For Us, Every Day Is World Food Day

For the world, yesterday was the annual celebration of World Food Day, a moment to reflect on the critical work being done to provide nutritious food for those without it and to give thanks for the food that many people have access to. In the State Department, for a small office of 10, every day is World Food Day.

The Secretary’s Office of Global Food Security was created in 2010 in response to President Obama’s call to address food insecurity and improve agriculture in developing countries. Since its creation, the office has accomplished much to promote the food security and nutrition of the world’s vulnerable. As we reflect on this World Food Day, we would like to highlight some of the initiatives we have championed and highlight the continued work that needs to be done.

Feed the Future: In our earliest days, the office convened our partners across the interagency to launch Feed the Future, the President’s global hunger and food security initiative. Feed the Future is today implemented by USAID, and Special Representative for Global Food Security Nancy Stetson serves as the Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy for Feed the Future. Our office is proud of the results that we have seen over the last five years, which include improved nutrition and increased incomes among smallholder farmers. Feed the Future focuses on 19 countries, promoting country-led plans to improve food security and nutrition.

1,000 Days Partnership: We were proud to partner with the Government of Ireland to launch the 1,000 Days Partnership in 2010, which catalyzed attention and investment around the critical 1,000-day window from pregnancy to age two, when proper nutrition has the greatest impact on a child’s ability to grow and thrive.

New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: S/GFS led the diplomatic efforts necessary to form the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which President Obama launched around the 2012 G8 Summit. The New Alliance secured commitments for private sector funding for African agriculture, complimenting the public financing pledged at the 2009 G8 summit.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GASCA): Secretary Kerry and USDA Secretary Vilsack launched the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture to promote cooperation on climate smart agriculture techniques and policies between governments, civil society organizations, and private sector partners. Together, we aim to use GACSA to share knowledge and exchange ideas on creating a sustainable future in agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture in Central America: The intersection of food security and sustainability is a critical focus of our work. In our effort to ensure food security goals are met using sustainable techniques, the Office of Global Food Security recently provided a grant of $10 million to The Nature Conservancy to promote and implement climate-smart agriculture initiatives in Central America. 

Food Security as National Security: Food security is often considered a development issue only. But as we see in some of the world’s most volatile places – from Syria to northeast Nigeria to Venezuela – food insecurity can be a precursor and a result of unrest, instability, and violence. Our office is working with academic and military institutions to determine ways to address food insecurity in these contexts. 

Urbanization: Rapid urbanization is changing the face of poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition around the world. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sustainable Development Goal 2, global leaders have committed to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, everywhere they exist. As developing countries’ populations grow and people migrate into cities, the food security community must work to eliminate hunger wherever it exists across the rural to urban continuum. The solution largely lies in connecting rural producers to urban consumers, to increase incomes among farmers and improve urban residents’ access to nutritious food. Connections between food specialists and urban specialists are necessary to meet these new and increasing demands- to create infrastructure, markets, storage and refrigeration and to ensure nutritional demands are met in urban settings where diets are changing and fresh, nutritious food is in high demand. This is why Special Representative for Global Food Security Nancy Stetson also took on the role of Ambassador to Habitat III, the once every 20-year conference hosted by the UN to address sustainable urbanization which is taking place in Quito, Ecuador this week.

Data: Solving food insecurity requires that we know where hunger and poverty exist -- not just at a national level but at a sub-national level. Global efforts can only be as good as the data and information that guide them. In support of better data, the Office of Global Food Security has been a founding collaborator in Project 8, which has created a digital demand commons to house, synthesize and connect all data related to food security and nutrition. We need to understand what data exist before we can determine what data is missing, and Project 8 will help us accomplish this monumental task. Additionally, we are excited to partner with Stanford University on a new initiative focused on sub national food security data. Stanford scientists are testing the hypothesis that food insecurity can be determined through satellite imagery and machine learning. Lastly, we are strongly supportive of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) partnership, which advocates for increased open data in the agriculture and nutrition space.

Climate Smart Food Security: Food production is a major global contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Encouraging climate smart agricultural production, transportation of agricultural goods, environmentally friendly cooking methods and a reduction in food loss and waste are critical to meeting the commitments agreed upon by the international community during the COP 21 Paris Climate Agreement.

As we look forward to the future of food security, we are inspired by the work of our counterparts around the world. Governments, civil society, the private sector and multilateral institutions have responded to the needs of the most vulnerable with creativity, energy, funding and passion.

The path forward will be guided by the major global agreements that were made in 2015. We have 17 sustainable development goals, including a standalone goal that commits the world to ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, everywhere it exists by 2030. We have the commitments made in the COP 21 Paris Agreement that will address the ever growing challenge of our changing climate. And we have the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which illustrates the way for us to finance development. We must move away from a model that is based heavily on foreign assistance and look to more innovative and creative ways to catalyze the resources necessary to achieve our common goals. We must rely on all three streams of financing -- foreign assistance, domestic resources and private investment. And these investments should not be made in silos, but instead we must build partnerships to leverage and maximize all the resources that are available.

We need to think about these challenges in the global context -- in the big picture. Bold, grand and out of the box ideas will be the solutions. For too long we have focused solely on food production. But, the world is complex. And while production is the foundation of achieving food security, additional challenges loom. Without the foundation of agricultural production, we cannot achieve food security. But, production is no longer the only hurdle.

The global community recognizes the challenges in achieving global food security. While they are complex, they are not impossible. On this day of celebration, reflection, and planning, we are encouraged and inspired. We will achieve our goal to end hunger and malnutrition by recognizing that every day is World Food Day. 

About the Authors: Elizabeth Buckingham, Julia Duncan, and Caitlin Welsh serve in the Secretary's Office of Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State.

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A woman in Senegal prepares fortified flour for cooking. [USAID photo]
October 17, 2016

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