Since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, many people have peered into the House budget plan that the Wisconsin Congressman shaped – the so-called Ryan budget -- to see what it might portend for a Romney-Ryan administration.

We did some peering back in March of this year when the House voted on the budget.  There’s no mistaking what it would mean for Feed the Future, the Obama administration’s initiative to end hunger and bolster the global food supply through agricultural development.  One pernicious paragraph in that document is headlined, “Eliminate Feed the Future.”

That inspired the outrage of a March 30 column, which I think bears repeating now that Ryan is hitting the campaign trail.  We were both in Iowa earlier this week, but, alas, our paths didn’t cross.  I would like to ask him: Eliminate Feed the Future -- do you still believe that?  With the drought in the American breadbasket driving home the point that agricultural development in the poorer precincts of the world is essential for us all, that we are all in this global food chain together, that failed harvests in one corner of the world impact supplies and prices everywhere else.  Eliminate Feed the Future?  Really?

To keep in mind during the campaign, following are excerpts from my March 30 column, “The Return of the Budget Slashers”:

“No sooner, it seems, did agriculture development spending fairly well survive the budget slashing for 2011 and 2012 then it is under attack again in the 2013 deliberations.  The House yesterday, working along party lines, passed a budget plan which nakedly proposes to kill the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative.

“The plan, crafted by the House budget committee chaired by Paul Ryan, includes a paragraph titled ‘Eliminate Feed the Future.’  It says:

“Initiated by the Obama administration in 2009, Feed the Future aims to end global food insecurity through investments in nutrition and agriculture abroad.  While addressing the issues of poverty and malnutrition around the globe is important, the U.S. Government’s fiscal condition does not permit the expansion of U.S. foreign assistance initiatives, especially ones that overlap with existing programs.  The United States currently has two other major food aid programs: Food for Peace (the primary food aid account) and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.  Both of these aid programs address global food insecurity in the world’s poorest countries, including through agricultural development efforts.  This budget reflects a need to consolidate our food air programs in order to eliminate associated costs with mission redundancy.”

“This is wrong on so many levels, factually, logically, morally.

“Factually.  There is really no overlap between Feed the Future and the ‘two other major food aid programs.’  Feed the Future is not another food aid program; in fact, it is the opposite.  It is an agricultural development program designed to create the conditions for poor smallholder farmers to grow more of their own food so food aid isn’t needed in the first place.  Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole may incorporate some agricultural development efforts, but they aren’t the primary focus of those programs and they aren’t as broad and targeted as Feed the Future.

“Logically.  If the House Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget plan really want to reduce food aid costs, they would line up solidly behind Feed the Future, because it will do that budget cutting work for them.  The world’s smallholder farmers, ironically, are some of the main recipients of food aid.  Because of the neglect of agricultural development efforts over the past three decades, these farmers struggle mightily to feed their families.  The yields of Africa’s smallholder farmers are less than one-quarter the yields of farmers in the U.S., and much of what they do grow goes to waste because of poor storage facilities.  If Feed the Future is successful, the harvests of the smallholder farmers will grow in size and nutritional quality and they will become self-sufficient.  The need, and thus the cost, for food aid, will shrink substantially.  The budget slashers say this is the absolute wrong time to be expanding foreign aid for programs like Feed the Future.  In fact, it is absolutely the right time. ….

 “Morally.  Eliminating Feed the Future would indicate that the U.S. is abdicating its leadership role in a great humanitarian challenge, a role it once relished in the times of the Marshall Plan and the Green Revolution.  Feed the Future has been emerging as one of the prime examples of the deployment of American “soft power” abroad; it puts the American people shoulder-to-shoulder with the smallholder farmers in their efforts to feed and educate their children. ….

“The budget slashers may believe that their attack on foreign aid and domestic assistance programs is a far-sighted move.  But here they are wrong again.  For in terms of addressing the growing hunger problem both at home and abroad and the looming challenge of feeding the future, it is horribly short-sighted.”

Roger Thurow’s new book, about ending hunger through agricultural development, is “The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change”.

   

 

     

 

 


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