By: Deborah Sadler, ASU Food Systems graduate student.
On Tuesday, May 10th, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Chief Scientist for Resilience and Food Security, Dr. Rob Bertram, came to the ASU campus in Washington D.C., where I had the privilege of being amongst the Sustainable Food Systems graduate students to hear him speak. He explained the history and work of the Feed the Future program, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and the challenges that lie ahead in combating global hunger. Dr. Bertram has worked with USAID for over twenty years, where he draws on his expertise in plant genetics and his international experience to find scientific solutions to hunger and malnutrition.
As graduate policy students who are learning to research and rely on data, Dr. Bertram emphasized the need to understand our data, our sources, and its limitations. He explained the source, age, and reliability of the datasets used in his presentation, and the lag between current problems and current data.
History of Feed the Future
USAID under President Obama created the Feed the Future program in 2010, after the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, as a way to bring together US initiatives on agriculture and nutrition goals. When looking at food security, Feed the Future addresses not only hunger, but also the importance of overall nutritional health. This includes preventing and treating micronutrient deficiencies - such as growth stunting during childhood, and anemia among pregnant women. Feed the Future is part of the United States’ commitment towards the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” Globally, 2/3 of people living in extreme poverty work in farming. By focusing on farmers, Feed the Future helps impoverished farmers both improve their farming and their own nutrition.
Feed the Future partners with countries in Central America, Asia, and Africa through government and private businesses collaborations to research and implement scientifically sound solutions. One main goal is to raise agricultural productivity, and to produce more food on existing agricultural land. As a scientist, Dr. Bertram is interested in Total Factor Productivity (TFP), in which new scientific technology, farm management practices, and efficient resource use can increase productivity while cutting costs - a win-win situation! While agricultural productivity has increased tremendously in Asia since the 1960s, African agriculture has not seen the same widespread increase in productivity. Projects aimed at increasing productivity in African nations from Senegal to Ethiopia would also have a multiplier effect and stimulate broader economic growth in rural areas.
New Challenges Ahead
One of the main areas of concern during our discussions on global agriculture this year has been the anticipated combined effects of COVID-19 and Russia’s war in Ukraine on both farmers and global food security. Students asked Dr. Bertram what he expected ahead. He called the present conditions “a perfect storm kind of confluence” due to the combination of COVID, the crisis in Ukraine, uncertain wheat exports, and the potash fertilizer shortage. However this crisis only further emphasizes the need for global sustainable agriculture and robust rural communities that are more immune to sudden shocks in the system. While Feed the Future has new challenges ahead, they will continue to look for sustainable, scientific solutions for rural communities.
This blog is part of a series from the May 2022 Washington D.C. Immersive component of the Swette Center graduate programs. Students met with federal food and agriculture focused officials at USDA, the White House, and Congress alongside many other important influencers of policy in industry and non-profits.