Global Food Security:

Progress toward a U.S. Governmentwide Strategy Is Under Way, but Approach Has Several Vulnerabilities

GAO-10-494T: 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 about $22.7 billion in a 3-year commitment to agriculture and food security in developing countries, of which $3.5 billion is the U.S. share. This testimony addresses (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 and the strategy's potential vulnerabilities. This is based on a new GAO report being released at today's hearing (GAO-10-352).

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 such funding for global food security in fiscal year 2008 based on the working definition GAO developed for this exercise 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 global 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 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 and is finalizing an implementation document and a results framework. However, the lack of comprehensive data on 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, may complicate efforts to align donor interventions with host government strategies.

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