An Obama administration program set up to reduce chronic hunger and poverty has contributed to rising incomes for farmers around the world and helped save millions of people from starvation, according to a report released Monday by the United States Agency for International Development.
The program, Feed the Future, was started by the agency four years ago after a rapid rise in global food prices. It has helped more than seven million small farmers increase crop production and has provided nutritional foods to 12.5 million children in countries hit hard by drought, war or poor development, the report said.
In addition, the United States government received more than $160 million in private sector investment in 2013 to help farmers and small businesses increase their food production, the agency said, a 40 percent increase from 2012.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, said the report provided the first comprehensive look at the program’s effectiveness.
“We have real numbers for the first time,” Dr. Shah said, adding that the new data showed that the administration’s efforts to end extreme poverty were having some success.
The administration has made food security one of its top foreign policy priorities and has pledged billions of dollars in aid for agricultural development to help countries sustainably grow enough food to feed their people.
Feed the Future works with American universities including Texas A&M and Kansas State, which have provided agriculture research and technical help. Private companies such as Cargill, DuPont and Walmart have provided new types of seeds, fertilizer and equipment to farmers.
Gregory R. Page, executive chairman of the board of the Minnesota-based Cargill, said it was essential that private companies be involved in the Feed the Future program.
“Governments and development groups have been at this for years and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “The only way that this is going to succeed is if we treat agriculture production as a business, not as aid. Feed the Future is the perfect example of this.”
The program operates in 19 countries, mostly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and has seen the greatest success in Senegal, Bangladesh and Honduras, the report found.
In Senegal, efforts financed by the United States helped the country reduce its dependence on food imports, particularly rice. The country’s rice imports fell more than 20 percent between 2008 and 2011.
Guatemala’s president declared a national emergency Friday over the spread of coffee rust, saying the fungus that has hit other Central American countries is affecting 70 percent of this nation’s crop.
President Otto Molina Perez ordered the release of more than $14 million to aid coffee growers. He said the funds would help 60,000 small farmers buy pesticides and also finance instruction to teach them how to prevent the disease and stop it from spreading.
“If we don’t take the needed measures, in 2013-2014 our production could drop by 40 percent,” Molina said in making his country the third in the region to decree emergencies in recent weeks.
Coffee rust, which can kill plants by withering their leaves, also is affecting plantations in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. Mexico’s agriculture authorities said the fungus has been detected there but so far has not damaged plants.
Molina said the pesticides will start being applied to coffee plants in April and two more applications will be needed during the year.
Nils Leporowsky, president of the National Coffee Association of Guatemala, or Anacafe, said coffee is grown in 206 of the country’s 333 municipalities.
“We have planted 667,000 acres (270,000 hectares) of coffee and of that 477,000 acres (193,000 hectares) have rust, affecting 70 percent of the total,” he added.
Leporowsky said coffee growing generates 500,000 direct jobs as well as 700,000 additional jobs in related businesses each year.”We have lost 100,000 direct jobs already and that will affect millions of people,” he said.
Experts say the fungus has been present in Central American since the 1970s but production hadn’t previously been affected so severely as what is feared this year.
Otto Cabrera, an adviser with Anacafe, said coffee rust arrived in Guatemala in the 1980s.
“The fungus directly affects coffee leaves, initially with yellow spots that later turn orange and reaches around the foliage of coffee, then makes the leaves fall,” he said. “The plant loses its foliage. It’s not able to breathe, so it ceases producing and it eventually dies.”
Cabrera said climate change has brought a rise in average temperatures of about 2 degrees Celsius in Central American areas where the fungus was present, encouraging its growth and increasing the threat of severe damage.