America has become a food-obsessed nation, with TV networks, reality shows, and social media platforms dedicated to food. We are to the point where chefs are now as famous as some movie stars. For the food secure, it’s an exciting time in food. But for the many people right here in America and in other parts of the world who still don’t have enough, or the right kind of food, it’s anything but.
Last week President Trump released his budget for 2018. Although most Presidential budgets are dead on arrival, they do serve as an indication of what an Administration values. Based on the significant increases proposed for the defense budget, we can infer Trump values America First and the safety and security of the American people.
However, the budget also calls for a twenty-one percent cut to USDA, including water programs and data analysis capabilities. Funding for Meals on Wheels, which provides food for 2.4 million seniors each year, is also slated to see its budget impacted. Internationally the budget calls for eliminating the USDA Food for Education Program, which supports education, child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries around the globe.
Such cuts suggest the President doesn’t think about food when thinking about security. But he should, and here’s why. History shows us food insecurity is not just a result of conflict, it’s also a significant contributor to conflict, especially in unstable political regimes.
Helping countries become food secure also raises incomes and expands markets for American producers. Since 2005, U.S. Agriculture exports have grown 152 percent to developing countries, including a whopping 294 percent in South America.
In 2015, United Nation governments set an ambitious goal to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. The effort is called Sustainable Development Goal Number 2, or SDG2. It’s a worthy goal, and achieving it would have a profound impact on trade in agriculture. There are reasons for both optimism and pessimism.
Optimism: The methods used to grow, transport and sell food continue to evolve. New ideas and technologies are increasing yields and improving the way food is produced, marketed and distributed. In fact, at current levels of production, there is enough food to feed everybody in the world.
Pessimism: Despite these new technologies and innovations, food distribution is still ineffective, with many populations without reliable access to a nutritious, affordable supply of food. Political leaders need to agree on policies that guarantee food makes its way to the people who need it.
There are four things we can do to meet these challenges:
Stand up for open markets by breaking down barriers for U.S. producers, companies, workers and consumers. The Administration should work with key markets in Asia, Latin America and Europe to address regulations that impede U.S. food, services and capital from moving across borders. Here at home, the Administration must address conflicting and unnecessary regulations that suffocate industry, large and small.
Invest in infrastructure by working with Congress to update physical infrastructure, with a special focus on the food system. Transportation, energy, and water infrastructure are foundational to ensuring access to food, and they are degrading quickly. These challenges are even greater in developing countries, where farmers, ranchers and businesses often lack the basic road, rail, water and energy infrastructure to bring goods to market.
Support innovation that transforms the way we produce, transport, process and supply food. Innovations such as evaporative cooling, vertical farming, hydroponics, and drones are just a few innovations that hold real promise for the sector. Federal spending on research and development remains a cornerstone of that kind of innovation.
Expand access to human and financial capital by working to fix America’s broken immigration system, supporting our next generation of producers, and facilitating strong capital pipelines. In so doing, we can empower agricultural producers, benefit economies, and improve global food security.
A food fight over funding for programs that help people at home and overseas is underway. Developing more healthy, prosperous, and peaceful communities around the world is and always will be in America’s national security interest. With food, anything is possible; without it, very little is.
Tucker Warren is a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a public affairs consulting firm with offices in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The food and agriculture sector is among the sectors the firm counsels.
BY TUCKER WARREN, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
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