Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at the Chicago Council for Global Affairs

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

[As Prepared]

Every year, this event brings together the world’s champions in food security. I look around the room and see nutrition experts, food scientists, and humanitarian leaders. I see advocates from both sides of the aisle who recognize that the face of hunger is not a partisan issue, but a moral one—and one of great importance to our shared security and prosperity.

Looking around the room, it is clear we have the expertise, tools, and new approaches to end hunger.

Most importantly, it’s clear we have the leadership.

Over the last three years, under the personal and committed leadership of President Obama, Feed the Future has worked to translate a global vision of food security into sustainable impact that are lifting millions of people from poverty and giving them a foothold in the global economy.

For generations, this aspiration—of a world without hunger—has guided American engagement in development.

In fact, at the same time that President Kennedy was reshaping our food aid program into a global humanitarian mission, the American scientist Norman Borlaug was developing the new strains of wheat and rice that ushered in the Green Revolution.

Although these twin efforts—in relief and in development and trade—have long defined America’s leadership in the fight against hunger, the global community has struggled to build a bridge between them, to implement one cohesive vision of ending hunger from farms to markets to tables.

At the end of the day, we’re really talking about a very simple concept. Every farmer has great seeds. Every farming community is connected to a market. And every child has the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.

This is the path that President Obama set forth in the State of the Union Address earlier this year, when he called upon us to join the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades.

Today, we are taking up that call with focus and passion—scaling our impact with a new emphasis on science and business is quietly and powerfully changing the face of poverty and hunger around the world.

Earlier this year, I visited Tanzania—a nation where agriculture employs three-fourths of the labor force and nearly half of all children suffer from undernutrition.

I met farmers brimming with pride who were using improved seeds and drip irrigation to increase their rice yields by 50 percent in just one year.

Now, considering that, it’s hard to believe that a decade ago we had essentially no agricultural programs in the country.

Tanzania wasn’t alone.

For more than 20 years, agriculture funding in development had been on the decline, leaving the world ill-prepared to cope with the growing challenge of food insecurity.

In this environment, President Obama entered office in 2009 and launched a global food security initiative as one of the first foreign policy acts of his presidency.

Feed the Future was more than a new presidential initiative.

It represented a fundamentally different approach that placed smallholder farmers, especially women, at the center of country-led efforts to transform agriculture.

This has required us to make tough choices about where our work will have the greatest impact. Since 2010, we have phased out 22 country programs in agriculture in order to concentrate our people and resources where they are needed most.

Last year, working on the ground in nineteen countries, Feed the Future has helped 7 million farmers adopt improved technologies or management practices, growing yields and livelihoods.

In Bangladesh—the most densely populated country in the world—we have helped 2.8 million farmers adopt improved technologies. One of these technologies—the deep placement of fertilizer briquettes—increases yields and minimizes runoff into drinking water. As a result, farm sales of rice increased by more than $30 million and one of the nation’s poorest regions experienced its first-ever rice surplus.

Far from fleeting, these efforts are paying off in the form of increased yields, higher incomes, and brighter economies.

In fact, since 2005, we’ve seen poverty rates fall by an average of 5.6 percent and stunting by an average of 6 percent across all Feed the Future countries.

For over a decade, we have invested in advanced molecular techniques and conventional breeding to develop new seed varieties and select livestock that are resilient in the face of heat, drought, insects, and disease.  

We have more than doubled our research investments, from $55 million in 2008 to $135 million in 2011. In the last five years alone, more than 34 new drought-tolerant maize varieties have been developed and deployed to over 2 million smallholder farmers in Africa through joint efforts of USAID, the Gates Foundation, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

We’ve also established Feed the Future Innovation Laboratories led by U.S. universities to develop game-changing technologies in areas like small-scale irrigation and post-harvest losses.

So far this year, we have awarded five new grants—totaling $18.3 million—focused on increasing the resilience of rice, wheat, maize, and millet. 

These awards leverage not only $31 million in additional private and public funding, but also the invaluable scientific knowledge of partners around the world.  

Inspired by the Green Revolution, it is easy to think of new seeds as the silver bullet.

But the reality is that agricultural transformations occur through comprehensive innovations in water management, soil fertility, and crop management—with an eye towards the needs of the local community and watershed.

This systems-approach is called “sustainable intensification,” and Feed the Future has helped farmers apply it across Asia and Africa.

But we know that game-changing technologies only actually change the game when they reach farmers.

Right now, the main hybrid maize in use in Kenya dates from 1986. And in Ghana, the main open-pollinated maize variety dates from the 1980s.

The ultimate test of an international research system is not the glamor of its inventions, but the impact of its results.

Last fall, we launched a program dedicated to identifying technologies that could quickly scale to reach millions of smallholder farmers. We received more than 120 proposals in our first round—half of them from local organizations and companies in developing countries.

Today, I am pleased to announce two of these grant awards. The first will enable World Cocoa Foundation to deliver tailored advice on pest management and fertilization to 15,000 smallholder cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire.

We’re also working with DripTech, an American start-up company, to pilot the development of a drip irrigation kit that can be installed in two and a half hours by farmers themselves.

We’re really excited about the potential of these innovations—and host of other breakthrough technologies that are already available on the shelf but have not yet reached farmers in the field. Today, we are making an inventory of these tested technologies public on feedthefuture.gov so that scientists and farmers all over the world can comment or contribute to it.

Today, while private investment to the African continent has swelled and trade tripled over the last decade, this boom has largely missed Africa’s agricultural economy in favor of extractive industries.

Recognizing this gap, on the eve of the G8 Summit and at this very forum just one year ago, President Obama stood before a gathered audience of global leaders and announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

Reversing a long history of underinvestment in African agriculture, the New Alliance matches commitments from African governments to reform with commitments from companies to invest.

In one year, the New Alliance has grown into a $3.75 billion public-private partnership that embodies the principles of Grow Africa, an African-owned and led platform for catalyzing reform and mobilizing private investment.

Through serious market-oriented reforms, six African countries are facilitating trade, energizing new markets, and creating jobs. At the same time, more than 70 companies—half of them local—have stepped forward with commitments to develop infrastructure and create affordable insurance packages for farmers.

Earlier this month, Grow Africa released a report that highlighted progress in at least 79 commitments—with more than half already in the pilot phase and over one-third in the investment phase.

Last week, as part of their New Alliance commitments, Dupont opened a state-of-the-art seed processing plant and warehouse near Addis Ababa. The plant will enable the company reach its goal of helping 35,000 smallholder maize farmers increased their years by as much as 50 percent.

In Tanzania, while Yara International has started construction on a fertilizer terminal at the nation’s largest port, we have partnered with a range of organizations to construct a 130-kilometer road that links hard-to-reach farmland to markets. Incentivized by the government’s commitment to reform, these investments are coming together to transform agricultural production in the nation’s breadbasket.

But real challenges remain. Because financing for agricultural infrastructure projects requires significant project preparation costs, it can be difficult to secure private investment for these plans.

Earlier this month in South Africa, I was proud to join our partners in launching the world’s first—and only—fund expressly designed to fast track infrastructure projects that connect farmers to markets.

Led by the African Development Bank, the Fast Track utilizes $25 million in funding to defray the front-end costs of project preparation and fill the gap in the existing commercial finance market. We have no doubt the demand exists. Our initial review identified nearly 200 projects in the six New Alliance countries that could benefit from fast tracking.

We’re inaugurating the Fund with support to a local company based in Burkina Faso called Fruiteq, which exports fresh and processed mangos to Europe. With Fast Track’s support, the company can conduct a financial assessment and complete technical designs in order to expand its processing capacity.

It’s hard to believe, the efforts I’ve described are only half the mission.

We hold so many panels and write so many reports that it can be tough to remember that long-term food security is defined not only by crop yields and vibrant markets, but also by the health of a child and the resilience of her community.

Today, we have the unprecedented opportunity to save four million more children every year with the same resources.

Yet at a time when global needs are growing, our role as the world’s humanitarian leader is in danger of slipping.

Because while the world has changed significantly since Food for Peace was first established in 1954, our hallmark food assistance program has not.

Last month, as part of the 2014 budget, President Obama outlined a plan for overhauling the way our nation provides food aid around the world. By shaping a more agile, cost-effective program that harnesses new tools in the fight against extreme hunger, we save more lives without asking for more money.

The proposal is based on a rigorous analysis of the latest science that exists around saving lives during a crisis.

We know that chronic malnutrition accounts for 35 percent of preventable child death—and that high-quality, high-nutrition foods during the first 1,000 days of life can make all the difference.

In fact, over the last year, we reached than 12 million children through nutrition programs that have reduced anemia, supported community gardens, and treated acute malnutrition.

And we are developing the next generation of American food commodities to meet the diverse needs of an entire population, from a nursing mother to a malnourished child.

As the science of saving lives evolved, we developed a new set of tools to enhance the generosity of American food aid with greater flexibility, speed, and scope.

Through the World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress initiative, we locally procure quality food aid, giving farmers exactly the kind of support and stable demand they need to move on a path from dependency to dignity.

But while we have the tools, we often don’t have the flexibility to use them when we need them.

This year, 155,000 fewer children in Somalia will receive support because we do not have the flexibility to use cash to address the ongoing emergency where our food aid cannot go.

But it’s true—everyone here knows that the fight to reform food aid has been had before.  Over the last decade, leaders from both sides of the aisle have fought hard for food aid reforms.

That’s why when we rolled out the President’s proposal in April, we expected the same opposition that our colleagues had faced for so long.

But instead, we’ve been surprised and energized by the expressions of support we’ve seen from different stakeholders across the political spectrum—from CAP to AEI and the Heritage Foundation.

In the last several weeks, the editorial boards of the The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times have all endorsed the reforms.

So while negotiations on food aid reforms continue, the conversations they’ve sparked and the amount of interest they’ve generated has firmly demonstrated the incredible support that exists for our nation’s continued role as the world’s humanitarian leader.

Reforming food aid remains a core part of our vision to end hunger and extreme poverty. People will always say that the politics are tough, but as the plaque on President Obama’s desk says—“Hard things are hard.”

Ending hunger is hard. And ending extreme poverty is harder still.

But almost without notice, over the last several decades, global trends towards inclusive growth and empowerment that have put us within sight of these remarkable goals.

In the last 20 years alone, child mortality rates have fallen by 42 percent and poverty rates by 50 percent. In 2005, for the first time in human history, poverty began falling in every region of the world, including Africa. Over the past three years, we have helped accelerate these gains through Feed the Future—translating the aspirations of the global community into concrete results for millions of people.

We haven’t achieved this alone. The United States Government has come together behind Feed the Future in a highly coordinated fashion. Feed the Future’s research and training approach leverages the vast expertise of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

We have worked with the Department of Defense to design an approach to resilience that helps communities resist extremism and violence. And our efforts to reform food aid have been done in close partnership with the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration.    

But natural relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction will only continue if we shift this momentum from the Tanzanias of the world to the Somalias, from the Bangladeshs to the Pakistans, from the Colombias to the Haitis.

By introducing innovation across the entire continuum from farm to market to table, we have the opportunity to tackle extreme poverty by the roots and shape a world with far more partners in trade than recipients in aid.

Thank you.

Last updated: October 16, 2014

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