Earlier this week, I visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of exhausted and starving refugees have sought food, water and medical care after fleeing from famine-stricken lands in southern Somalia. The United States is providing life-saving help for millions of people across the eastern Horn of Africa, as the region experiences its worst drought in 60 years.
Although we will always provide aid in times of urgent need, emergency assistance is not a long-term solution. To address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, we need to invest in agriculture, build strong markets and harness advances in science and technology. Spearheaded by USAID, President Obama’s food security initiative—Feed the Future—is helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.
Together with Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist, I had the opportunity to see some of the innovative work Kenyan scientists and researchers are doing to help transform agriculture in the region. At the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), we saw new drought-resistant seed varieties of sorghum, millet and beans, as well as a gigantic cassava root and the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Unlike other kinds of sweet potato common to the region, the orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in vitamin A and helps children build resistance to river blindness. We also saw irrigation systems in affordable greenhouses that are designed expressly for smallholder famers.
Since pastoralist communities throughout the region rely on livestock for their livelihoods, we are helping protect animal herds through vaccine programs and accessible veterinary care. In Ethiopia, we are supporting a government-led safety net program that builds boreholes for water, constructs health clinics and educates vulnerable communities about nutrition.
These programs are already making a difference. That is why—even though this is the worst drought in 60 years—it is not the worst famine in 60 years.
The circumstances are still dire, however. In Kenya, I heard from families whose crops and livestock had withered in front of them and who themselves were barely surviving. I know that there is another way. Feed the Future is making smart, cost-effective investments in agriculture to ensure we address many of the root causes of today’s crisis. Together, we can shape a better, safer future for the region’s families.