It is great pleasure to open this important workshop on developing the tools and techniques for measuring the degree of agricultural transformation in countries around the world. At the start, I wanted to recognize Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis-Bach, Thomas Djurhuus and other Danida staff members for their sustained commitment to the creation of an index that would support agricultural development. I also wanted to thank IFPRI – and particularly Director of CGIAR Research Karen Brooks – for hosting the workshop.
Finally, I wanted to salute DFID, the Netherlands, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their significant contributions to launching the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture project.
We are here today to reaffirm our interest and commitment to following up on the outcomes of the Copenhagen Consultation in 2012 to provide ourselves with a new tool in our work in promoting sustainable economic growth around the world. This is essential if we are to fulfill the vision we all share for the future. Indeed, two months ago, President Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address that the United States will join with our allies to eradicate extreme poverty in the next two decades. He said that this will be achieved by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve; by helping communities to feed, power and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
An essential element in this effort is the transformation of the global food and agricultural systems in order to provide a growing, rapidly-urbanizing population with adequate, nutritious, and affordable food; ensure a critically important source of livelihoods and employment; and improve the environmental resource base on which sustained food production depends.
With our colleagues from other U.S. government agencies, the donor community, and our host government partners, USAID has taken the lead in implementing Feed the Future. There are six key area of focus to our work: inclusive agricultural sector growth; gender integration; improved nutrition; private sector engagement; research and capacity building; and climate-smart development.
In each of these areas, metrics of various sorts are crucial to effective program design and implementation. Situational analyses, timely assessments of food and agricultural performance, research into new production and post-harvest technologies and strategies, monitoring and evaluation of projects, and increased availability of reliable national and sub-national statistics will inform all of the development partners.
This is where development of an Agricultural Transformation Index is so important. It will give national leaders a summary snapshot of progress made each year as a tool for enhancing collaborative policy and program design and management. The information will inform private sector investors, farm and community groups, development partners, and interests in neighboring countries. It will foster a global partnership of public and private actors to transfer food and agricultural systems.
The need for this holistic approach to agricultural transformation was reaffirmed for me by my visit last month to Bangladesh. There has been remarkable progress in agriculture through mechanization, deep urea placement, climate-smart land use, cold storage facilities to smooth out markets, and other important innovations, and yet we continue to see deficiencies in the nutritional environment, such that two out of every five children endure stunting that affects their physical and mental development.
As we continue work on the Agricultural Transformation Index, we are pleased to link our efforts with the progress on Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. This builds on the work of the Doing Business Index which, over the years, we have found to be useful in spotlighting key changes and constraints in regulations, institutions, and operations that are critical for trade, investment, and economic growth.
We have staked a lot on providing technical, financial, and institutional assistance to enable smallholder farmers and livestock owners, and especially women, to participate in commercial agriculture and to transform their operations from subsistence farming into profitable and prosperous commercial agricultural enterprises. So getting the agribusinesses climate right is important to us at USAID.
In addition, we have recognized during early implementation of Feed the Future that an intentional approach to the policy environment and to building capacity and better stakeholder consultation in policy formulation is crucially important to achieving country food security objectives, especially in the context of the joint G8 New Alliance. We are working with our USAID Missions, embassies, partner countries, and a wide range of others to build such capacity and create stronger mutual accountability mechanisms involving all stakeholders at country level.
In the same way, the views of other stakeholders must be incorporated into the indexing process if they are to value and act upon the information conveyed in an Agricultural Transformation Index. Development of the agricultural sector must be a “whole of society” effort, meeting the needs and drawing on the contributions of all elements of the population, including women, young people, people with disabilities, and indigenous populations. We have a phrase we use at USAID: “Nothing about them without them.
Fortunately, new indices related to economic growth, agricultural development, nutrition, and food security have mushroomed in the last few years. There is experience to draw upon as we determine what next steps might be most useful in development of an Agricultural Transformation Index that adds new value to national leaders and the global community. Given the potential costs of such an index – and the need to identify an institution – or set of institutions – that can manage such an effort for a decade or more, we will look to the participants in this workshop for recommendations on how to address these serious decisions.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one other important development in the international food security arena. In the President’s 2014 budget, recently submitted to the U.S. Congress, there is a proposal to fundamentally improve how the U.S. government provides food assistance abroad. Since its inception, U.S. food aid has helped more than 3 billion people in more than 150 countries, saving lives, helping people recover from crises and addressing chronic poverty and malnutrition. In order to respond in the most timely, effective manner, the President’s 2014 budget includes a reform that will allow this assistance to be used to a greater extent to purchase food abroad for distribution as needed or to provide cash vouchers for local purchases. As a result, the same dollars will be able to reach between 2 and 4 million more people each year, while preserving our support for U.S. civil society organizations who depend on development food aid to reduce poverty, build resilience and prevent future food crises. The President’s proposal has broad bipartisan support, and we are hopeful that Congress will adopt this good idea.
Again, thank you for your participation in this workshop. We at USAID are pleased to be part of this process, and I look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations today.
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Last updated: January 21, 2015