Global Food Security:

U.S. Agencies Progressing on Governmentwide Strategy, but Approach Faces Several Vulnerabilities

GAO-10-352: Published: Mar 11, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2010.

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Global hunger continues to worsen despite world leaders' 1996 pledge--reaffirmed in 2000 and 2009--to halve hunger by 2015. To reverse this trend, in 2009 major donor countries pledged $22 billion in a 3-year commitment to agriculture and food security in developing countries, of which $3.5 billion is the U.S. share. Through analysis of agency documents, interviews with agency officials and their development partners, and fieldwork in five recipient countries, GAO examined (1) the types and funding of food security programs and activities of relevant U.S. government agencies; and (2) progress in developing an integrated U.S. governmentwide strategy to address global food insecurity as well as potential vulnerabilities of that strategy.

The U.S. government supports a wide variety of programs and activities for global food security, but lacks readily available comprehensive data on funding. In response to GAO's data collection instrument to 10 agencies, 7 agencies reported funding for global food security in fiscal year 2008 based on the working definition GAO developed for this purpose with agency input. USAID and USDA reported the broadest array of programs and activities, while USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Treasury, USDA, and State reported providing the highest levels of funding for food security. The 7 agencies together directed at least $5 billion in fiscal year 2008 to global food security, with food aid accounting for about half of that funding. However, the actual total level of funding is likely greater. GAO's estimate does not account for all U.S. government funds targeting global food insecurity because the agencies lack (1) a commonly accepted governmentwide operational definition of global food security programs and activities as well as reporting requirements to routinely capture data on all relevant funds; and (2) data management systems to track and report food security funding comprehensively and consistently. The administration is making progress toward finalizing a governmentwide global food security strategy--expected to be released shortly--but its efforts are vulnerable to data weaknesses and risks associated with the strategy's host country-led approach. The administration has established interagency coordination mechanisms at headquarters in Washington, D.C., and is finalizing an implementation document and a results framework. However, the lack of readily available comprehensive data on current programs and funding levels may deprive decision makers of information on available resources and a firm baseline against which to plan. Furthermore, the host country-led approach, although promising, is vulnerable to (1) the weak capacity of host governments, which can limit their ability to sustain donor-funded efforts; (2) a shortage of expertise in agriculture and food security at U.S. agencies that could constrain efforts to help strengthen host government capacity; and (3) policy differences between host governments and donors, including the United States, which may complicate efforts to align donor assistance with host government strategies.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. efforts to address global food insecurity, the Secretary of State should work with the existing National Security Council/Interagency Policy Committee to develop an operational definition of food security that is accepted by all U.S. agencies; establish a methodology for consistently reporting comprehensive data across agencies; and periodically inventory the food security-related programs and associated funding for each of these agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: Both State and USAID agreed that implementing the first recommendation--to develop an operational definition of food security that is accepted by all U.S. agencies--would be useful, although State expressed some concern regarding the costs of doing so. However, the limitations we found in the Foreign Assistance Coordination and Tracking System (FACTS) could be addressed by improving operating procedures and therefore need not be costly. Moreover, technical comments from OMB suggest that its budget database may be able to address our recommendation to establish a methodology for consistently reporting comprehensive data across agencies and periodically inventory agencies' food security-related programs and funding. GAO continues to monitor State efforts to implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. efforts to address global food insecurity, the Secretary of State should work in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for Internatinal Development Administrator, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Secretary of the Treasury, and other agency heads, as appropriate, to delineate measures to mitigate the risks associated with the host country-led approach on the successful implementation of the forthcoming governmentwide global food security strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: Regarding the second recommendation, State, Treasury, USAID, and USDA all noted that the administration recognizes the risks associated with a country-led approach and are taking actions to mitigate these risks. State indicated that the implementation strategy for GHFSI will incorporate mechanisms to manage these risks. Treasury noted that the interagency working group is proposing to increase the amount of technical assistance to recipient countries and that a new multidonor trust fund administered by the World Bank will complement U.S bilateral food security activities by leveraging the financial resources of other donors and utilizing the technical capacity of multilateral development banks. USAID noted that the administration is planning to implement support to host governments in two phases in order to reduce the risks associated with limited country capacity and potential policy conflicts. USDA pointed out the technical expertise that the department can offer, including its relationships with U.S. land grant colleges and universities and international science and technology fellowship programs to help build institutional and scientific capacity. GAO continues to monitor efforts to implement this recommendation.

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