A letter to the Secretary of Agriculture in advance of the G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting

June 21, 2011

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Washington, DC 20560

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I write in advance of this week’s meeting of the G20 agricultural ministers to urge consideration of the needs of people in developing countries most affected by food insecurity. The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, most of whose 80 million members live in developing countries. This letter comes to you today as other leaders of Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world are writing to their own agricultural ministers to share this call, with a particular concern about the impact of high food prices on small-scale and subsistence farmers, many of whom are women.

The focus on food at this year’s G20 represents an important recognition by the world’s leaders that rising food prices present a potential crisis for areas of the world most affected by hunger and malnutrition, especially Africa and South and Southeast Asia. With my fellow Anglican leaders, I am particularly encouraged by the growing global consensus for reducing food prices through increased agricultural spending, research and development in agricultural productivity, and the easing of trade barriers. Moreover, as an American, I am particularly heartened by the President’s Feed the Future initiative, a recognition that food security holds an important key in eradicating global poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

To build on these commitments and respond with agility to the looming crisis of rising food prices, I urge the G20 leaders to consider four new steps.

First, enhanced global support for small-scale and subsistence farmers would provide an important investment in those who produce approximately 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries, the majority of whom are women. Such support should include financial investment in training; expanded access to credit, including loan subsidies and guarantees; improved access to global markets; and the development of new measures to help farmers mitigate risk and improve small-scale crop storage. Additionally, world leaders should pledge to work to improve land tenure for women in all countries, and to promote women’s participation in national decision-making about agriculture, rural development, and resource management.

Second, it is crucial for G20 leaders to support the calls from agricultural ministers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world for increased investment in agricultural research, better dissemination of research information among farmers in developing countries, international investment in agricultural insurance markets in poor countries, and the development of better farm infrastructure – particularly irrigation – in poor countries. It is also critical that industrialized countries reform their agricultural subsidy structure, a goal for which The Episcopal Church and many other faith communities worked during the last Farm Bill reauthorization and will continue to work in the upcoming renewal of the legislation.

Third, G20 leaders should seek to incorporate food security measures into wider strategies for reducing global poverty and achieving the MDGs, as the United States has begun to do through the Feed the Future initiative. An important component of this, which has yet to receive adequate consideration in the United States, is halting global warming and accompanying climate change. Climate significantly affects agricultural productivity, rainfall patterns, drought, and crop yields. A comprehensive strategy for addressing food security as part of the fight against global poverty must include serious efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Finally, and most fundamentally, it is crucial that world leaders keep the promises they have made already in the area of food and hunger policy. In 2009, the world’s eight richest nations signed the Aquila Food Security Initiative, pledging to achieve clear targets for increased spending on agriculture. Thus far, these pledges have not been fulfilled, though a blueprint for the United States contribution has been set forth by President Obama through the Feed the Future initiative but has not yet been funded. I am mindful of the budget shortfalls presently faced by the United States and most of the world’s industrialized countries. Increasing investment in food security, however, will strengthen the entire global economy and ultimately lead to billions of dollars in savings for the United States and other industrialized countries. Investment in food security truly is investment in the future.

Thank you for your consideration of these important issues. Know that my prayers are with you and all who undertake the costly work of public service, and that I remain

Sincerely yours,

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori