Remarks by Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance, at the International Food Aid and Development Conference

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Subject 
The Role of U.S. Food Assistance in Building Resilience

[As prepared]

Thank you and good morning. I'm delighted to be here again today - it is always a pleasure to visit Kansas City. I first attended this conference almost a decade ago, when it was much smaller. The growth of this conference is one of the strongest affirmations of the importance of the work we do together. And this past year more than ever underscored the critical role of U.S. food assistance around the world. In any given year-not just in times of crisis-American farmers from more than 26 states provide food for our assistance programs. People here today know better than most the importance of our global leadership in providing help to those in need.

Last June when I visited Kansas City for this conference, the United States was in the midst of a full throttle response to crisis in the Horn of Africa. More than 13 million people in the dry lands of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia were in urgent need of help, including more than three million in Somalia alone, where conflict exacerbated the most severe drought in 60 years. We had been tracking the potential of this crisis through the Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET), a tool USAID has funded for the last 25 years that gives us much earlier and more precise data about climate conditions, projected rainfall, crop production and marketplace functioning. As a result of early warnings that FEWSNET began signaling in August 2010, we were able to have food pre-positioned by that fall.

The Horn Drought Response required that we use every possible available tool. In addition to sending life-saving food, we used local and regional procurement options and cash and vouchers in areas with functioning markets. We focused on health prevention based on our lessons from past famines that preventable disease is the number one killer of children under five, and we emphasized targeted and therapeutic foods to assist the many, heartbreakingly, severely malnourished children that came in waves across the border from Somalia.

I am relieved and proud to be able to say that, by the end of 2011, the famine that had been declared in six regions of Somalia had ended. Ultimately, with USAID teams working around the clock for months, we provided 429,000 metric tons of life-saving food along with critical health care, cash-based programming and medical supplies, reaching more than 4.6 million people, primarily women and children, when they needed help most. For your partnership in and commitment to this consequential effort: thank you. Thank you to partners who worked tirelessly and often with great courage in tough places. Thank you to the farmers and producers who enabled us to feed 4.6 million people when they needed it most. I visited Dadaab refugee camp when Somali women and children were arriving after walking for weeks, bone thin, lined up for life-saving, literally, food rations. I visited clinics in Garissa where children were listless on their mother's laps. The importance of the compassion and leadership of the Unites States has never been more starkly underlined for me.

None of this would have been possible without all of you. It was the hard work and generosity of America's farmers, commodity producers, manufacturers, and shippers, and of our many implementing partners, that made it possible for the United States to respond effectively and to ensure that millions of people would not go hungry.

BUILDING RESILIENCE

We also know that we can do better. We can act earlier; we can focus more on prevention than response; we can do more to build resilience so these families and communities can withstand the inevitable shocks that will continue to occur. We know we can't prevent drought, or any of the shocks that repeatedly drag communities into crisis, but we can make real progress in ensuring that the next one is less devastating.

I am encouraged by this increased emphasis on resilience. We are seeing early results that are promising, where our emphasis on building resilience helped families withstand the great drought of 2011. I visited a program in which we support CARE to help a group of 57 women pastoralists in Garissa, Kenya, form a collective to increase their earnings from milk production. Together they make and market yoghurt to help them reduce spoilage; they have a joint marketing system to get their production to market faster. And they have substantially increased income for their families, helping them feed their children and pay school fees, even during the drought. Another USAID program in Kenya used a combination of food transfer and technical support to help farmers like 65-year old Losekon Ayanga harvest a bumper crop of sorghum through improved irrigation, compared with neighboring villages that had no harvest at all when the rains failed.

In Ethiopia, USAID has supported the Productive Safety Net Program since 2005, along with the World Bank, the Government of Ethiopia and other partners. This program effectively kept 7.6 million more people from falling into crisis and moving to seek emergency assistance as they have done in past droughts.

Our commitment is to connect America's powerful humanitarian relief efforts to longer-term resilience, with the goal of lifting these countries out of chronic crisis. We are working along with our international partners and African leaders to vaccinate livestock, improve local crop yields through better seeds and irrigation, and strengthen nutrition to make communities more resilient to humanitarian crises and ensure that the next drought doesn't wipe out years of development gains. Last December, with many of you, we convened "An Evidence Based Workshop on Strategies for Success" with 180 participants in Washington -donors, private voluntary organizations, researchers and academics, and the private sector-to identify the most effective strategies for building resilience and look at real cases of success and failure.

I am also pleased to report that in the last year USAID has played a pivotal role in building international momentum for resilience along with our African partners. In April, at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, we formed a new Global Alliance for Action on Drought Resilience along with African governments and our international donor partners. This Alliance is focused on ensuring that global commitment to food security equals action, with the goal of having a solid progress report in six months on the programs and policies that will address chronic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa dry lands.

TRANFORMING FOOD ASSISTANCE

Our American food assistance programs are a critical component of our global leadership, both for the most critical moments when we are saving lives and for building resilience that mitigates the worst of a crisis. To do this most effectively, we are transforming our food assistance programs to be timelier, more effective, more targeted, more nutritious and more market sensitive. We have made tremendous progress since we spoke last year - and I want to tell you about how we are working with American farmers and producers to ensure that our food assistance is making a real difference in three key ways.

First: by improving the quality of our food aid. Last year at this conference we presented the findings of USAID's Food Aid Quality Review. Since then, we have deployed those findings to advance the food aid quality agenda and improve the nutritional quality of our food aid to meet the special nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups, especially women and children. You will hear more over the next few days from my colleagues about just how we're doing this together with many of you here. But I am proud to report now that we have worked together with American farmers and manufacturers to produce a ready to use therapeutic food for severely malnourished children that we offered for the first time last year as part of our in-kind food basket. By the end of May we will have emergency food bars and paste pre-positioned to feed general populations during the initial stages of a rapid onset emergency until conditions stabilize and more traditional foods can be accessed. Nutrition is critical to our larger food security agenda and yet another area where our partnership with academia, industry, producers, and civil society is key to making the greatest impact. We look forward to making the most of these next few days of discussions to drive this effort forward.

Second, we are making strides in how we provide food assistance to make sure our efforts best meet local needs and yield long-term benefits. In addition to our direct food aid, USAID is now among the leading providers of cash for food assistance. In places where markets are functioning and food is available, food vouchers can enable local populations to get food fast without disrupting local markets and prices. For example, in Niger, a World Food Program effort that USAID helps to support, now allows families facing the risk of hunger to use smart cards to withdraw cash for food. After Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010, this kind of effort allowed 20,000 households to eat.

Third, we are connecting up our food assistance programs with Feed the Future, President Obama's landmark initiative to increase food security by battling the root causes of poverty and under nutrition through increased investments in agricultural productivity and nutrition. In response to global food price spikes a few years ago, this administration made a bold commitment to helping farmers around the world as a key driver of economic growth. By investing in a targeted set of countries where we can make a real difference, Feed the Future helps link farmers to local and regional markets and secure other safety nets to withstand price shocks and increase food supplies where they are desperately needed.

CRISIS IN THE SAHEL

We're proud of these efforts and confident they're making our assistance more effective. But we also know just how great the challenges remain. The situation in the Horn is extremely fragile: current forecasts indicate the return of poor rainfall for some areas and the numbers of people in need may increase in coming months. On the other side of Africa, we are unfortunately having the opportunity to put some of the lessons learned in response to the Horn into immediate application. Last fall, we began receiving early warnings that the dry season this year in the Sahel could be especially difficult. A new drought is now pushing millions into crisis in these dry lands that stretch from Senegal to Chad. In the face of recurring cycles of drought, farmers in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and other countries in the Sahel are incurring crippling amounts of debt-in a part of Africa where even on a good day many children under the age of five face severe malnutrition. We pledged, along with other international partners, to take early action in response to early warnings and began a response in January. We have already shipped 83,800 metric tons of food to the region-enough to feed 2.5 million people-and we are working to bring the same focus on saving lives and building resilience to the Sahel as we have to the Horn.

Still, while for many, circumstances are indeed dire, we also cannot lose sight of where there is hope. I'd like to close by just briefly telling you about a woman I met on my last trip to the region in February, in the village of Tougouri, in Burkina Faso.

Safieta was one of four women I met in this village while visiting areas once again experiencing drought. Among them, they had 31 children and not a single husband to help support their families. Safieta was worried: the rains were bad last year and none of the women were able to harvest the maize they'd planted during the rainy season. But Safieta proudly took me on a walk along the edge of three plots filled with bright green onion sprouts. Seven years ago, USAID began a program in partnership with Catholic Relief Services to increase the resilience of villagers dependent on rain fed crops. That program ended two years ago, yet Safieta and her fellow farmers are continuing to thrive on the proceeds of their dry season products. Safieta-who told me she chose onions because she knew they were strong enough to survive a few days without water-is now sending her children to school while still managing to save some for the unpredictable needs.

Standing in that field, wearing a bright yellow scarf, Safieta told me she was "resilient now, just like the onions."

Next year, with your continued partnership, I hope to be able to share with you many more stories like Safieta's. We know that by helping her, we not only help Safieta feed her children but to do so with the kind of dignity we all deserve.

Thank you all again for playing such a vital role in this effort - and for the chance to talk with you this morning.

I will now be joined by some of USAID's partners to look more closely at how we're building resilience among vulnerable groups. We are fortunate to have Tim Frankenburger with us to lead this discussion. Tim brings more than 25 years of development experience and currently serves as President of TANGO International. I look forward to taking any questions as part of the panel. 

Kansas City, MO

Last updated: December 01, 2014

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