Investing in Food and Water Security is Historic Opportunity for American Farmers

Featured in the December issue of our magazine.

By Michael Tobris, PHD

Food insecurity continues to be a major global challenge, despite massive gains in agricultural productivity. By 2050, feeding an expected population of 9.5 billion will require further productivity increases of more than 60 percent on a decreasing stock of available water.

Though stakes are high, this is a major opportunity for the American ag industry to create strong, new international markets for its products and to share smart water management techniques.

Emerging markets currently represent a full 20 percent of U.S.agricultural exports. The African agricultural market alone is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030. Meanwhile, U.S. agricultural productivity is growing faster than domestic demand, so developing international supply chains is necessary for the future of domestic soybean production. As incomes rise, and more people in the developing world join the urban middle class, we can expect intense demand for agricultural products, especially animal proteins and the silage needed to feed livestock.

More production, however, requires more water. Water scarcity caused by unsustainable consumption, climate change and population growth is a drag on global economic growth, potentially causing losses of as much as six percent of GDP (gross domestic product) in many places, according to the World Bank. With 40 percent of the population living under water stress by then,agriculture will have to do even more with even less water.

Michael Tobris

U.S. investment in ag development abroad is a crucial element of creating and meeting this challenge. It also has the added benefit of being the most effective response to global poverty.

The vast majority of farmers globally – around 80 percent –operate on less than five acres, making the equivalent of U.S. $1-2a day. Even marginal productivity gains of a dollar or two daily area very big deal. This money allows them to send their children to school, purchase additional inputs for their farms and add more nutritionally dense food into their diets.

As the individual purchasing power of rural developing world populations rises, they demand more animal-sourced foods, feed and high-value goods from U.S. producers. Our investment in agricultural development assistance thus paves the way for U.S.agricultural exports.

We know this works because 11 of our 15 top trading partners previously received U.S. development aid. The American Soybean Association advocates for this process through its World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH).

Chicago Council on Global Affairs research has long detailed the importance of American investment in ag development for achieving these aims. Commitment now will reward farmers everywhere as markets for soy, like everything else, become more globally interconnected.

While the challenges of hunger, malnutrition and poverty can appear overwhelming, the past 25 years demonstrate that substantial improvement is possible. More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Average incomes in low and middle-income countries have doubled. There are 200 million fewer chronically undernourished people today, despite significant increases in population. American farmers already feed the world through the generosity of food aid programs. But by supporting agricultural development programs, Americans can mitigate global hunger while also investing in their own future.