A Call for Action on Food Security Bill

A Call for Action on Food Security Bill

Publication info

Michelle Nunn and John Bryant

Originally published by Politico.

Among the poor farming families who struggle to put food on the table in the small African country of Malawi, it’s not uncommon for the man of the house to eat first. If it’s a meal of chicken, for example, the father and sons get the prime portions of meat. The women and girls are forced to share the less desirable bony parts, such as the legs and head.

The same rule too often holds when it comes to farmland, seed or credit — women get stuck with the leftovers. This despite the fact that women make up the majority of “smallholder” farmers, the subsistence or noncommercial-scale farmers who essentially feed two continents, providing up to 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

But this month, by passing the bipartisan Global Food Security Act of 2015, members of Congress have a monumental opportunity to give women farmers the support they need. The bill would build upon the gains of Feed the Future — a flagship program launched in 2009 to increase “food security,” or reliable access to nutritious food — and require critical changes needed to win the war on hunger.

Although there are still 795 million chronically hungry people around the world, U.S. taxpayers should take heart in knowing that the figure has dropped by 200 million since 1990. It’s no coincidence that during that time U.S. hunger-fighting programs have increasingly focused on women and smallholder farmers.

As CEOs of the world’s leading cereal company – and second largest producer of cookies, crackers and savory snacks – and the organization that gave birth to the original CARE Package, we share a deep commitment to feeding hungry people. And we, too, see women and smallholder farmers as critical to our businesses – Kellogg Company as a global food company with a signature philanthropic cause of hunger relief, CARE as a poverty-fighting organization that strikes at the root causes of hunger.

Last year, Kellogg Company commissioned a study to identify which parts of its supply chain have high concentrations of women and smallholder farmers in order to pinpoint investments that help address risks and opportunities. Further, Kellogg is committing to providing a higher quality of life for more than 500,000 farmers over the next 15 years through partnerships, research and training on climate smart agriculture.

CARE, meanwhile, has made female smallholder farmers the centerpiece of its commitment to help 50 million people increase their food security by 2020. One program, called Pathways, has mobilized an additional $3.9 million in income for 50,000 women smallholders in just two years.

Despite recent progress, 3.1 million children still die from poor nutrition each year. That’s nearly half the deaths of children under five years old globally. And experts predict we’ll need 60 percent more agricultural production to feed a soaring global population expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050 – a challenge that puts both the health of our planet and human lives on the line.

While we each play a critical role in addressing these issues, there is more work to be done. The U.S. government does not currently have a comprehensive strategy that coordinates the 11 agencies and offices working on some aspect of global hunger. The Global Food Security Act requires not only such a strategy, but also transparency on progress toward measurable goals, including updates on how women are benefitting from the programs.

Research shows that if women farmers had access to the same productive resources as men they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent. The number of hungry people around the world would drop by 100 to 150 million, reducing chronic hunger by 17 percent.

We need the Global Food Security Act to deliver a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy focused on empowering women farmers, improving nutrition, and boosting yields and incomes for smallholder producers. So let’s give women farmers a full seat at the table and, together, seize the opportunity to end chronic hunger in our lifetimes. We urge Congress to pass the legislation without delay. 

John Bryant is Chairman and CEO of Kellogg Company. 

Rose Unyoro is part of CARE's 5 year Pathways project in Kasungu, nothern Malawi which supports rural women to engage in agricultural production, marketing and nutritional activities with a focus on on gender equality in decision making. Photo credit: Lucy Beck/CARE