Agriculture is integrated into overarching food-security focus

The US is the largest donor to agriculture and rural development, disbursing US$1.7 billion in official development assistance (ODA) to this sector in 2016, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This makes the US the largest donor country to this area, representing 19% of the total agriculture ODA provided by OECD donor countries in 2016. However, relative to the size of its overall development funding, the US spends less (5%) than the average spent by members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC; average: 7%).

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

In 2016, US$1.4 billion of US ODA to agriculture was channeled bilaterally, according to OECD data. The top investment area was agricultural development, which received US$906 million, or 65% of US bilateral agriculture ODA. Other investment priorities include agricultural policy and administrative management (US$294 million, or 21%), agricultural alternative development (US$105 million, or 8%), and rural development (US$39 million, or 3%). The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) drives US bilateral assistance for agriculture, which is integrated into US food-security activities. The agency has outlined seven priority areas for its work: 1) 'Feed the Future' (see below), 2) agricultural research, 3) development of agricultural markets, 4) helping farmers access capital, 5) offering extension services, 6) developing sustainable agricultural strategies, and 7) emergency food assistance.

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In addition to its bilateral support, the US provided US$272 million, or 16%, of its total agricultural ODA in the form of core contributions to multilateral organizations in 2016.This share is well below the DAC average of 45%. This low share is mainly due to the US’ large bilateral portfolio on agriculture and food security. Key multilateral recipients are the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the African Development Fund (AfDF), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The US is also the largest supporter of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), which was a G20 initiative during the US presidency in 2009 to help implement the food-security pledges made that year. According to GAFSP, as of August 2016, the US has contributed US$588 million. According to government data, the US appropriated US$23 million to GAFSP in FY2017 (October 2016 to September 2017). Contributions to GAFSP are reported to the OECD as bilateral ODA to agriculture.

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Under former President Barack Obama, the US put food security at the top of its foreign assistance agenda with the introduction of the flagship Feed the Future initiative in May 2010. US food security efforts encompass food assistance, agricultural and rural economic development, and nutrition. US agriculture programs are thus part of the US’ overall engagement with food security/assistance. The first-ever presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD-6), signed in September 2010, provides an overarching vision for US development cooperation (see question two: ‘What are the US’ strategic priorities for development?’). It references Feed the Future as a key mechanism for implementing US global development policy.


Priority countries for Feed the Future:

  • Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia

  • Asia: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Tajikistan

  • Americas and the Caribbean: Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras


Feed the Future is the US’ largest bilateral agriculture program and uses a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to align and coordinate various food and agricultural programs. It was introduced in part to help meet US food-security pledges made at the G8 Summit in 2009. The US pledged US$10 billion over three years to address hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. The initiative supports partner countries’ development of their agricultural sectors to foster economic growth, as well as reduce hunger, poverty, and undernutrition. According to the US Government Global Food Security Strategy FY2017‑2021, Feed the Future focuses on: 1) inclusive agriculture sector growth, 2) gender integration, 3) improved nutrition, 3) private sector, 4) research and capacity building, and 5) resilience.  It places a special emphasis on smallholder farmers, especially women, the extreme poor, youth, other marginalized communities, and small and medium enterprises in 19 priority countries. Much of Feed the Future was codified into law in 2016 under the Global Food Security Act (GFSA), along with the Emergency Food Security Program. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), housed at the World Bank, is the multilateral component of Feed the Future.  

A critical part of the US’ agricultural and food security efforts is food assistance (in-kind food transfers and cash-based programs that provide means to acquire food).  For over 60 years, the US has deployed food assistance to mitigate global hunger and malnutrition. US international food assistance was mainly distributed through four initiatives, which are now operational components of Feed the Future. They are: 1) the Food for Peace Act (FFPA, also known as PL 480), 2) the Food for Progress Act, 3) the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program (McGovern-Dole Program), and 4) the Emergency Food Security Program. These are primarily implemented by USAID or the Department of Agriculture, through its Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Funding for the first three initiatives comes from agricultural appropriations, mostly through the 'Farm Bill'. The Emergency Food Security Program receives its funding through the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill (see Table 1 below and question four: ‘How is the US’ ODA budget structured?’)


Box 1: Farm bill

The ‘farm bill’ is the primary agriculture and food policy tool of the US government, first passed in 1933. It is a comprehensive bill which Congress reauthorizes every five years and deals with programs under the US Department of Agriculture, including its foreign assistance activities. The farm bill is often highly political both in terms of cost and policy. For the foreign assistance element, one of the most contentious issues is the ‘cargo preference’ provision, in which Congress requires a percentage of “government-impelled” cargo, including food assistance, to be carried overseas on US ships to support the US merchant marine.


In both of the president’s FY2018 and FY2019 budget requests, funding to US agricultural assistance and food security was cut. They propose eliminating funding to the McGovern-Dole Program, stopping contributions to GAFSP and IFAD, cutting the budgets of important agencies engaged in food-security efforts, and reducing the US’ support of the World Bank’s IDA. The FY2019 budget request calls for a 14% reduction to IDA from FY2017 levels. In addition, the FY2019 request also suggests eliminating the Title II, PL 480 Food for Peace Program, shifting emergency food assistance instead to one account: International Disaster Assistance.

For FY2018, Congress has rejected the president’s cuts to agriculture and international food assistance, including through Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole program. It provides US$1.7 billion for Food for Peace, a 7% increase from the previous year’s level, and US$207.6 million to McGovern-Dole, slightly above FY2017 levels of US$201.6 million. According to the US Global Leadership Coalition, the funding levels indicate Congressional support for food assistance in the lead up to both House of Representatives and the Senate consideration of reforms to relevant programs in FY2018 (see below). In addition, the FY2018 budget bill gives US$30 million to IFAD.

The stronger focus on food security is reflected in the updated State Department and USAID’s Joint Strategic Plan FY2018-2022, which cites the US Global Food Security Strategy 2017-2021 as an instrument to implement its overall strategic objectives. Further, the president’s FY2019 request mirrors a stronger emphasis on food security, calling for US$518 million for food security. This is a 3.6% increase from FY2018, although still a 50% cut from FY2017 levels. This funding is accompanied by an “Agency Priority Goals (APG)” for USAID explicitly referring to food security and Feed the Future: “Increase food security and resilience in Feed the Future countries. By September 30, 2019, Feed the Future will exhibit an average reduction in the prevalence of poverty and stunting of 20 percent across target regions in Feed the Future’s focus countries, since the beginning of the initiative in FY 2010.“

Food security – both funding levels and delivery –  will be subject to intense political debate in Congress in 2018. First, the GFSA has been introduced in the House with bipartisan support for a three-year reauthorization. This would ensure that Feed the Future Initiative continues through 2021. Second, the Farm Bill will be renegotiated in 2018. In March 2018, a bipartisan group of Congress members introduced new legislation to this bill to reform and modernize US food assistance, including the ’cargo preference’, in which Congress requires a percentage of “government-impelled” cargo, including food assistance, to be carried overseas on US ships to support the US merchant marine.  The group includes senators Bob Corker (Republican) and Chris Coons (Democrat), who are both retiring at the end of the current session; this initiative will be their last chance to reform US food assistance (see question three: ‘Who are the main actors in US development cooperation?’).  


Box 2: US international food assistance programs and implementing agencies

Food for Peace Act (FFPA)

  • Title I: Economic Assistance and Food Security: implemented by Department of Agriculture (FAS); provides funding for concessional sales programs and Food for Progress (see below)

  • Title II: Emergency and Private Assistance: implemented by USAID; provides agricultural commodities for non-emergency assistance through eligible organizations, authorizes agricultural commodities for both emergency and development food assistance programs

  • Title III: Food for Development: implemented by USAID; enhances food security and supports long-term economic development in the least-developed countries

  • Title V: Farmer-to-Farmer: implemented by USAID; provides voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, and agribusinesses in developing and transitional countries

Food for Progress

  • Implemented by Department of Agriculture (FAS); provides commodities on credit terms or on a grant basis to developing countries and emerging democracies

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program

  • Implemented by Department of Agriculture (FAS); aims to reduce hunger and improve literacy and access to primary education, especially for girls, through the provision of school meals and teacher training

Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP)

  • Implemented by USAID; provides cash-based food assistance in response to international crises to complement FFPA Title II 


USAID and Department of Agriculture lead food assistance and agriculture initiatives

According to government data, the US global agriculture efforts are funded by 14 different agencies and implemented by 11 of these. Key entities involved in decision-making and implementation include:

USAID: Leads on strategy and implementation of the US’ food security and agriculture programming, primarily through Feed the Future. USAID coordinates the initiative through its Administrator, who serves as the US Global Food Security Coordinator. In this role, the Administrator is supported by two deputy coordinators to drive a holistic, government‑wide approach:

  1. Deputy Coordinator for Development: based at USAID, coordinates the implementation of the program across the government, reports on results, and engages externally to ensure food security remains on the global development agenda.

  2. Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy: based at the State Department, leads on diplomatic aspects of food security and nutrition.

USAID’s Bureau for Food Security (BFS) was established to manage Feed the Future, and the Deputy Coordinator for Development for Feed the Future acts as Assistant to the Administrator of this Bureau. The Office of Food for Peace in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, as well as the Bureau for Global Health, also help implement US food-security cooperation. Further, the Center for Resilience, the Global Development Lab, and the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment, are all involved in US agricultural and food security activities.

Department of Agriculture: Primarily provides international food assistance through its various programs. It is also responsible for some training, capacity-building programs, and research activities in the US food-security portfolio. The department has more than 90 offices in US embassies globally that participate in US agriculture and nutrition initiatives. The Foreign Agricultural Service is the department’s main international arm. It implements Food for Progress and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, as well as the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). 

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): Administers the Millennium Challenge Account, an initiative to provide development assistance to low-income countries and lower-middle-income countries that have committed to political, economic, and social reforms on economic development. In countries with MCC compacts, MCC plays an essential role in funding and shaping development policy, including for agriculture cooperation. MCC’s agricultural work includes rural infrastructure, irrigation projects, farmer training, land projects, rural finance, and nutrition.  

Congress: Responsible for authorizing, overseeing, and funding the US’ agriculture and food security programs. There are several important Congressional committees responsible for the authorization of programming: the Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and the House’s Agriculture Committee. The House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also have jurisdiction over some legislation, such as the GFSA. The Senate and House Agriculture Appropriations Committees decide on funding for programs under their jurisdiction. As some food assistance is also authorized in foreign-assistance legislation, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittees in both chambers are also responsible for making relevant funding decisions.

Other institutions of relevance:

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Peace Corps, African Development Foundation, the US Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.