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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have taken several actions to implement this recommendation. First, the 2010 Feed the Future guide, developed by State in collaboration with interagency partners, noted that food security is defined as having four main components: availability, access, utilization, and stability. The guide notes that families and individuals require a reliable and consistent source of quality food and sufficient resources to purchase it, and that their ability to access and utilize food must remain stable and sustained over time. Second, USAID, the current lead for Feed the Future (FTF), established the position of FTF Budget Director, which has improved reporting data across agencies and helped track agencies' food security-related programs and funding. For example, since 2010, the annual Feed the Future Progress Report has included key agencies' appropriations data, and the 2012 and 2013 Progress Reports also provided information on appropriations for Global Food Security through the L'Aquila pledge (in which the Group of Eight world leaders committed to increase food security assistance). Third, USAID has made progress in inventorying food security-related programs through the Feed the Future Monitoring System, a centralized monitoring and evaluation system for tracking food security programs and progress across agencies.

    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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with the recommendation. The U. S Agency for International Development (USAID), the current lead for Feed the Future (FTF), has made progress in monitoring risks related to the county-led approach by developing a tool - the FTF Scorecard - that tracks performance goals on country ownership and includes measures that address risks to the country-led approach. For example, one measure tracks the number of focus countries with increased public expenditure for agriculture, which measures the ability of host governments to meet agriculture funding commitments. We also found USAID has taken steps to facilitate a country-led approach by providing support to the development and implementation of each country's food security plan, called a country investment plan (CIP). The U.S. government plans to align its own multiyear country strategies with the priorities identified in the CIPs.

    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


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