By Magdalena Mis
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid agencies have hailed the passage of a U.S. bill that aims to eliminate hunger and poverty around the world by helping smallholder farmers, especially women, with investments targeted at increasing productivity and improving nutrition.
The Global Food Security Act of 2016, which enshrines in law the U.S. government's global hunger initiative Feed the Future, is designed to promote food security, resilience, and nutrition through investments in agriculture.
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"Small farmers provide about 80 percent of food in very poor regions and being able to empower them is probably one of the best ways to address world hunger and food security," Jim French, Oxfam America's senior policy advisor for agriculture, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He praised the bill's focus on empowering women farmers who in some regions are the majority of those who grow food.
The bipartisan bill, which was passed by the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, is also aimed at building resilience and promoting secure and transparent property rights.
"Investments in basic nutrition have been shown to yield extraordinary returns to the local economy, more effectively fighting extreme poverty than almost any other area of international development," Tom Hart, North America executive director for the ONE Campaign, said in a statement.
Richard Stearns, World Vision U.S. president, said the bill was a "real victory" for children and families around the globe who suffer from hunger and poverty.
According to the United Nations, 795 million people worldwide go to bed hungry, about 50 percent of them farmers.
South Asia, where as many as 281 million people do not have enough food, faces the highest burden of hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger with 23 percent of the population not getting enough to eat.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made food security a priority of his development agenda. In 2013, he said it was a "moral imperative" to end hunger in Africa, the world's poorest continent.
The Global Food Security Act ensures that programs like Feed the Future continue after Obama leaves office.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Jo Griffin.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)