Just as President Biden announced a $ 10 billion pledge to fight hunger and malnutrition, the administration was expelling more than 12,000 migrants who had converged, starving and desperate, in Del Rio.
As the migratory crisis shows, fighting hunger on a lasting basis is more complex than simply distributing food packages. This requires strengthening rural areas around the world that support farmers and provide them with livelihoods, improving the conditions that lead to migration, often first to cities and ultimately overseas.
The point is that hunger and migration are secondary consequences of the systemic failure to invest in small farmers and rural communities such as those in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, hence the estimates that more than two million people have fled. since 2014.
Half of Biden’s latest package – $ 5 billion in total – has been allocated to overseas support in countries like these. It is critical that USAID direct these funds toward building these rural economies in a holistic way, including support that generates greater and more consistent local income and opportunities. Otherwise, malnutrition and migration will continue.
At the recent United Nations Food Systems Summit, governments and donors recognized the need to commit more funds to address these interconnected issues. They must now ensure that those commitments – which included $ 922 million from the Gates Foundation for nutrition – invest with those broader results in mind.
First, the goal should be to develop livelihoods, not just food. Agriculture provides families with a means not only to feed themselves but also to generate income, ensuring that they have access to health care and education, and to cope with unforeseen events, such as natural disasters. or political instability.
In El Salvador, for example, farmers accessing formalized networks and markets through Acceso saw their incomes increase by more than 250% in 2020 compared to 2017 due to increased yields and market access. Subsequently, three-quarters of the farmers surveyed said that fewer young people are moving to cities and urban areas, where so many would-be immigrants start their journeys.
And yet, there is more to do. The economic impacts of COVID-19 have contributed to an additional 124 million people falling into poverty, and an estimated 600 million people are still expected to live in poverty by 2030, unless urgent action is taken.
Second, these farmers need help to market what they grow locally. Ten years ago, El Salvador’s supermarkets were filled with imported goods due to critical shortcomings in the domestic food and agri-food sector.
Since the inception of Acceso El Salvador, Salvadoran supermarket chain Super Selectos’s imports have fallen from 90% to less than 50% thanks to a model that connects farmers to these formalized local retail markets through buyers. and retailers.
Finally, the funding should specifically support the agricultural sector to stimulate broader economic growth in a country. A thriving agricultural sector is the cornerstone of the GDP of many countries, helping to stimulate investment and trade while contributing to greater self-reliance and long-term stability.
Today, two-thirds of young children do not eat the minimum variety of diets required for healthy growth. Besides the obvious problem of malnutrition itself, this also has ripple effects in terms of their ability to learn and work productively as adults.
The Biden administration’s financial commitment to tackle hunger and malnutrition is an important first step, but it could have an even greater impact in the shortest possible time – by channeling funds to developing agricultural markets.
The agricultural sector is one of the few that offers both a basic human right and the opportunity to go beyond poverty reduction for true social mobility that reduces irregular migration – when small farmers are connected to productive and profitable markets. It is certainly in everyone’s interest, including the United States.
Giustra is the founder of social agribusiness Acceso and co-chair of the International Crisis Group.