[ As delivered ]
Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me to join this panel to discuss the inescapable links between food security, nutrition and HIV/AIDS: three of the top development priorities of the United States Government. Our major presidential initiatives – the PEPFAR, the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future – are all working on these urgent priorities.
I am coordinating the development side of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative, which aims to lift millions out of rural poverty and reduce the number of children going to bed hungry every night. Like PEPFAR, it is a whole-of-government approach harnessing a variety of U.S. Government resources – from State Department to the Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Department of Agriculture to the Peace Corps – to make a difference in the lives of the rural poor in the developing world.
After a decade-long decline in official development assistance for agriculture, we are making a renewed commitment to agriculture-led development to transform people's opportunities and livelihoods and ultimately, spur economic growth. We are aligning our resources with country-owned strategic plans and leading a collaborative global movement to improve food security through increased agricultural production and improved nutrition.
This Feed the Future initiative comes at a crucial time. We are experiencing a renewed support for development, and specifically agricultural development, not only in the United States Government, but across the world.
In September, President Obama issued the first-ever development policy by a U.S. President, demonstrating that development is a core component of the policy at the White House and across U.S. government agencies.
In addition, there has been a significant shift in funding for agricultural development. In the 1980s, 25 percent of U.S. foreign aid went to agriculture. That number dropped to 6 percent by 1990 and was a meager 1 percent by 2008.
After the spike in world food prices in 2007 and 2008 destabilizing local and national economies around the world, after it added 100 million people to the world's hunger and after it set back global efforts to reduce poverty, the international community responded at last year's G-8 Summit with the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative. President Obama pledged to spend at least $3.5 billion over three years on agriculture-led development through Feed the Future. The United States is on its way to achieving that financial commitment with an approved FY 2010 budget of $888 million.
We know food security is broader than just the availability of food or increased crop production. Food security also mean regular access to quality food that provides the full complement of necessary nutrients for a healthy and productive life. But food security is about more than just food. It is also closely linked to economic security, environmental security, and human security.
Food security is about a mother being able to provide nutritious food to her child, especially during the first thousand days – from conception to two years. It is about a farmer who has access to improved seeds, better agricultural practices, and to stronger markets.
What happens when that mother or that farmer – and they are often the same person – has HIV/AIDS? How does that make an impact on food security and nutrition?
One of the epidemic's most obvious impacts on food security and hunger is by reducing the household labor availability for agricultural production, processing and marketing.
With less labor for agriculture, fewer crops are planted and less labor-intensive crops are cultivated. Lower production means less food and less income. With the household income of a person living with HIV/AIDS likely already diverted to health care expenses, this means even less money to buy staple foods or to pay for school supplies and fees.
We all agree that women are critical actors for creating a food-secure world. We must focus on women to achieve lasting, measurable results in any of our development objective – from food security to the elimination of malnutrition to the eradication of HIV/AIDS. Many traditional farming systems rely heavily on women for tilling and tending food crops. As we all know, approximately 80% of the small farmers in Africa are women. And if you look at individual crops, that percentage is higher. And in South Asia, it's 60% and higher again fro specific crops.
And when a woman is ill because of HIV/AIDS and is unable to work, it places a considerable strain on her family and on rural agricultural production. Meanwhile, losses of agricultural income further diminish the prospects of arresting and eliminating HIV/AIDS.
The connections are clear. Our hope is that the renewed commitment to agriculture-led growth and improved nutrition will have a positive impact on the same communities affected by HIV/AIDS. We must link our programming across initiatives to leverage resources and increase impact. Attitude and behavior change, which are the foundations of HIV/AIDS prevention, are much more feasible when there is a promising future ahead.
Think about the daily connection between agriculture and health on the ground. The antiretroviral therapy (ART) provided by your support gives an Ethiopian farmer the strength needed to till her fields, walk her product to the local market, and provide enough income to pay school fees for her three children. The public health programs that you are helping to strengthen, have a far-reaching positive impact on agricultural production, market linkages, and education.
Improvements in agriculture have a strategic role to play in combating poverty, under-nutrition, and HIV/AIDS. An effective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, includes the achievement of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support, requires addressing issues of food and nutrition security so HIV/AIDS-affected people can maintain the in strength to help ward off opportunistic diseases. Low-income HIV-affected households, especially those with orphans and vulnerable children, are more susceptible to food insecurity. And poor nutrition and food insecurity result in reduced economic incomes – lower productivity and lower lifetime earnings, and premature death.
As we know, reducing hunger and fighting HIV/AIDS are two of the eight objectives of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with goal one to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and goal six to “combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.” These may seem like distinct goals, but they are closely intertwined in the lives of millions of people. To advance one goal requires advancing the other.
I welcome the discussion that you are having about these connections and how we treat them comprehensively. The more linkages we can make among these top priorities, the more effective our development programs will be. I welcome your creative ideas about how to further our integration together.
Last updated: January 22, 2015