Why Adesina’s Election is Important for Agriculture

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

In a surprise upset, Dr. Akinwumi (Akin) Adesina was elected to be the next President of the African Development Bank (ADB), defeating seven rivals in six rounds of voting.  Adesina holds a PhD in agriculture economics from Purdue and has been serving as the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria since 2011.

Adesina is the first agriculture economist to become President of the ADB.  He is a dynamic leader with a passion for rural development (and bow-ties).  According to The Guardian, under his leadership in Nigeria, “food production increased by 22 million tons and food imports dropped more than a third,” creating some three million jobs.

The ADB is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions, making Adesina one of the continent’s most prominent financial leaders. Africa now has six of the world’s fastest growing economies and, as agriculture becomes more efficient, the economy will grow even faster. Over 65% of the population farms or is engaged in agriculture. However, yields are so low that feeding a family takes 70% the its disposable income and Africa must spend $35 billion to import food.

Adesina’s goal is to make Africa globally competitive.  Upon his election he said, “A big thing for us in Africa is to create an inclusive model with jobs for Africa’s youth, jobs for Africa’s women, revive Africa’s rural areas and have regional integration for shared prosperity.” He also noted that “there is no developing Africa without empowering women.”

The challenge Adesina faces will not be easy.  Political stability varies widely in Africa’s 54 sovereign nations as does infrastructure, education and health care, but things are clearly changing and changing fast.

Adesina will have some important allies to work with in his new capacity:

  • The Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nikosazana Diamini- Zuma, is asking all African countries to invest at least 10% of their respective national budgets in agriculture.  The program, called the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), is having an impact.
  • Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the new President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) holds a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts in entomology.  She was the Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda and was widely considered to be one of the most successful agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa.  At AGRA, Dr. Kalibata is working with African experts in some 18 counties to fulfill the vision of food self-sufficiency.
  • Strive Masiyiwa, the Chairman and CEO of Econet Wireless, is the “Bill Gates of Africa” according to Forbes, but is focusing the attention of Africa’s private sector on agriculture through his work with AGRA and Grow Africa.
  • Former Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chairman Emeritus of AGRA,  says “it’s time to turn hoes into tractors,” and is committed to helping through the Kofi Annan Foundation.

These African leaders are working closely with the G-7, G-20 and key leaders closer to home here in the United States. Those leaders include: Gayle Smith, who is an Assistant to President Barack Obama and Senior Director at the National Security Council. In that capacity, Smith is responsible for global development and helped to craft the Camp David Accords creating a commitment to African agriculture.

During the Clinton Administration, Smith was Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.  President Obama has now nominated Smith to be the next Director of the Agency for International Development (AID). Smith is well-qualified for the AID position and hopefully, the U.S. Senate will quickly confirm her nomination.

While there are many others committed to growing Africa out of poverty, in the U.S., special recognition must also go to Pamela Anderson at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Judith Rodin at the Rockefeller Foundation.

All of these people are coming together for Africa. The Renaissance is underway and the election of Dr. Akin Adesina is the latest very important development. According to Dr. Adesina, “The kind of Africa we need today is an Africa where the young people want to stay, not a place they want to move away from…and an Africa we can all be proud to call home.”

As Adesina knows, agriculture development must be at the center of the African Renaissance. As modern seeds and inputs, along with education, reache the stallholder farmers, production and profitability will improve. That will drive the African economy to new levels of success and, in the process, move Africa and the world toward food security.

The African Development Bank made an inspired choice.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  He also serves as the DC representative for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

2015: The Year of Soils

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. The year kicked off on December 5, 2014, with events in Rome, New York and Chile, all in an effort to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of this critical resource. “Healthy soils are critical for global food production, but we are not paying enough attention to this important silent ally,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

The specific FAO objectives for the Year of the Soils are to:

  • Raise the awareness among society and policy makers about the importance of soil for human life;
  • Promote effective policies and actions for sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Promote investment in sustainable soil management; and
  • Encourage soil health information and monitoring at all levels of government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined nations from across the globe to kick off the International Year of Soils in an effort to highlight the importance of soil in everyday life. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie will address members of the 68th United Nations General Assembly, which designated 2015 for the yearlong celebration.

“We are excited to be working with the United Nations to help raise awareness and promote the importance of conservation of our soil resources,” Bonnie said. “USDA is embracing this unique opportunity to tell the world about the importance of soil conservation and how we’ve worked with private landowners since 1935 to protect and improve this priceless natural resource.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service published an interim rule on December 12, 2014, which outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs. The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Over the last 50 years, the world’s population has increased from 3 billion to 7 billion people, but the amount of arable land has remained constant.  Dr. Andreas Weber, of the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Science, has calculated that the amount of arable land per person is currently .4 acres (40 meters x 40 meters per person).  By the year 2050, there will be between 9-10 billion people on the planet, which means there will be 30 percent less arable land available for food production.

Taking Dr. Weber’s calculation a step further and recognizing that consumption patterns are also changing with increased wealth, more calories will have to be produced per unit of land to feed the planet.  Coupled with the FAO’s estimate that a third of all soils are currently degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices, we have a very serious global food security challenge.

Chart by Dr. Andreas Weber

In short, we need to stop treating soil like dirt. Soil is a living thing; it needs to be respected and cared for in order for soil to be sustainable.

Dr. Bashir Jama is the Director of Soil Health Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).  He recently noted that “We have not been caring for soil as we should. As a result, in many parts of the world, including Africa, soil has lost many of its important biological and physical properties. Erosion from wind and rain has meant we have lost valuable top soil, and as we have taken nutrients from the soil to grow our food, we have not replaced them.”

Man owes his existence to a 6-inch layer of topsoil.  Just as a balanced diet is important for our health and wellbeing, we need a balanced, integrated approach for managing our soils.

There is a scientific consensus that we need to double agriculture production by 2050 to meet the challenge of global food security.  Further, it must be done while using fewer resources….less water, fertilizer and inputs.  Simply stated, we cannot begin to meet this challenge without healthy top soil.

As you can see from the chart below, fertilizer use varies widely from country to country. Some countries need improved seeds to reduce the use of other inputs; other countries desperately need greater access to fertilizer, improved seeds, and other inputs.

Access to these inputs must come with effective extension services to teach smallholder farmers how to use the modern tools of agriculture.  It is important to develop agricultural technology, but it is equally important to reach out to smallholder farmers through extension services and educate them on the proper use of inputs.  Quoting Dr. Norman Borlaug, unless we “take it to the farmer,” the development of modern agriculture technology cannot reach its full potential.

During 2015, the FAO, in conjunction with allied nations, will be holding a series of events to further the objectives outlined above, including:

3rd International Conference on Natural Resource Management for Food and Rural Livelihoods

First Global Soil Biodiversity Conference

Third Global Soil Week

Global Soil Security Symposium

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, specializes in global food security at OFW Law.

Feed the Future: A Bipartisan Opportunity

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

The “Feed the Future” initiative is aimed at improving agriculture productivity and economic development around the world. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the both the House and Senate to make this discretionary program permanent. The legislation (H.R. 5656; S.2909) has the support of private sector corporations as well as non-profit public interest organizations.  To use an old phrase, the initiative teaches people how to fish rather than just distributing fish. It deserves our attention.

For generations, the United States has been a leader in providing agriculture development assistance across the globe to alleviate suffering and build shared progress and prosperity. But global food price spikes and resulting instability in 2007 and 2008 were a wake-up call that more needed to be done.

Feed the Future was borne out of President Obama’s pledge at the 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila to mobilize at least $3.5 billion towards global food security—spurring commitments of $18.5 billion from other donors. But the United States has, in fact, thanks to tremendous bipartisan support, surpassed its goal and committed $5 billion in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition.

In 2010, the Administration launched “Feed the Future” (FTF), an initiative designed to expand and better coordinate the United States’ investments in improving global food security. Feed the Future is a whole-of-government approach from USDA to AID and State. It focuses on the dual objectives of improving farmer productivity, income, and livelihoods in developing countries while fighting hunger with a special focus on women and children in particular.

On September 18, 2014 Chairman Chris Smith with Rep. Betty McCollum in the House introduced the Global Food Security Act of 2014 in the House. In the Senate, the legislation was introduced by Senators Casey and Johanns with Senators Coons, Isakson, Cardin and Boozman.

The Global Food Security Act is based on the premise that global food insecurity impacts not only the economies of developing nations but also the international economy and U.S. national security. The bill recognizes the key role that agriculture development plays in economic growth.

There is broad bipartisan support for sustaining Feed the Future due in large part to tremendous gains made over the past few years—

WORLDWIDE: Last year, Feed the Future helped more than 7 million smallholder farmers’ access new tools and technologies to help them improve yields and boost incomes. Feed the Future also reached 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions.

ZAMBIA: Feed the Future played a key role in the record maize harvest for the 2013/14 cropping season (3.4 million metric tons – a 32 percent increase over the previous year’s total) through policy advocacy and by helping smallholder farmers’ access agricultural inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers through private sector providers.

ETHIOPIA: Feed the Future and other U.S. Government programs are making progress toward achieving real reductions in stunting in Ethiopia. A recent nationwide survey shows stunting rates declined by over 9 percent over the past three years, even as the population grew, resulting in 160,000 fewer stunted children.

HONDURAS: More than 4,300 families are now well above the $1.25-per-day poverty line, thanks in part to Feed the Future’s efforts, which increased horticulture sales by 125 percent last year.

BANGLADESH: Feed the Future reached 3.3 million smallholder farmers with improved seed, fertilizer and farm management practices, helping farmers increase rice yields by as much as 20 percent and creating additional rice sales of $25 million.

SENEGAL: Feed the Future introduced a new breed of high-yielding, high-protein rice that helps smallholder farmers’ triple yields in a single year.

TANZANIA: Feed the Future helped increase horticulture yields by 44 percent and rice yields by more than 50 percent among farmers. The initiative assisted the Government of Tanzania in its efforts to turn the nation’s fertile south into a breadbasket.

Dr. Raj Shah, AID Administrator

Dr. Raj Shah, AID Administrator

“Through Feed the Future, we are harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation to unlock opportunities in agriculture for the world’s most vulnerable people,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. “By creating and scaling cutting-edge solutions to our most pressing agricultural challenges, we can help the world’s most vulnerable people move from dependency to self-sufficiency—and out of the tragic cycle of extreme poverty.”

USDA’s expertise is also critical in this effort. From research and extension to market development and trade, USDA must play a central role for Feed the Future to be successful.

Secretary Vilsack has executed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to help transfer research and extension expertise and that is a building block for Feed the Future.

Feed the Future is not just a commitment of money, it is a new multi-department approach. Instead of merely providing food aid in times of crises, it establishes a new model to turn agriculture into a business—one that especially works for women.

In short, the Global Food Security Act of 2014, the Smith (R-NJ) -Casey (D-PA) -Johanns (R-NE) legislation, compliments the successful PEPFAR program initiated by President Bush and uses our expertise in agriculture as the best possible foreign policy. The Global Food Security Act of 2014 presents an excellent opportunity to come together behind a piece of bipartisan legislation that puts our best foot forward as a country.

Marshall Matz, formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, specializes in global food security at OFW Law. He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program—USA; the Congressional Hunger Center; and the Food Research Action Center (FRAC).

Family Farms in Africa

By Marshall L. Matz and Peter B. Matz, as published by the National Farmers Union

Kudos to National Farmers Union for recognizing the link between family farming and meeting the challenge of global food security. Family farms are indeed the key to ending world hunger.

First, for purposes of this blog, let’s define a smallholder farmer as anyone tilling less than two hectares, or 5 acres. In most of the world, family farming means smallholder farming, usually by women.

Africa is an important case in point. Let’s look at some numbers—

  • Half of all the underutilized and unused agriculture land in the world is in Africa;
  • 65% of all Africans are involved in farming and food production;
  • 70% of disposable income is spent on food;
  • Most of the smallholder farmers are women using a hoe; and
  • Yields for maize are 20 bushels per acre, or one ton per hectare.

These numbers paint the picture of a significant challenge, but they also demonstrate a major opportunity. African farming is on the cusp of great change and its own unique green revolution. African farmers can double production in the next five years and triple production in the next ten.

The technology is coming on line. Seeds are being created for Africa’s climate and soil. Markets are developing and iPhones are being used for extension services (Africa is very advanced in communication technology).  Soil health is a priority. And the African Union, with the support of the G-7 and G-20, has made agriculture a priority for all African nations. Several African nations are very close to being self sufficient in food production.

U.S.-Africa Ag ComparisonIn the U.S., technology is a modern tractor with GPS and an air-conditioned cab, which is connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In Africa, “technology” is a rope that shows farmers how far to space out rows and seeds, and how far from the seeds to put the fertilizer. The biggest challenge in Africa is getting the new technology to smallholder farmers and teaching them what to do with it.

That is where the “agro-dealer” has stepped in. Agro-dealers are private sector businesses located in rural villages that sell hybrid seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to smallholder farmers. They also conduct classes for the farmers…the African extension service. There are now some 20,000 agro-dealers in the key countries that comprise Africa’s two major bread baskets. We need 200,000 agro-dealers.

Much of the progress in Africa is being coordinated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was started less than ten years ago by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and was originally chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is now the Chair Emeritus and the current chairman is Strive Masiyiwa. Mr. Masiyiwa is also chairman of the telecommunications giant Econet, but is the first to say that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic development.

And that brings us to the last point: Increasing production for smallholder farmers is the way to eliminate hunger, but it is also the way for Africa to grow itself out of poverty. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa holds the key to the future on many levels. It is important for the U.S. to recognize this and continue establishing/improving economic and political relations with Africa’s 54 countries—which comprise 25% of all the votes in the United Nations. African farmers are on the rise, and so is Africa.

Africa Rising

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

According to Forbes Magazine, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa is the Bill Gates of Africa. The Econet Wireless Group headed by Masiyiwa and based in South Africa now operates in 17 countries, employs 6,000 and generates $3 billion a year. Yet Masiyiwa believes it is agriculture development that will drive the African economy.

It is a belief shared by the African Union, the organization that represents Africa’s 54 nations. In the United States we are all fed by the 1 percent who farm; in Africa some 65 percent of the population farms. While Americans spend less than 10 percent of our disposable income on food, Africans must devote the vast majority of their income to food. It is common for our farmers to get yields of 200 bushels of corn per acre; in Africa 20 bushels an acre is common.

Most African farmers are smallholder farmers, tilling less than two hectares (around 5 acres).  “Smallholder farmers are at the heart of African agriculture and they must have access to the resources needed,” said Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations and the father of the African Green Revolution.

The recent White House-African Summit and African Green Revolution Forum held in Ethiopia each emphasized the importance of the African smallholder farmer as the key to economic development. The goal, according to Annan, is to double production in the next five years. This would not only reduce hunger but it would catapult the African economy.

The good news is that Africa is well on its way to achieving this goal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have created the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, to coordinate a public-private effort.

The seed program has now released over 450 new varieties carefully selected for their compatibility with the African environment. The seeds include locally adapted varieties of maize, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, soybeans, bananas and other African staples.

Other AGRA programs focus on soil health, markets, capacity building, financing and public policy in those countries that make up Africa’s two “breadbaskets.”

“Africa has the resources necessary to feed its population and to help feed the world as well,” said Akin Adesina, the minister of agriculture in Nigeria. It is a rich continent with poor people. Agriculture already accounts for over one-third of Africa’s combined gross national products. Further, agriculture has strong multiplier effects on employment and is critical to achieving broad-based economic growth, reducing poverty and addressing youth unemployment.

While continuing to expand seed production, markets and the other building blocks of modern agriculture, there are two major challenges.

The first challenge is to get the modern seeds and other inputs needed to boost production to the smallholder farmers who are the backbone of African agriculture. There are now some 20,000 local agro-dealers in rural Africa. They are privately owned businesses: mom-and-pop agriculture stores reaching smallholder farmers in the local villages. Africa needs 200,000.

The agro-dealer network has provided farmers with over 400,000 metric tons of seed and 1 million metric tons of fertilizers. Farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda and Ghana are reporting that improved hybrid seed varieties along with other inputs have doubled harvests. Further, agro-dealers can provide extension services to educate smallholder farmers on best practices and tractors to help mechanization. It is clearly time to replace hoes with tractors.

The other major challenge in Africa is government policy. While many African countries are responding to the African Union’s call to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, more attention must be paid to consistent and reliable government regulatory policies. Trade among African nations must be eased. Governments can also help with guaranteed financing for smallholder farmers and other creative initiatives. In Kenya, for example, Governor Mutua in Mackakos County has purchased tractors and is lending them to farmers for one day at a time.

In the United States, we take agriculture and food production for granted. We are the most efficient country in the history of the world when it comes to food production. Most of our political leaders, including President Obama and those in Congress, come from our big cities. But if we want to help Africa and its emerging private sector economy, we must give more time and thought to agriculture. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, should be amended to provide technical assistance for agriculture. Feed the Future should be made permanent by legislation with a focus on economic development.

Africa is on the cusp of great change with six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. It is agriculture that is going to drive the next stage of Africa’s economic development, as it did in the United States after President Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture and the land grant universities.

Marshall Matz was counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. He serves on the board of the World Food Program-USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.

Farming’s transformation starts to change Africa

By Marshall Matz, as published in the Des Moines Register

Next month President Barack Obama is hosting an Africa summit with heads of state and corporate chief executive officers. The timing is excellent.

Africa’s unique green revolution, with its focus on smallholder farmers, is now moving beyond the tipping point. And as smallholder farmers make the transition from subsistence farming to successful entrepreneurs, the continent’s green revolution will fundamentally change the face of Africa.

Last month, the African Union met to mark the 10th anniversary of its comprehensive Africa agriculture development program. The program called on all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budgets in agriculture. The new goal is to at least double agriculture production by 2015, sustain annual agriculture GDP growth of at least 6 percent; triple intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services; create job opportunities for 30 percent of the youth; and end hunger in Africa by 2025.

This bold agenda is doable. Half of those who are hungry in Africa are smallholder farmers. As they move from subsistence farming to entrepreneurs it will change the face of Africa.

While the White House summit will focus on many of the broad issues facing Africa, it will include agriculture and food security. Agriculture is the area where the president has the greatest opportunity to make his mark.

According to Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, co-chair of GROW Africa, and chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “With broad action on policy, investment and technology, Africa’s farmers can double their productivity within five years.”

The White House African leaders summit is not just important to Africa. It is important to the United States. Six of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa, and Africa is becoming a major market and potential trading partner for U.S. companies.

Further, over half of all the underutilized and unused agricultural land in the world is in Africa. As a result, it is not possible to achieve global food security without Africa. Finally, Africa is an important strategic partner for U.S. national security.

As President Obama said in Tanzania last summer, “In our global economy, our fortunes are linked like never before. So, more growth and opportunity in Africa can mean more growth and opportunity in the United States. And this is not charity; this is self-interest. And that’s why a key element of my engagement with Africa, and a key focus during this trip, has been to promote trade and investment that can create jobs on both side of the Atlantic.”

The attention on African agriculture these past few years is already having a major impact on the ground as it reaches Africa’s smallholder farmers. The immediate focus in Africa is on the 18 African countries that comprise the continent’s two breadbasket regions.

The coordinator and spark plug for translating much of the political attention is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, working with the African Union, the private sector and other stakeholders. Their bold initiative focuses on seed development, soil health, markets, capacity building, credit and public policy across the African continent.

Plant breeders supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa have so far developed over 440 new and improved crop varieties, many of them now starting to increase smallholder productivity. They have helped to establish and strengthen more than 80 private, African-owned and operated seed enterprises. These now produce more than 80,000 metric tons of certified seed of key staple food crops each year — up dramatically from less than 2,500 metric tons in 2006.

More than 1.5 million farmers are now using integrated soil fertility management technologies. Over 2,500 farmer organizations have received intensive business and management training, enabling them to become more sustainable and effective in meeting the needs of smallholder farmers. Some 20,000 agro dealers have been established in rural communities to distribute improved seeds, fertilizer and other inputs. The privately owned agro dealers are also providing extension services to their customers. A more detailed summary of the state of play on the ground in Africa can be found in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s 2013 annual report.

At the end of 2013, Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, stepped down as chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and became its chairman emeritus. In doing so, he said, “We can move forward together knowing that the transformation of African agriculture is now well under way, and has the momentum needed to achieve our shared vision of a uniquely African Green Revolution.”

The secretary general is correct. The African green revolution is well under way. President Obama has the opportunity to greatly increase the pace of that momentum by building on his past leadership and identifying specific goals for future action.

MARSHALL MATZ specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the board of directors of the World Food Program USA and the Congressional Hunger Center. He was formerly counsel to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee on Agriculture.

Global Food Security

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

Agriculture is a business, a very big business.  Whether you look at net farm income, agriculture exports or the number of people employed in the farm and food value chain, agriculture is big business by any criteria.

As the Old Testament tells us, however, agriculture is more than just a business. Agriculture is special. Agriculture provides the basic sustenance for all of us and we have an obligation to help the hungry.

It is, therefore, very troubling that according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are still 842 million people, or one in eight, who are suffering from chronic hunger or food insecurity. FAO defines food insecurity as not getting enough food to conduct an active life. This is a lower number than the 868 million reported a few years ago and the number of undernourished has fallen by 17 percent since 1990-92.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, providing food to more than 97 million people in 80 countries last year. WFP crosses some of the toughest terrain on the planet to get food to hungry people. On any given day, WFP operates an average of 50 aircrafts, 30 ships and 5,000 trucks. With its own fleet of airplanes, ships and logistics staff, the WFP staff frequently risk their lives to reach those with the highest risk of starvation.

WFP also provides school meals to more than 24 million children each year. School meals help to improve children’s nutrition, ability to learn and life chances. School feeding also gives poor families an incentive to send children to school, especially girls.

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

School lunch program in Kibera, Kenya

Food insecurity, compared to “hunger” is a more complex condition. According to the FAO, its dimensions are a series of indicators including food availability, access, utilization and stability. Asia has the largest number of hungry people (over 500 million) but Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence (24.8 percent of population). Three-quarters of all hungry people live in rural areas, mainly in the villages of Asia and Africa. Overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture for their food, these populations have no alternative source of income or employment.

FAO calculates that around half of the world’s hungry people are from smallholder farming communities, surviving off marginal lands prone to natural disasters like drought or flood. Another 20 percent belong to landless families dependent on farming and about 10 percent live in communities whose livelihoods depend on herding, fishing or forest resources.

The remaining 20 percent live in shanty towns on the periphery of the biggest cities in developing countries. The numbers of poor and hungry city dwellers are rising rapidly along with the world’s total urban population.

This brings us full circle. In order to dramatically decrease food insecurity, we need to help smallholder farmers boost production.

“Half of those who are food insecure are smallholder farmers.”

–Rick Leach, President, WFP-USA

Howard Buffett hit the nail on the head when he said, “Small-scale farmers play a crucial role in fighting global hunger and poverty, both for their own families and for the regions in which they live.” For that reason, the effort to help smallholder farmers is fast becoming the focus of attention in the fight to eliminate food insecurity:

  • Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, supports country-driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty. Through this Presidential initiative, the United States is helping countries transform their own agricultural sectors to grow enough food to sustainably feed their people.
  • In 2012, the G-8 (now G-7) committed to working with our African and other international partners to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in order to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.
  • The African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) program is urging all African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation‘s agricultural development strategy is “premised on a hypothesis that it is possible for smallholder farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land. Increased productivity growth will contribute to overarching goals of hunger and poverty reduction.”
  • The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is focused on assisting smallholder farmers across Africa.

According to the Office of Food Security at the State Department, we need to increase global food production by 70 percent before 2050. Women make up the majority of the agricultural workforce in many areas of the world. Yet today, for every investment we make in producing food, we fail to get the best results because MANY women lack the access they need to land, seeds, water, credit and markets.

The 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report says that the target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger and food insecurity is within reach. That is correct; with concerted action by national governments, international partners and the private sector focused on smallholder women farmers, the hunger target can be achieved.

The bottom line is that assisting smallholder farmers boost production is the key to both reducing food insecurity and at the same time improving economic development and political stability.  Africa, in particular, is on the cusp of dramatic change as it has over half of the world’s underutilized agricultural land.  We can do this!

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program—USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.  Before entering private practice, Marshall was General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture. mmatz@ofwlaw.com

Wheat: The Staff of Life

By Marshall L. Matz with Molly O’Connor, as published in Agri-Pulse

When the subject of agriculture comes up, the focus usually starts with corn. It is the price of corn or the genetic modification of corn, ethanol (food vs. fuel), trade or the regulatory process here in the United States and its synchronization with other countries.  Just last month, the US-China trade talks centered on China’s arbitrary rejection of U.S. corn.  The agriculture conversation may then expand to include soybeans, cotton or animal agriculture. Rarely, however, does the conversation include wheat.  Have you noticed?

Wheat remains both the most overlooked commodity produced in the U.S. and, at the same time, the staff of life.

The United States is a major wheat-producing country, exceeded only by China, the European Union, and India.  Wheat ranks third among U.S. field crops in both planted acreage and gross farm receipts, behind corn and soybeans. The total value of the wheat crop in 2012 was approximately $18 billion, most of which was winter wheat. In fiscal 2012, total U.S. agricultural exports reached $135.8 billion, supporting 1 million jobs for U.S. farmers and ranchers.  The U.S. is consistently the world’s largest wheat exporter, exporting almost half of the U.S. wheat crop. In 2010, wheat exports contributed $5.9 billion to the U.S. economy.  We are, literally, the world’s breadbasket.

Wheat is the principal grain produced for human consumption in the United States, grown in 42 states. In the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s, world wheat consumption continued to expand in response to rising incomes and the expanding world population.

Wheat accounts for 20 percent of all the calories consumed worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. While there are more than 50,000 edible plants, most of the human population lives on a diet of wheat, rice and maize, along with roots and tubers (including cassava), soybeans, sorghum and animal products.  The relative importance changes with geography.  “In Africa, wheat is most important in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda and seed research is being conducted in Ethiopia,” said Dr. Joe DeVries with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.  In 2011, wheat comprised 46 percent of all U.S. food aid donations; worldwide food aid donations were 40 percent wheat.

Our major wheat producing states tend to be Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Washington and South Dakota.  Each of these states produces over 100,000,000 bushels, averaging 47 bushels per acre.  We produce all 6 classes of wheat and can export all 6, making us a unique and reliable supplier.

Over 160,000 farms in the United States produce wheat with a total production of 2.2 billion bushels. The National Association of Wheat Growers serves as the national advocacy organization for wheat farmers composed of 22 different state wheat grower associations.

Wheat is essentially a grass that can be traced back to the cradle of civilization.  Within the U.S., wheat was first planted in 1777 and one of the first Americans to plant wheat was George Washington.   Disappointed by the returns he was getting on tobacco, Washington experimented with different cereal grains, and then selected wheat as his major cash crop.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans urges all Americans to “Consume 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole grain products, per day with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products.  In general, at least half of the grains should come from whole grains.”  Unfortunately, as was noted recently by Dr. Joanne Slavin on behalf of the Grain Chain, only 12 percent of grain consumption is currently in the form of whole grains. So, we have a ways to go in this area.

Is wheat the staff of life? The facts are compelling.   Research into, and commercialization of, new and improved varieties of wheat must continue, in the spirit of Dr. Norman Borlaug and Edgar McFadden of South Dakota State University. (McFadden developed Hope Wheat which gave Dr. Borlaug the basis for his historic research and the Green Revolution.) Later this month, the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security will be held in Mexico; in the fall, SDSU will host the inaugural McFadden Symposium. It would be very helpful if Congress considered forming a Wheat Caucus to focus on wheat research, trade and other issues that are important to the production and promotion of wheat.

Historically, the amount of funding dedicated to wheat research has been dwarfed by the funding dedicated to the other major crops.  Increasing public and private research in wheat is important to sustaining a world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

Mark Gaede, a long time Farm Hand on the Potomac at the National Association of Wheat Growers passed away on Christmas Eve at 60.  He is fondly remembered, and will be missed.

Marshall Matz was formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and founded the World Food Program—USA. Matz specializes in food and agriculture at OFW Law. mmatz@ofwlaw.com.  Molly O’Connor is a Government Affairs Advisor at OFW Law.

Talking Agriculture to Democrats

By Marshall L. Matz, as published in Agri-Pulse

Look at a map of the 2012 election results by county and you quickly see the urban-rural divide in America. The vast swath of the heartland, much of the West and most of the South are red, while the urban areas, the East and West Coasts are blue.

The rural population is shrinking. Ironically, one reason for the urban migration is agriculture’s efficiency. It takes fewer and fewer farmers and ranchers to feed the nation. That means less people with a connection to, and knowledge of, agriculture. It also means fewer Members of Congress who represent agriculture districts.

Secretary Tom Vilsack put it bluntly at a December 19th Forum on Agricultural Innovation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “Rural America can no longer elect the President.” Similarly, The Economist asks, “Is Rural America still politically relevant?”

Democrats must learn how to connect with rural Americans but the converse is also true. Farmers, farm organizations and production agriculture must learn how to talk to Democrats.

I would suggest a three-part strategy:

·        Expand the message;

·        Broaden the target audience; and

·        Debunk the myths about production agriculture.

Messaging

President Obama’s number one domestic priority is jobs and the economy, including the rural economy. He told the American Farm Bureau that “We need an economy built to last; an economy built on things we make and produce.” Most importantly, the President then included agriculture in that category.

We frequently cite net farm income and export numbers but let’s take it a step further and connect the dots. While only a few hundred thousand farmers can feed the country, it is net farm income that drives the rural economy. It is important to rural banks, implement dealers and the coffee shops on Main Street.

Secretary Vilsack is on a mission to demonstrate the importance of agriculture and rural development pointing out that agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow notes that “One out of every four jobs in Michigan depends on agriculture.” Senator Stabenow and Ranking Member Collin Peterson know that developing and expanding rural economies is critical to a successful national economy but most urban Democrats do not understand this relationship.

The President has made energy policy, including biofuels a very high priority. Biofuels are very important to the rural economy and to the President’s goal of energy independence. Here, again, we need to connect the dots and link it to production agriculture.

Global food security is important to the President, urban Members of Congress and editorial writers. The Administration, from President Obama to the State Department, the White House National Security Council, USAID and USDA, has put global food security front and center. In addressing the Symposium on Global Food Security on May 18th, the President said, “As the wealthiest nation on Earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and partner with others…Food security is a moral imperative but it is also an economic imperative…We have a self interest in this.”

The Camp David Declaration, written by the National Security Staff and adopted by the Group of Eight (G8), followed suit: “Today we commit…to take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agriculture production.” In order to effectively scale up new technologies there has to be greater cooperation between the G8 countries and China on synchronizing the regulatory systems.

Africa contains a majority of the world’s under-utilized agriculture land.  Helping Africans bring the green revolution to Africa is important to the economic growth of Africa but it is also the key to global food security. The Department of Agriculture has entered into an agreement with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to transfer technology and training. In short, global food security brings another political constituency to the table for production agriculture.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech on “Transformational Trends.” The Secretary said, “The United States is moving economics to the center of foreign policy.” She noted, “We rightly call America the indispensable nation when it comes to climate change, poverty, hunger and disease.” Agriculture has a role to play on all of these issues, including preventing disease.

The Target Audience

After expanding the message, we should strive to carry the message to a wider audience.

Berkeley author Michael Pollan may support higher food prices as a way of fighting obesity but keeping down the cost of food is important to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and anti-hunger advocates.

Rep. Marcia Fudge will Chair the CBC in the 113th Congress.

The Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and Feeding America are leading advocates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program. The SNAP program currently costs $80 billion. If the price of food increases from 10 percent of Americans’ disposable income to 15 percent, the cost of SNAP will exceed $100 billion and low income people will face a terrible challenge. Higher food prices could lead to more demands for cutting benefits, which would hurt food sales. The CBC, FRAC, other anti-hunger groups, as well as the National Consumers League, should be briefed and brought into the discussion on the relationship between production agriculture and the price of food.

On June 1, 2013, some forty organizations wrote to the President commending the Administration’s National Bioeconomy Blueprint. The list of organizations included many scientific organizations. The Vatican’s scientific advisors have also expressed their support for science as a moral duty. In a statement condemning opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops in rich countries, a group of scientists, including leading members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, demanded a relaxation of “excessive, unscientific regulations” for approving GM crops, saying that these prevent the development of crops for the “public good.”

There should be a sustained effort to reach out to leading scientists who can provide third party validation for what the agriculture sector is saying on technology.

Alleviating poverty in rural America is also a priority for the Administration.  Expanding production agriculture, especially on Indian Reservations where unemployment is as high as 70-80 percent, is an effective way to attack rural poverty.  The National Congress of American Indians and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association are interested in an Indian Agriculture Act. These organizations would make excellent allies when approaching the Administration and Democrats in Congress.

I think you get the idea: we must connect production agriculture to larger issues and educate more stakeholders. Lastly, we must address the concerns and myths about production agriculture.

Myths

When it comes to commercial food production, more than any other issue, consumers are concerned that production agriculture might be hurting the environment and contributing to climate change.  You can’t be silent on this issue and expect it to go away. The science is on our side but we need to address this issue directly. Americans do not understand that modern agriculture is sustainable and that farmers rely on healthy soil and clean water.

Earlier this year, the United Nations released the Secretary-General’s report on global sustainability entitled Resilient Planet, Resilient People.  It says: “New ‘green’ biotechnology can play a valuable role in enabling farmers to adapt to climate change, improve resistance to pests, restore soil fertility and contribute to the diversification of the rural economy.”

A UN report may not score many points with the American public but it is a very good source of information to rely upon at the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy at the White House and with Congressional Democrats.

Another popular myth is that production agriculture is at war with organic agriculture. There is a demand for organic foods and locally produced foods (not the same thing) which is respected by production agriculture. While pointing out the importance of the organic industry, however, it is fair to note that is only 5 percent of the U.S. food supply. It is production agriculture, using modern technology and biotechnology that accounts for 95 percent the f the food supply and energy crops too. In the wake of the close vote on Prop 37 and the FDA decision on salmon, we must debunk the myths associated with production agriculture and make it more transparent.

It is production agriculture that drives down the cost of food, stimulates rural development, produces our renewable energy and holds the promise of global food security. That is an effective, pragmatic, message to bring to Democrats and all American consumers.

Marcia Fudge, Member of House Ag Committee, to Chair Congressional Black Caucus

By Marshall L. Matz

On November 14th, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) unanimously elected Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to serve as Chair during the 113th Congress.  Rep. Fudge is the first member of the House Agriculture Committee to serve as CBC chair.

Founding Members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Source: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), for whom we are the U.S. representative, is delighted by the election of Rep. Fudge to Chair the CBC. Given the recent Camp David Declaration and its emphasis on boosting agriculture production in Africa, the timing of her election is perfect.  She will bring an important perspective and focus.

You can read the CBC press release here.