Ten Questions with Pamela Fessenden of the USAID Bureau for Food Security

Ten Questions with Pamela Fessenden of the USAID Bureau for Food Security
From foodtank.com, by Pamela Fessenden

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more. 

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Pamela Fessenden, the Director of the Office of Market and Partnership Innovations in the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Food Security. Pamela Fessenden will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Pamela Fessenden (PF): I began my career at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), working to provide humanitarian aid during and post-crisis overseas. During that time, I was most compelled by working to find solutions to the complex challenges of food insecurity and undernutrition. After more than ten years in that field, which was extremely difficult work, particularly seeing the devastating impact of crises on maternal and child health and nutritional status, I decided to shift focus. Now I work on global food security and agricultural development issues, which is how I became involved with Feed the Future, the United States government's global hunger and food security initiative.

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

PF: Partnerships! We cannot feed a growing population without creating innovative partnerships that bring more people to the table to discuss and share ideas, innovations, and new technologies. Each of us, whether it be the private sector, civil society, or governments, approach this challenge from a different perspective and with different but complementary skills and resources. When harnessed, this can make a world of difference. 

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

PF: We have seen some really impressive developments in climate-smart agriculture. Volatile weather patterns, climate change, and environmental degradation continue to wreak havoc across the globe and are especially worrisome in the developing world. We must continue to find solutions that can be shared and used around the globe. We need to be able to do more with less. 

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

PF: It's challenging to name just one—I have been inspired throughout my career by the immense dedication and drive that I encounter both in the countries where I've served, as well as back in my agency's headquarters. I work in a field that has so many incredibly brilliant and dedicated colleagues and partners—many of whom kept plugging away at meeting these huge challenges, especially during the years before 2008 and 2009, when international agricultural development was significantly under-resourced.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

PF: Nearly 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. And to me, that is 800 million too many. We have the tools and technologies to make food systems work for everyone; we just need to harness that knowledge. I'm working to ensure that a smallholder farmer has the tools she needs to grow nutritious foods so that her children can reach their full potential.

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

PF: I would say the challenge of feeding a growing population coupled with climate change.  

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

PF: I would like smallholder farmers to have easy access to finance and quality inputs, coupled with training in best agricultural practices, so they can produce more on the land they have, be better connected to markets, and ultimately increase their incomes in order to break the poverty cycle. 

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

PF: Here in the U.S., I would say to increase awareness of what it takes to bring the food they eat to the table and to be smarter about the ways we can each individually take action to reduce food waste. 

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

PF: In the countries where we focus: I'd like to see farming as a business that is efficient and profitable, with more value-added products made locally, which would create jobs and bring more youth in to the system to help solve the growing youth unemployment challenges and feed a growing global population. 

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the U.S. to immediately address?

PF: I hope the next president will commit to advancing the gains we've made over the past eight years on global food security challenges. Our country has so many resources to help meet these challenges in the countries where we focus our efforts, in partnership with governments, civil society, and the private sector. We are a global leader in food insecurity and have made much progress. I hope that leadership will continue so we can achieve even more sustainable impact.

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the livestream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil Summit in September 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA Summit on September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL Summit on November 16–17, 2016, please click HERE

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Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund. 

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