Jonathan Shrier serves as Acting Feed the Future Acting Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy/Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security, and Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.  Originally posted on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog.

Today, World Food Day, reminds us that hunger is a reality for nearly a billion people worldwide. Rising and volatile food prices since last year have pushed tens of millions of additional people into the ranks of the hungry.

This is a particularly poignant day as we have just returned from the Horn of Africa, where there more than 13 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. In Somalia, a lack of effective governance and the actions of the al-Shabaab terrorist group in preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those in need have turned a bad drought into outright famine.

We traveled to Ethiopia and Kenya with USAID Administrator Raj Shah, where we met with our partners in the region, including government officials, civil society, and private sector representatives, to discuss improving food security over the short, medium, and long-term.

With our partners, we’re making progress.

The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the region, now providing nearly $650 million in life-saving assistance to those in need. This assistance has reached nearly 4.5 million people, many of whom would otherwise have died from starvation or related disease. But while we know that emergency assistance will provide immediate relief, it will not prevent the next crisis. Sustained food security will only be achieved when countries have well-developed agricultural value chains; when agricultural producers are using the most appropriate techniques, technologies, and improved seeds; when farmers and traders can get to developed markets to sell their goods and purchase nutritious food for their families; and when everyone in agriculture — women and men, farmers, herders, and fishers — has access to the resources they need. These are some of the focal points of Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative.

We saw evidence that we’re on the right track in the region. We met gray-haired Kenyan farmer, Gitau Ruchu, who pulled out his mobile phone and gave us a demo of iCow, a mobile app that helps farmers to raise healthier, more productive livestock. iCow won the 2010 Apps4Africacontest sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is improving the incomes of smallholder farmers by helping them learn best practices, find veterinarians, record breeding periods, and get good prices for their milk. This kind of technology — and the knowledge and prosperity it brings to farmers like Mr. Ruchu — is one small signal of the promise of Feed the Future.

Our discussions with government officials in the region were fruitful and encouraging.

In Ethiopia, our meeting with Prime Minister Meles, as well as a subsequent meeting with his senior agriculture team, resulted in not just a positive conversation but the beginning of an action plan for a number of game-changing opportunities. For example, in a robust discussion regarding seed varieties, the Prime Minister underlined the need to protect local seed varieties, but also welcomed the exploration of improved seeds and an expanded role for the private sector in getting quality seeds to farmers.

Senior agriculture officials we met with in Kenya agreed that we should cooperate to help farmers create more private warehouse space as well as a commodity trading system, including a warehouse receipt system that will create market and credit opportunities for smallholder farmers. These tools could help address the post-harvest issues plaguing far too many smallholders. Agriculture Minister Dr. Sally Kosgei noted that she and her team are already seeking advice from the U.S. Grains Council on developing a warehouse receipt system…now that’s progress!

In a day in Ethiopia, and another in Kenya, we were able to promote exactly the type of dialogue that is needed to assist these government leaders in their efforts to do more than just respond to the present crisis. They must also continue the long and hard work that is needed to create more space for private sector investment in their countries, as well as to improve market-driven sustainable agriculture to allow more smallholder farmers and herders to feed their families when the rains come, and even during those inevitable times when the rains will fail.

Related Content: Secretary Clinton’s Statement on World Food Day