International Food Security:

Insufficient Efforts by Host Governments and Donors Threaten Progress to Halve Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015

GAO-08-680: Published: May 29, 2008. Publicly Released: May 29, 2008.

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In 1996, the United States and more than 180 world leaders pledged to halve the number of undernourished people globally by 2015 from the 1990 level. The global number has not decreased significantly--remaining at about 850 million in 2001-2003--and the number in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from about 170 million in 1990-1992 to over 200 million in 2001-2003. On the basis of analyses of U.S. and international agency documents, structured panel discussions with experts and practitioners, and fieldwork in four African countries, GAO was asked to examine (1) factors that contribute to persistent food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and (2) the extent to which host governments and donors, including the United States, are working toward halving hunger in the region by 2015.

Chronic undernourishment (food insecurity) in sub-Saharan Africa persists primarily due to low agricultural productivity, limited rural development, government policy disincentives, and the impact of poor health on the agricultural workforce. Additional factors, including rising global commodity prices and climate change, will likely further exacerbate food insecurity in the region. Agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa, as measured by grain yield, is only about 40 percent of that of the rest of the world's developing countries, and the gap has widened over the years. Low agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa is due, in part, to the limited use of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and improved seed varieties, and the lack of modern farming practices. The efforts of host governments and donors, including the United States, to achieve the goal of halving hunger in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 have thus far been insufficient. First, some host governments have not prioritized food security as a development goal, and, according to a 2008 report of the International Food Policy Research Institute, as of 2005, only a few countries had fulfilled a 2003 pledge to direct 10 percent of government spending to agriculture. Second, donors have reduced the priority given to agriculture, and their efforts have been further hampered by difficulties in coordination and deficiencies in measuring and monitoring progress. Third, limited agricultural development resources and a fragmented approach have impaired U.S. efforts to reduce hunger in Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding to address food insecurity in Africa has been primarily for emergency food aid, which has been crucial in helping to alleviate food crises but has not addressed the underlying factors that contributed to the recurrence and severity of these crises. Also, the United States' principal strategy for meeting its commitment to halve hunger in Africa is limited to some of USAID's agricultural development activities and does not integrate other U.S. agencies' agricultural development assistance to the region.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the GAO report was published the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created the Feed the Future (FTF) Initiative. According to USAID, FTF is the U.S. government?s global hunger and food security initiative. According to USAID, the Feed the Future (FTF) Guide, published in May 2010, describes the strategic approach and implementation structures of FTF. It is intended to inform FTF partners and stakeholders about the development of FTF and how the U.S. government will translate the FTF principles into actions on the ground. USAID, State, USDA and Treasury were involved in developing the strategy, as GAO recommended, and the FTF Guide describes general intentions for periodic reviews and presents a results framework. However, a key part of the recommendation was that the strategy would define each agency's actions and resource commitment, including improving collaboration with host governments and other donors. The FTF Guide does not do so. It only provides a suggestive list of FTF agencies in a footnote and conveys a general intention to collaborate with host governments and other donors. Consequently, the Guide does not represent an integrated strategy, as recommended, or meet its own objectives of translating the FTF principles into actions on the ground.

    Recommendation: To enhance efforts to address global food insecurity and accelerate progress toward halving world hunger by 2015, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Administrator of USAID should work in collaboration with the Secretaries of State, Agriculture, and the Treasury to develop an integrated governmentwide U.S. strategy that defines each agency's actions and resource commitments toward achieving food security in sub-Saharan Africa, including improving collaboration with host governments and other donors and developing improved measures to monitor and evaluate progress toward the implementation of this strategy.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the GAO report was published the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created the Feed the Future (FTF) Initiative. According to USAID, FTF is the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative. As of June 2012, USAID acknowledged it had not yet issued an annual report on FTF, as GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: To enhance efforts to address global food insecurity and accelerate progress toward halving world hunger by 2015, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the Administrator of USAID should prepare and submit, as part of the annual U.S. International Food Assistance Report, an annual report to Congress on progress toward the implementation of the first recommendation.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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