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Gates Foundation funds effort to shift food aid

By JERRY HAGSTROM

For the Capital Press

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donates $3 million to a group that will promote agricultural development and not commodity donations in U.S. food aid policy.

The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $3 million to a Chicago group to continue its campaign to shift the U.S. food aid budget to agricultural development in poor countries.

The money has gone to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which has also appointed Douglas Bereuter, a former Nebraska Republican congressman who president emeritus of the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, to co-chair its agriculture and food initiative. The other co-chair is Dan Glickman, the former Democratic congressman from Kansas and former USDA secretary.

“This grant from the Gates Foundation is the single largest in the council’s history,” said Ivo Daalder, the new president of the council. “We are grateful, as this funding enables the Chicago Council to continue its important work as a thought leader on U.S. global agricultural development and food security policy.”

The council has played a major role in the development of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future program and has urged Congress to shift from providing U.S. commodities as food aid to providing development assistance for agriculture in countries in which the level of agricultural development is low.

The effort has often put the council at odds with U.S. commodity groups, U.S. humanitarian groups that distribute food aid and use it for development purposes and with the U.S. maritime companies and unions that ship the U.S. food aid products.

Under the direction of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, a former Gates Foundation executive, the Obama administration has used its executive authority to develop Feed the Future, but the program does not have permanent authority in Congress.

The Chicago Council will use part of its grant to encourage Congress to make Feed the Future a permanent USAID program, the council said. Without legislation, a future administration could decide to end Feed the Future and use USAID’s resources for other purposes. USAID’s commitment to agricultural development has wavered over the years.

“Because the Chicago Council is a 501(c)3, the council plans to provide non-partisan information and analysis on the benefits and opportunities for U.S. leadership on global agricultural development and food security, based on the independent studies the council convenes,” the council said in a statement.

“A major recommendation of a 2013 independent study developed by a group of leaders from agriculture, development, and foreign policy and convened by the Chicago Council in 2013 was for the U.S. Congress to pass authorizing legislation to institutionalize U.S. development assistance towards agriculture because Feed the Future does not have formal legislative authority,” the statement said.

But the council will continue to sponsor its annual Washington symposium and to produce papers and studies suggesting directions for U.S. and global agricultural policy and development assistance.

The new Gates grant will be administered by Lisa Eakman Moon, who has been running the council’s global agriculture and food program, but now has the title of vice president.

“Agriculture is not only critical to feeding the world, but to raising the incomes of the world’s poorest, spurring economic growth, ensuring nutritious food is available, conserving scarce resources like water and land, protecting the environment, and mitigating climate change,” Bereuter said in a statement. “A U.S. global food security policy that develops and deploys scientific innovation, increases global trade, and capitalizes on the strengths of business recognizes these important linkages.”

Bereuter succeeds Catherine Bertini, who will remain a senior fellow. The former executive director of the World Food Program, Bertini is a professor of public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.



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