Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah on Eliminating Hunger: Making Nutrition and Resilience Central to the Work of USAID and the UN Agencies based in Rome

Friday, March 28, 2014

[As Delivered]

This had been an extraordinary week in which to talk about, and learn together, how we can do a better job of addressing hunger and poverty around the world.

In the United States, just a few days ago, the senior most members of the United States Congress got together to unveil a statue of Dr. Norman Borlaug—an American agricultural scientist and a hero to so many of us around the world, as someone who worked to end hunger and extreme poverty everywhere he found it. And to do it by giving people the tools to move themselves out of a condition of subsistence, and into a place of dignity and respect, growth and opportunity.

And so as that was happening in Washington, the President presented a box of seeds to the Pope just yesterday, and while those were seeds from the White House garden and meant to symbolize what seeds do—a future that is bright and hopeful—I’m also very proud of the fact that, with David’s [David Lane, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome] leadership here and so many others across the Administration, that President Obama has been able to put forth a vision of ending hunger through agricultural development and opportunity for small scale farmers first articulated in his first inaugural address.

He said that America, under his leadership, would stand with small scale farmers around the world and provide them with better tools and technologies to move themselves out of poverty. And we have followed that up with the launch of a number of initiatives—most notably our Feed the Future effort. And I’d like to take just a minute to describe why this is so important to us.

First we know that agriculture, and agricultural productivity growth—especially on small scales farms—is perhaps the most effective way of reducing extreme poverty, building resilience in environments that are vulnerable, and helping to make sure that the benefits of growth reach the least fortunate amongst us.

And so, with that basic understanding, the United States—under President Obama's leadership—has had a more than four-fold increase, from about $250 million a year to nearly $1.1 billion a year, of financial commitment to agricultural development. We have focused our efforts in those countries willing to make the tough and important policy reforms that EFAD, FAO, and WFP all help countries to do and implement on the ground.

And by focusing in 19 core Feed the Future partner countries, we have been able to experience real gains. We now know that in the last year we have reached 7 million small scale farm households, and we use a women's empowerment index to measure the income benefits of these programs to insure that the majority of income benefits accrue to women—because we all know that’s ultimately the key to serious and sustained poverty reduction—and that we measure nutrition targets.

And this is perhaps the transition to the point that David raised—which is, as you in this critical community of leaders on food and hunger around the world know, is about how to accelerate our investments and the sophistication with which we address human nutrition. I want to make sure you know that the United States is committed to standing with you. We have made commitments of nearly a billion dollars every year, of nutrition specific investments—some of that is targeted food and feeding programs in the first 1,000 days of life. Some of that is support for agriculture in a manner that specifically improves nutrition outcomes, and some of it is using resources in our child survival and HIV/AIDS programs to ensure that vulnerable children are getting access to the food they need in medical or nonmedical settings.

In that context, USAID will release, in the next few weeks, a new global nutrition strategy that establishes very clear targets for how America’s investment in nutrition will reduce stunting and we are setting for ourselves the goal of 20% stunting reductions in the core countries where we invest.

As with Feed the Future, we are adopting a model that requires countries to lead, and donors and other partners to follow, and I believe that the movement symbolized by this group in scaling up nutrition has been an effective model for doing that.

And we continue to believe that the private sector and civil society play a critically important role in ensuring that these partnerships are multi-stakeholder partnerships. Nearly two years ago at Camp David, President Obama hosted the G-8 meeting and asked more than 70 companies to make more than $3.7 billion in investment in sub-Saharan African agricultural systems.

Those investments were paired with specific policy reforms that countries committed to make to be a part of this Grow Africa alliance. Today, we have seen that more than 60% of the companies are on a path towards being realized. In just last year, those corporate investments helped to reach 800,000 small scale farmers, and together with EFAD and FAOP in particular, we all have the task of measuring the impact of those private investments to ensure that they—like our Feed the Future programs—are in fact effectively reducing poverty and hunger in a sustained way.

The final point that I would like to raise is around resilience. And we are honored to be here with Ertharin Cousin, who is such a capable leader of an institution that has so much presence all around the world where people are most vulnerable, and when people are at their most vulnerable. And I am honored to have seen WFP frontline workers take on huge personal risks to deliver food in Syria, in Pakistan, and in parts of South Sudan, in contact where so many people think that humanitarian workers are unable to go. Using that capability and that presence to help those communities not just get food when it is needed in an immediate basis, but also build resilience to the shocks and vulnerabilities that keep those communities teetering on the edge of extreme poverty, will be critical to the goal of ending extreme poverty in the next two decades.

With those opening comments, I just want to say thank you to all of you who have made it your life's work to help fight hunger and poverty around the world. I wish more people around the world—certainly in the United States Congress, but also all around the world—saw that your efforts are in fact succeeding, and that over time, if we all make the right decisions, if we all continue to work together, and if we are all blessed by the kind of leadership like we see here in Rome right now—that we can achieve the end of extreme poverty within the next two decades. Wouldn’t that create a more stable more productive world for all of us to live and prosper in?

Thank you. 

Rome, Italy

Last updated: December 08, 2014

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