CRS ADVISES SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON
IMPROVING “FEED THE FUTURE” PROGRAM
Tanzania Country Representative tells Congress the
Obama Administration program should help more poor farmers
WASHINGTON, DC, November 28, 2012 — Conor Walsh, the head of Catholic Relief Services’ program in Tanzania, told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that the Feed the Future program needs to steer more of its help to poor farmers in its target countries instead of over-focusing on commercial agricultural enterprises.
“Possibly driven by pressures to show results quickly and demonstrate the impact of scarce development funds, some Feed the Future investments appear focused on improving the capacity of existing commercial agriculture producers, sometimes at the expense of addressing the needs of smallholder farmers and other vulnerable populations,” Walsh told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection. Senators Richard C. Lugar of Indiana and Ben Cardin of Maryland were among those in attendance.
Feed the Future is an Obama Administration program that targets 20 countries with a coordinated approach to issues of hunger and nutrition. Begun in 2009, it is funded by a $3.8 billion, three-year commitment through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CRS presently operates in 17 of the 20 Feed the Future countries, implementing major food programs in eight of them – Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Malawi, Mali, Tanzania and Zambia.
Walsh made clear in his testimony that CRS backs the Feed the Future approach. “CRS supports the Feed the Future initiative,” he said, noting that before Feed the Future almost all U.S. assistance in this area was limited to food aid that was never enough to meet the needs.
“Now, through the President’s comprehensive approach to eradicating global hunger, Feed the Future, coupled with existing U.S. food aid programs, we have begun to see more attention to, and more appropriate levels of funding for, food security programming,” he said.
But Walsh testified that Feed the Future can be more effective if it helps more poor farmers who are often trying just to feed their families.
“Feed the Future can and should do more to target smallholder farmers who make up lower-level producers. These farmers have little access to credit, own small parcels of land or work land in a communal fashion, produce primarily for themselves and for local consumption,” he said. “From our perspective, the measure of success in tackling hunger is whether smallholder farmers are producing more food, are earning more income, have better access to credit, are able to provide a healthy diet for themselves and their children, can maintain and build up productive assets like farm tools and livestock and whether they can afford to keep their children in school.”
Walsh also said that Feed the Future should better balance the use of contracts and cooperative agreements in its programs.
“There is a general assumption that contract mechanisms allow the donor to achieve desired results within a short period of time and at lower cost,” he said. “However, our experience has shown that the path to development cannot be neatly designed like a blueprint for a construction project. Development consists of changing behaviors, outlooks, practices and relationships of groups within society. This is a fluid process and implementation must be adaptable. Cooperative agreements are far better suited for this purpose.”
Walsh said the over-dependence on contracts in some countries has discouraged groups like CRS from seeking more Feed the Future funding, depriving the program of their longtime experience on the ground in these countries.
Walsh also said that Feed the Future would benefit from getting more advice from CRS and other humanitarian organizations as it designs and implements its programs.
“Our experiences in the field tell us that most Feed the Future countries do not regularly seek input from either U.S.-based [groups] who have implemented food security programming for many years, or from local NGOs,” he said. “We feel that Feed the Future’s lack of engagement … represents another missed opportunity for Feed the Future to meet its goals by building on the successes of past programs.”
Walsh appeared on a panel with Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam America and Connie A. Veillette, Senior Adviser on the Global Agricultural Development Initiative for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, please visit crs.org or crsespanol.org.