Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at the Feed the Future Event on Capitol Hill

Thursday, July 25, 2013

[As Delivered]

I want to say a special thank you to Senator Boozman and Representative McGovern. You all got a feel for just how committed they both are, but I’ve had a chance to be with Senator Boozman in rural Ethiopia and Little Rock, Arkansas, and in both places he was talking consistently about the need for our country to lead the fight to end hunger throughout the world. That is impressive in either spot, but to be doing it in both spots in a short span of time warrants special consideration.

Representative McGovern, as Dan mentioned, has had a tremendous history of leadership and continues to inspire all of us, as do the other members of the Senate Hunger Caucus: Senators Moran, Boozman, Casey, Durbin, and Brown.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize a few folks that will be on this upcoming panel: Carolyn Miles, the CEO of Save the Children; Brady Deaton, the Chairman of the BIFAD group and President of the University of Missouri; and Rita Mirondo, our Tanzania-based Feed the Future Fellow. We were excited when we started the Feed the Future Fellowship Program. So you will get to hear from an outstanding example of leadership that is evolving through this effort.

I give a special thank you to some U.S. Government leaders. Tjada, I thought did a great job mentioning all of the agencies involved in Feed the Future, and you all heard from Representative McGovern on how important it is that we all continue to come together--even as we are a couple of years into implementation--that we continue to do the hard work and make sure that we are using every part of our government to advance the cause.

In that context, we are pleased to welcome one of the Senate’s own, Phil Karsting, to the team. Phil, thanks for crossing sides and joining here.

I want to recognize our two deputy coordinators for Feed the Future: Tjada McKenna, of course, from USAID leading the development effort and Jonathan Shrier from the State Department leading the diplomatic effort. Representative McGovern is right; this has to be an all-hands-on-deck effort if it is going to be successful.

Finally, I would like to recognize Roger Thurow, one of my favorite authors, both because of the quality of writing but also the topic. So whenever he writes something, please everyone buy the book and read it.

Finally, I don’t think or I don’t know, is Cheryl Mills here today? Because we heard a rumor that she was coming. For those of you who do not know, Cheryl is a force of nature, and one of the applications of her energy and enthusiasm from day one of her taking on the role of Counselor at the State Department was to help make sure Secretary Clinton’s leadership could lead on Feed the Future. I think that has been the result, and we are very proud of that accomplishment. I know she would be very proud to be a part of the releasing of this report.

I am going to say a few words, but first we have a short video about Feed the Future, which I believe speaks to Feed the Future and what it is about.

As you saw, the President had the chance to visit with Feed the Future partners in Senegal, meet with farmers like Nimna, whom he spoke about in that video, learn about and share her story with so many others.

One of the exciting parts about being with him during this visit was watching him consistently-- wherever we went, even on the plane--go back to the reporters and explain to them that this was a bigger story and a more important story than often what we occupy ourselves with in Washington.

I just want to say, on behalf of the President and the whole team here, we are very grateful to all the members of the House, the Senate, your offices, and your teams that have allowed this program to flourish even as we have all dealt with a very difficult financial environment.

Yesterday, the Senate marked I believe $1.7 billion for Feed the Future and everyone in this room has the right to know: Are these resources being used effectively? But we don’t even have the chance to try and prove that if you don’t make bold statements like you did yesterday that you will continue to support successful results oriented initiatives. So, thank you.

If the old model of development, or the more traditional model, was to hire a contractor to build a road, the new model is embedded in much of what the President saw and spoke about with respect to Feed the Future in priority countries: bringing together local farmers, businesses, policy reforms from government, a focus on measurement and results, and an absolute imperative that the resources we spend are in fact delivering significant results.

Today, I hope you will all pick up and read the Feed the Future Progress Report. You’ve heard the numbers: more than 7 million farmers have been reached and supported in just under 3 years. We reached more than 12 million children through nutrition programs that reduced anemia, supported dietary diversity, and have helped prevent malnutrition.

We’ve seen smallholder farmer incomes increase in terms of agricultural value by more than $100 million. That is not even counting the $3.7 billion of private investments that we have encouraged and motivated from more than 70 companies into the particular countries in Feed the Future that have been focused on attracting investment.

The net effect of these numbers is real change on the ground.

In Bangladesh today, farmers are using a new fertilizer technique that led to the first-ever rice surplus in the nation’s poorest state. In Haiti, improved planting techniques helped increase corn yields by 340 percent and beans by 100 percent, which I am sure our former Secretary of Agriculture could confirm are extraordinary yield improvements for any country anywhere--much less a country where it can be difficult to operate programs. 

In fact, in the countries we have been working in, we have seen poverty rates fall by an average of 5.6 percent and stunting by an average of 6 percent across all 19 Feed the Future priority countries.

Today, to accelerate that progress and continue to ensure that our programs continue to drive progress in the future, we are pleased to announce three new Feed the Future Innovation Labs—partnerships with American universities that continue to build on the tremendous legacy of leadership by American research institutions that helped first launch the Green Revolution.

We’ll be partnering with Kansas State University to build an Innovation Lab focused on improving sorghum and millet production across the Sahel, one of the world’s most vulnerable dryland regions.

We will be partnering in addition with Michigan State University, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the University of Pretoria on a Feed the Future Innovation Lab designed to come up with better and more appropriate policies that countries can put in place to improve food security policy across the spectrum.

Congressman McGovern said if countries have the political will we should be able to offer the know-how and capacity to turn that will into success in the fight against hunger.

Over the past year, policy reforms have been absolutely critical to getting those private investment commitments of $3.7 billion from the companies that have been a part of the G-8 New Alliance that now supports and powers Feed the Future.

Our third Innovation Lab—which is not quite ready to be announced today—will focus on helping farmers better manage their most precious resource which is water. By improving water use efficiency in agriculture we will improve both environmental and conservation goals and ensure that the gains that we have all been celebrating are, in fact, sustainable in the long run. And we know that American research capacity can help unlock the solutions in that space as well.

You know, this Progress Report is not just about technology or not just a tool itself to measure our progress. It is an opportunity to understand where we can do better.

So this year, we are committed to fixing and improving our performance in certain areas, including providing gender-disaggregated data in our indicators for the very first time. So everyone can see how women are doing as the recipients of Feed the Future benefits and program gains.

We have learned from that exercise that we have a great deal further to go to ensure that every dollar we spend is preferentially benefitting women and girls. We’re digging deeper into the country-level data to understand what are the real constraints to women participating in programs and using the new Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index to help us design programs that are more effective at supporting vulnerable women who in many cases provide the great majority of labor on the farms we are talking about supporting.

In addition to that, we know that the United States has had a long and proud history of providing food assistance at times of emergency and to the most vulnerable amongst them. It has been our goal and will continue to be our goal to modernize and strengthen these programs to create a pathway from receiving food when you are hungry to living in societies that are fully food secure.

In order to support that pathway, President Obama at this year’s G-8 meeting in Europe at the UK made nutrition a central pillar of Feed the Future and a true focus of our integrated health and agricultural efforts.

Over the next five years, we will reduce stunting, which is the consequence of child malnutrition in many of these parts of the world, by 20 percent, and this means that 2 million fewer children will suffer from stunting because of the actions that we are taking right now.

This past year, we also put forth policy reform of our PL 480 food aid program in an effort to reach an additional 4 million children a year without asking Congress for additional appropriated funds. 

Now, it will take time to modernize and update the full range of programs to make sure that they are fully aligned with the spirit of Feed the Future that President Obama so consistently articulated at every stop on his recent Africa trip.

It will take time to make sure that we make these improvements together with Congress so we can make sure that when American assistance touches the lives of families, vulnerable families, hungry children that we are doing that with an eye to towards helping them immediately, but also helping them in the long run helping them stand on their own two feet.

It is that pathway from dependence to self-sufficiency that has been a core unifying concept across both political parties, across the House and Senate, across the Administration and Congress, and, frankly, with our partners in the private sector, civil society and elsewhere. 

So I would like to close by showing you two photos. This is President Obama arriving in Tanzania. The drive from the airport to the Presidential house is about 6.5 miles, and what you see on both sides of the Presidential motorcade in this photo was in fact what you would have seen for the entire 6.5 mile drive into the city.

I have heard Secretary Glickman say before that I think you have been to the crossroads of George Bush Avenue and President Clinton Lane somewhere in Ghana, I believe. In fact, it is true that when we lead with our values and we partner with our great academic and scientific institutions, when we bring our whole government to the task of helping others stand on their own two feet our efforts are in fact recognized and appreciated.

I will say that many world leaders have visited Tanzania recently, including President Xi and others. I think it is pretty clear that this is not the reception everyone gets. America is an exceptional nation, and we are an exceptional nation when we do the types of things that those of you are gathered here to do today.

This is my final photo. This was inside the Tanzania Mission at USAID about two weeks ago. It is just to make the point that the core concepts of Feed the Future are in fact standing on the shoulders of progress over decades. American foreign assistance and development assistance started as food assistance and that persisted for a very long time. Then we evolved to add to it the scientific and technical partnerships that moved hundreds of millions of people off the brink of starvation and created the possibility for growth and equity in countries like India, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Then in the 80s and 90s, we kind of lost our way. We weren’t making big investments in these areas. By the time we took office, the agricultural budget was $235 million.

So this effort to re-prioritize on something that America has always represented around the world--the effort to ensure that every child has real opportunity and that no child perishes because they are hungry--has been something that has been at the core of our foreign policy for a very long time.

There were a lot of folks that said that this wouldn’t be successful and couldn’t be done because of the times we live in. Everyone in this room worked hard to offer the counter example. So thank you, thank you, Dan for putting this together, thank you all for packing this room further than I would have ever thought it would fill up and let’s keep at it.

This is going to take a few decades, but it is worth fighting for.

Thank you. 

Washington, DC

Last updated: October 16, 2014

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