Innovators’ Moonshots Should Guide New Food Security Policies

One of the most urgent challenges discussed the past few weeks at COP27 was climate adaptation—how to secure and empower communities worldwide that are already in the throes of climate change’s worst impacts. U.S. policymakers have rightly recognized climate adaptation and food security as growing intertwined national security and development aid priorities.

Yet most acute climate adaptation challenges like climate-driven food security lack creative, well-resourced policy responses. Exacerbated by pandemic-driven supply shocks and price volatility from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate-driven food security challenges may only worsen as weather patterns and natural disasters become more extreme and frequent. The U.S. government and the global development community have a critical opportunity to craft policy solutions for these intertwined challenges that generate innovations while supporting scaling what already works, an entirely new way of thinking about global development.

As policymakers seek new policy solutions, entrepreneurs and NGO leaders already doing effective and outcomes-driven work around the world are the best place to look for ideas.

Earlier this year, the Federation of American Scientists partnered with Unlock Aid, working side by side with innovators to host the Global Development Moonshot Accelerator, a policy workshop to reimagine the future of global development. This workshop was an initial opportunity to expose global development experts to the idea that policy, like seed funding or infrastructure investment, is an input that supports scaling.

Innovators don’t see policy as a pathway to scale

An underlying theme of this workshop was the importance of policy as a growth enabler. Innovators may not recognize policy as a viable, flexible, and rapid enough pathway to scale the solutions that have been proven effective. Good policy is needed to build a flourishing global development environment—a rising tide that lifts all entrepreneurial ships.

Policymakers have not provided adequate growth pathways in development

Solutions and evidence of what works exist but they do not always make it into policy. Policymakers have not created consistent, streamlined pathways to accelerate innovation—often limiting start-ups by shunning proven government procurement and scaling models that were built into domestic infrastructure and climate mitigation legislation.

Collaboration between innovators and policymakers must be intentional and collaborative

Most innovators are understandably hyper-focused on scaling up their individual ideas or products. The field of global development can be individualized and competitive—grants are few and far between, which doesn’t always foster shared best practices. Entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders in the field engage with communities experiencing climate change or food insecurity directly, yet they often do not have incentives or mechanisms to engage directly with policymakers. Meeting these challenges and achieving the SDGs by 2030 must be a more collaborative effort.

Moonshots offer opportunities for innovators to contribute big policy ideas

This is where policy moonshots can surface big ideas, reimagine how policy can catalyze real change, and play a meaningful connective role from those innovators most able to diagnose current barriers to scale to policymakers. Through the workshop, innovators and the Day One Project developed three promising, ready-made food security policy moonshots that provide actionable plans and model new ways of development.

Each moonshot proposes innovative ways that the U.S. government, multilateral organizations, and philanthropy should create new markets, innovations, and an ecosystem for scaling development solutions. They build off previous successful models of government-led innovation programs—some in development, others from analogous challenges.

Policymakers can find inspiration from these creative approaches. But they can also find models for how to better align their activities with the needs and ideas of the development community that works to deliver positive outcomes from foreign assistance. If we want to meet the challenges climate adaptation and food security present with policy solutions, we must include everyone and their ideas at the table.

Unlocking the U.S. Bioeconomy with the Plant Genome Project (Mary Fernandes, Solis Agrosciences)

The Plant Genome Project (PGP) would be a Human Genome Project-style, whole-of-government initiative to unlock a new era of plant science and innovation. PGP will build a comprehensive, open-access dataset of genetic and biological information on all plant species, starting with the 7,000 species that have historically been cultivated for food. By convening key stakeholders and technical talent in a novel coalition of partnerships across public and private sectors, PGP can spur growth in the bioeconomy and food security innovation.

Investing in Digital Agriculture Innovation to Secure Food, Yields, and Livelihoods (Jonathan Lehe, Gautam Bastian, & Nick Milne, Precision Development)

To spearhead USAID’s leadership in digital agriculture and create a global pipeline from tested innovation to scaled impact, USAID and its U.S. government partners should launch a Digital Agriculture for Food Security Challenge, a long-term innovation pipeline for digital-enabled agriculture solutions. With an international call to action, USAID can galvanize R&D and investment for the next generation of digitally enabled technologies and solutions to secure yields and livelihoods for one hundred million smallholder farmers by 2030.

Saving 3.1 Million Lives a Year with a President’s Emergency Plan to Combat Acute Childhood Malnutrition (Justin Graham, Olivia Shoemaker, & Dr. Abubakar Umar, The Taimaka Project)

Like PEPFAR galvanized the global fight against HIV/AIDS, the President’s Emergency Plan for Acute Childhood Malnutrition (PEPFAM) would elevate the problem of acute childhood malnutrition, leverage new and existing food security and health programs to serve U.S. national security and humanitarian interests, and save up to 3.1 million lives around the world every year. PEPFAM would serve as a catalytic initiative to coordinate the fight against malnutrition and direct currently fragmented resources toward greater impact, cost savings, and innovation.