Strategy also integrates other development sectors related to agriculture and food systems to build resilience for smallholder households and communities in a holistic way. There is also a drive for improved monitoring and evaluation, which is fundamental to the long-term success of any development program. However, I would have to say that the single most notable impact witnessed through passage of the GFSA has been the deeply encouraging display of bipartisan political support around the issue of eliminating global hunger. This was once again highlighted through the recent passage of GFSA reauthorization in both the House and Senate. In a politically charged environment like we find ourselves in today, bipartisanship around any issue is incredibly powerful. It is this political will that the Alliance to End Hunger has made its mission to build. This is not to say that there is unanimous agreement, or that these programs are protected from the pressures of budget cuts, but the bipartisan support for the GFSA gives us hope that the U.S. government will stay the course.
MC: I agree, it’s so encouraging! The GFSA also enables different stakeholders to bring new ideas and innovate approaches to address food security, whether they’re for-profits, non-profits, academia, etc. At Opportunity, we believe in the power of the private sector to address poverty and hunger. That’s why we worked with the Feed the Future project Partnering for Innovation (implemented by Fintrac) to develop new financial products in Malawi for smallholder farmers to grow groundnut, soybean, and sweet potato production. And in Mozambique we developed mobile money services to improve access to finance for remote sesame and soybean farmers. This idea of getting input from a wide variety of sectors and thought leaders is similar to how the Alliance to End Hunger approaches its advocacy for global food security, isn’t it?
RM: Absolutely. Our membership at the Alliance includes corporations, non-profits, faith-based organizations, foundations, universities, and individuals. All of our members have unique insights and perspectives to offer in our collective mission. They also provide a diverse range of voices in our advocacy activities. I started my career working for a number of years on Capitol Hill for a Member of Congress, and then for over a decade as a lobbyist at a large firm. In my experience I can attest to the magnified impact it has for a cause when people of very different backgrounds and persuasions come through a Member of Congress’ door with the exact same message. This multi-sector collaboration is a truly powerful force.
MC: I think that part of the reason that we have seen such a broad coalition mobilize to advocate for global food security is because it’s something we can all understand. When we provide a loan to a farmer in Malawi or to a baker in Ghana, we can picture the ear of corn or the loaf of bread. We know what it tastes like. And we can also imagine, to some extent, what it might feel like to go to bed hungry. There are clearly compelling humanitarian justifications for ending hunger. Are there other reasons why this legislation is important?
RM: I would love to say that everyone is moved by the conquest to end global hunger out of the pure goodness of their hearts, and there is certainly broad bipartisan representation for exactly this reason. However, on a more practical note, global food security can truly be everyone’s issue in one way or another. Through agricultural development and the building of markets, we can help establish the trading partners of the future, so it’s also an economic and trade issue. By ensuring that governments have the resources they need to build the resilience of families, these communities are less influenced by radical groups’ use of food as a weapon, so it’s also a national security issue. By building up global economies and enabling smallholder producers to break into value chains, we are helping these individuals and families to make ends meet in the places they call home, so it’s an immigration issue. I could go on!
MC: The GFSA reauthorization bill was recently signed into law by President Trump, which is a great demonstration of America’s commitment to addressing global hunger. Opportunity is, of course, a member of the Alliance, and we’ve been working with you here in Washington, D.C. to advocate for reauthorization. But we also have thousands of supporters across the country who are passionate about agriculture, as well as some of those other issues like trade and creating stable economies. What can they do to encourage their elected representatives to continue supporting global food security?
RM: Well first I would like to thank the folks at Opportunity – and all of our members and supporters – for their dedication and commitment to getting GFSA reauthorization across the finish line. As we look towards the future and our next legislative goals, we have a number of ways that Opportunity supporters can get involved in advocacy. On our website you can find our Advocacy Playbook, which outlines easy ways that individuals and groups can break into the advocacy space and make their voices heard. Being an election year, this is also an ideal time to ask political candidates what they plan to do to end hunger and poverty everywhere. This is the objective of the Vote to End Hunger campaign, which we help lead along several other anti-hunger organizations. Activity in any—or all—of these areas will add to the public and political will to end hunger that is necessary for us to reach Zero Hunger by 2030.
MC: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Advocating for legislation like the GFSA is a crucial part of our efforts to end hunger, and it enables the agriculture finance we provide to hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs around the world to be even more impactful. With partners like the Alliance and the voices of our supporters, the goal of ending hunger really is within our reach.