Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at the Bread for the World Conference

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thank you David, for your kind introduction and your tremendous leadership.

It is also a pleasure to join Ambassador Tony Hall, a long-standing friend of USAID. From serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand to chairing the Democratic Caucus Task Force on Hunger, Ambassador Hall has always carried his values into action on behalf of the most vulnerable.

It is wonderful to see Greg Page honored here tonight.

Last summer, at the height of the worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa, I had a meeting with Greg. He had just seen news reports from the region and wanted to know how Cargill could utilize their international shipping networks to deliver food straight to Somalia.

It turns out that Cargill’s donation of $5 million in rice came precisely when it was needed most—dropping sky-high market prices in some of the hardest to reach areas. It was enough to feed nearly 1 million people through one of the leanest months in memory.

It is this spirit of generosity, innovation, and partnership that I know is reflected across this room tonight.

That is why I am especially honored to join you this evening—as we finally get to pause and take a few deep breaths, because, I don’t know about you, but it has been a nerve-wrecking few weeks.

It was only three weeks ago that Hurricane Sandy stormed onto ours shores—upsetting lives and livelihoods across this region. On top of that, she arrived just as the presidential campaign reached its final fever-pitch days.

But now, we have an opportunity to pause for a moment. An opportunity to reflect on the road ahead and draw from these last few weeks an extraordinary new sense of commitment to solving the most enduring challenges we face: from extreme poverty to corruption, from preventable child death to hunger and malnutrition.

In thinking about the importance of this moment and the path forward, I have been inspired by the story of Bread for the World’s own history…

…and the determination of a small group of Christians who came together 40 years ago to fight hunger in American neighborhoods and cities.

It wasn’t long before their voices inspired others.

More than 500 people had joined its ranks—uniting their voices in a grassroots movement that has grown to include 75,000 people and 4,000 congregations today.

Over its history, Bread for the World has taught us that social change takes time, requires intense focus, and often only succeeds if we take real risks.

Your commitment—which has never waved in the face of partisan battles or political distractions—has paid incredible dividends for vulnerable people across America and around the world.

Thanks to your advocacy, Congress created a farmer-owned grain reserve that helped feed millions during the 1985 famine in the Horn of Africa.

And thanks to your advocacy, our government established a comprehensive system to provide timely data on hunger and nutrition in the United States.

The truth is that Bread for the World’s advocacy efforts could not have come at a more important time.

For more than two decades, agriculture funding was on the decline, leaving the world ill prepared to cope with the growing challenge of food insecurity. In 2007 and 2008, soaring prices for basic staples—coupled with shortsighted policy response, like export bans and panic buying—set the world on edge.

But Bread for the World used the moment to convince global leaders that it was finally time to do things differently.

At the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama rallied the world behind the need to dramatically reinvest in food security, securing $22 billion from donors and a commitment from developing countries to spend more of their own budgets on agriculture.

It is hard to believe that just three years ago, President Obama first introduced the global food security initiative Feed the Future.

It all felt so new at the time, because it was new.

It represented a new model of development, which has, in many ways, come to define the way we work around the world today.

A model that advances a far deeper focus on science, technology, and innovation to dramatically expand the realm of what is possible in development.

A model that engages far more broadly with private sector partners—putting behind us an old reluctance to work together and engaging companies not as wellsprings of corporate charity, but as real partners with an interest in serving the needs of the most vulnerable.

And a model that delivers more for our partners, but demands far more as well.

Today, we see this model at work across our efforts in food security.

We see it in our new emphasis on developing cutting-edge agricultural technologies that are sowing economies with the seeds they need to grow.

In Bangladesh, an innovation in fertilizer called deep urea placement has transformed over 600,000 hectares of land and led to the first-ever rice surplus in the country’s poorest state.

And in East Africa, vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are reaching tens of thousands of households, protecting kids from diseases and improving nutrition.

We also see this model of development in our new emphasis on helping communities build resilience to perennial disasters—like floods and droughts.

Our humanitarian assistance is one of the most meaningful expressions of who we are as a people, and Americans can take pride in the fact that we are always ready to answer a call for help. 

That is what we did last year in the Horn of Africa, where the generosity of millions of Americans helped feed 4.6 million people and protect 1.5 million children against preventable disease like measles and polio.

And that is what we doing today in the Sahel, where more than 18 million people are in need of assistance. 

But emergency aid is not a development solution.

We need to stop treating communities in vulnerable areas like dependents and start helping them build the economic floor they need to bounce back after a crisis.

That means designing micro-insurance packages for pastoralists and providing drought-tolerant seeds to farmers. It means helping families learn about more nutritious foods and helping communities resolve conflicts over resources so tension doesn’t escalate in a dry season.

While we can’t stop droughts and floods from happening, we can make decisions today that stem the tide of suffering that devastates millions in precisely the regions that represent our greatest national security priorities.

And finally—and perhaps most powerfully—we’ve seen this new model of development at work in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

Last year, as we reviewed our progress in Feed the Future leading up to the G8 Summit in May, we found that despite the growth of private sector investment in developing countries, almost none of it went to poverty-reducing agricultural development in Africa.

When we reached out to global and local firms, we frequently heard about the same barriers to investment, including corruption, ineffective policies, and a lack of access to donor programs that could help make projects in developing countries feasible.

As a result, we started bringing donors, private sector companies, and developing countries together in a new partnership that would expand investment opportunities in African agriculture by matching commitments from the private sector with commitments from African countries to implement serious market-oriented reforms.

Cargill was one of the first to sign on—joined by more than 70 global and local companies that have collectively committed more than $3.5 billion to accelerated investment in African agriculture.

At the same time, reforms are already beginning to take shape in six African countries that developed New Alliance cooperation frameworks.

These are the economies of the future—where we will either plant seeds of engagement and trade with a rapidly growing middle class or lose ground to others. 

We have ambitious goals:

  • Ending hunger.
  • Eliminating extreme poverty.
  • Ensuring children and their mothers live to build their futures instead of dying of easily preventable causes.

In the last few years, we’ve seen the momentum build and real results begin to emerge—including 8.8 million children reached through nutrition programs, and 1.8 million people who adopted improved technologies or management practices.

And although the genuine impact of our work will only be understood years from now, we have a growing sense today that the world is increasingly better prepared to absorb any shocks and stumbles without seeing families slip into poverty or nations into unrest.

But we aren’t there yet.

In the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the country to speak about the importance of development—stopping at universities, visiting with communities of faith, and meeting local private sector leaders.

I’ve spoken about USAID’s new model of development. Our business-like focus on results and our efforts to measure our work relentlessly—inviting cold hard fact to challenge our warm, fuzzy aspirations.

But what has surprised me is the central and powerful place that some exceedingly soft ideas have in these hard analyses.

Forging common purpose and shared values.

Meaningful work.

And a sense of being part of something bigger than oneself. 

Development attracts many of the best students, brightest minds, and strongest spirits. But we need to be sure that we discuss, deepen, and celebrate the sense of shared and higher purpose that brought us to our work in the first place.

If we do, perhaps we could spend less time thinking about how we sell development to a skeptical public and spend more time connecting the core individual quest for meaning and value to our efforts.

Perhaps to genuinely solve our challenges—ending extreme poverty and hunger, advancing real democracy, and ensuring all children survive and thrive—we need to elevate development not only in the board rooms of the private sector and the Situation Room of the National Security Council, but also in the hearts and minds of how millions of people express their own personal quest for meaning.

Thank you.

 

New York, NY

Last updated: November 17, 2014

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