U.S. government programs helping farmers in developing countries withstand climate change now have stronger backing from Congress.

Last week, the House passed the “Global Food Security Act of 2016” (S. 1252), authorizing a “comprehensive strategic approach” for U.S. foreign assistance programs that address poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and increase resilience of vulnerable communities. The bill represented a rare moment of strong bipartisan support in Congress and will help secure the future of one of the Obama administration’s longest-running aid programs.

The Senate version, introduced last year by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), passed in April. Now the measure awaits the president’s signature.

“Primarily what the bill does is provide a signal that there is strong backing by Congress for the kinds of programs that have been operating by the Obama administration over the past eight years,” said Eric Muñoz, senior agriculture policy adviser for Oxfam America, who has been tracking the bill’s progress.

“Those programs could have continued without this legislation, but with the signal from Congress that these remain critical and important issues, it provides a much stronger pathway for the next administration,” he said.

Feed the Future, a U.S. government effort to address hunger and food security in poor communities around the world, is one of the main programs supported under the legislation. The Obama administration launched the program in 2010, following a global food price shock that pushed donors to reinvest in agriculture, said Muñoz.

The program has helped millions of farmers in 19 countries improve their productivity and resilience to environmental changes, including climate change impacts. Feed the Future has also addressed hunger and malnutrition directly through government-supported nutrition programs and spurred public and private investment in agricultural markets.

According to its 2015 progress report, in 2014 Feed the Future helped 6.8 million farmers adopt “improved technologies or management practices” on their farms, and funded nutrition programs that reached 12.3 million children younger than 5.

Under the legislation, Feed the Future would face stricter reporting requirements for its programs and encourages greater coordination between the agencies and offices that address agricultural development. Congress also officially authorized the use of funds from the International Disaster Assistance account for emergency food aid, something the administration has already been doing to help populations in need, but which now had the weight of Congress behind it, said Muñoz.

While the Global Food Security Act does not provide more program funding, it does emphasize that increasing resilience is a key policy issue for agricultural development programs, he said.

“That I think is a really helpful indication that there are some areas where we could see this program expand in terms of the content and the focus,” Muñoz said.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who co-sponsored the “Global Food Security Act” in the House along with Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), said in a statement that the bill’s passage was “an example of constructive bipartisan action on a critical issue.”

The anticipated passage of the bill into law “signifies that Congress can join together and agree to long-term solutions to global hunger and food insecurity which helps keep America safe by creating a more just, stable, and prosperous world. Taking action to vastly reduce global poverty and hunger must continue to be one of America’s top foreign policy priorities,” Smith said.

In statement on the White House blog last week, President Obama thanked the bill’s co-sponsors in the House and Senate and the leaders of Foreign Affairs and Agriculture committees for their continued support for Feed the Future, which he described as a “game-changing development initiative.”

“While we’ve already accomplished so much through this collaborative global partnership, I know that with the continued effort and support that this legislation provides, we can achieve what was just a few years ago the unimaginable: We can end global poverty and hunger within our lifetimes,” he wrote.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500