By NATHAN GREGORY
Leaders in food security gathered at Mississippi State University’s Colvard Student Union Monday to discuss the advantages of investing in assistance to developing countries as a means of enhancing United States security.
“Technology Implementation at the Local Level: Food Security for the Future” featured U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, Millennium Challenge Corporation Chief Executive Officer Daniel Yohannes, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Raj Shah and MSU President Mark Keenum, among others, to talk about how providing assistance to developing countries with untapped farming potential and extreme poverty can help prevent long-term famine and improve the U.S.’s global security.
Yohannes has led the MCC, an independent federal government foreign aid agency since 2009, and said the corporation is based on the principle that aid is most effective when it awards strong governance. He said working with economies in the developing world opens markets for American businesses and investments, creating more American jobs.
“I realize that investing abroad can seem like a misplaced priority while our economy at home is working to recover. Yet, making strategic investments in the world’s poorest countries is tied to our own security and prosperity,” Yohannes said. “Nearly half of U.S. exports already go to developing countries, and US exports to the developing world are going three times faster than exports to other economies. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, exporting to them supports more than 10 million jobs here at home. Studies suggest that for every 10 percent increase in exports, U.S. jobs grow by 7 percent.”
He said investing in development assistance is an investment in U.S. national security.
“Transforming poverty into opportunity supports U.S. security in volumes. I was at a conference with former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who said it best: Development is a lot cheaper than sending the Marines. In addition, helping the world’s poor is morally the right thing to do,” Yohannes said. “Helping the world’s poor helps us too. It furthers our national security and economic interest. The challenge, therefore, is … to make sure we are investing smartly. We want to make sure we are getting the best return for every dollar invested. This is not easy … but we owe to you the American taxpayer to make sure that we’re getting the best return for your investment. Innovators are constantly learning and applying what they learn to improve the business, to deliver those returns.”
Cochran praised Yohannes for his efforts to raise awareness that delivering assistance abroad is necessary and advantageous.
“(With Yohannes’) leadership in working to see that this corporation is involved in the global fight to conquer poverty, we know that we have federal programs in our government designed to do this but many do not know that since 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corporation has been focused on delivering foreign assistance with clear objectives and
accountability and requirements of good governance,” Cochran said.
Shah, who heads up Feed the Future, an initiative to fight global hunger and food security, said the effort is dedicated toward eliminating large scale hunger.
“We know that kind of excruciating hunger leads to conflict, war and suffering. We know those wars cost us billions of dollars, and more importantly, thousands of American lives. We want to get ahead of that problem, and we believe that by working in a partnership with scientists, researchers and agricultural experts here in Mississippi around the world we can essentially eliminate large scale hunger around the world,” Shah said. “We can help move tens of millions of people out of the condition of poverty and extreme hunger and help millions of children survive until the age of 5 and beyond and go to school and learn. This is a big public-private partnership where for every dollar of federal tax dollars we invest we get about $4-5 in partner research commitments or corporate investments or donations from other countries including countries in which we work. We’re being absolutely business-like and results-oriented in overseeing this effort.”
Shah said MSU has played a key part from a research standpoint in helping with Feed the Future.
“With Mississippi State we’re expanding our partnerships in the area of soy research and diseases like the alfa toxin that actually contribute to a huge amount of child (malnutrition) in the continent of Africa. Together with President Keenum we have a great partnership to really make sure Mississippi State is at the center of our Feed the Future efforts,” Shah said. “I’m very grateful that the people of Mississippi have supported this effort and that Sen. Cochran has been supportive as well. It helps prevent war and reduce conflict. It helps alleviate the kind of suffering where children can’t bring their heads up and go to bed hungry every night. It helps build a more peaceful society around the world. We do all of this for far less than 1 percent of our federal budget. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and we need continued political support from great leaders like Sen. Cochran.”
Keenum said boosting world food production is crucial not only improving access to nutritious food but to prevent an increase in the number of people around the world who have to live with chronic hunger as population numbers rise long term.
“Extremism and social unrest are often the products of food insecurity.
In many countries that depend on agriculture as a foundation of their economy or rely on the global marketplace for food imports, slow economic growth can undermine political stability and our own country’s strategic interest. Farmers everywhere can help meet the food demand for the future, but the greatest potential for increased production may lie in Africa, where crop yields are far, far below their potential,” Keenum said. “The continent itself accounts for 60 percent of the available crop land in the world, but only 1 percent of that crop land today is irrigated. The United States should continue to be a leader in science and technology for agriculture. We should also help build a capacity of universities and other research institutions in other countries to partner with the United States which will enhance global productivity and benefit American farmers and businesses.”
Other speakers at the conference included Republic of Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture Deputy Minister Antonio Raul Limbau, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Peter McPherson and Food and Agriculture Organization Director for North America Daniel Gustafson.