Remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, and Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack at the 2010 World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Subject 
2010 World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, this is another great honor for the State Department to once again host the announcements of the World Food Prize for this year. And it is my pleasure once again to welcome Ambassador Quinn and John and Janis Ruan and Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Shah. And I thank all of you who are here in support of the mission that Norm Borlaug represented and gave his life to, and which caused so much positive developments for people across the world because of his commitment. I want to thank Congressman Leonard Boswell, Congressman Stephen King, and others who are here from the diplomatic community, the NGOs, and all of you who care about this critical issue.

I personally am delighted by the announcement of the two winners for this year. I know and have worked with David Beckmann for a number of years. And Bread for the World has done an extraordinary job in not only providing positive responses in the fight against hunger, but in helping to really lead the way in terms of development and urging the United States to improve coordination and better target our investments and to learn from local communities, all lessons that we have embraced and applied in our Feed the Future Initiative.

And Jo Luck is a friend of many years from Arkansas. She and I worked together in something called the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families before half the audience here was born. (Laughter.) And she has done an exemplary job of building Heifer International into one of the world’s most beloved anti-poverty organizations. And you all know how Heifer has really caught the imagination of so many around the world as it provides livestock and other animals like bees and chickens and rabbits, along with the cows and the sheep and the goats. And it is a great pleasure, and I really commend the prize awarders because they’ve picked two people who really do exemplify what you were talking about, Ambassador. They are the heads of NGOs and they themselves are such passionate advocates for the basic principles that Norm Borlaug stood for.

We are committed to fight the twin afflictions of hunger and poverty. And as the ambassador said, I was privileged last year to make some announcements of principles because the Feed the Future Initiative intends to be a comprehensive effort to help people raise, buy, and sell food in developing countries. And we want to strengthen every link in the farming chain from improving the seeds that farmers plant in their fields to helping create thriving food markets to promoting nutrient-rich crops so people get the nourishment that they need to thrive, especially mothers and children.

And Feed the Future is central to U.S. foreign policy today. But for many of us here – including Secretary Vilsack, Administrator Shah, my chief of staff and counselor, Cheryl Mills – it is more than a foreign policy commitment. It has become very, very personal. I remember two days after I became Secretary of State, talking with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and telling him that food security was going to be at the top of our agenda. And I soon asked the State Department, USAID, working with Tom Vilsack at USDA, to pull together the experts in our government to begin talking about how we could better utilize the existing resources that we had. And I think it was one of the very first times that people across the government actually began to talk and work together. I mean, it sounds kind of simple, but we all get very busy in our own particular slots and it’s hard to break out of those. And so I think our efforts this past year have really paid off.

At the G-20 meeting last March, the President pledged to double the U.S. Government’s support for global agriculture. And in L’Aquila, Italy, last summer, he appealed to other members of the G-8 to join the United States in fighting global hunger. And together, more than $22 billion was pledged.

Now, over the past year, we have had an extraordinary all-hands-on-deck effort. Not only our experts in Washington but our embassies have taken the lead on the ground. I’ve traveled to promote the importance of food security to our global agenda from the UN General Assembly to India, to Kenya, to Brazil, Ireland, and, of course, last year’s World Food Prize announcement ceremony.

Now, we asked ourselves not whether we can end hunger but whether we will, because we think it truly is a matter of political will and capacity. And today, in memory of Dr. Borlaug, we want to give to you an insight into what Feed the Future means. And I want to discuss just briefly one of the cornerstones of our strategy. And you’ll hear more about this from Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Shah. But we came to the, I think, obvious conclusion that the United States spent much more of its foreign aid budget in the 1960s and ’70s on agriculture support than we do today. And how could we begin to maximize the impact of our commitment?

And one of the clearest answers to that is innovation. We know historically that farmers have innovated since the earliest times of agriculture, domesticating crops through persistent experimentation – crops we still plant thousands of years later. Certainly, the innovations from the Green Revolution, which saved millions of lives and transformed whole nations and regions. And as Dr. Bolaug never tired of telling us, a lot of the answers to hunger lie in science and research and technology, and better adaptation that can be made available to people who are willing to work hard from sunup to sundown but often don’t have the right tools.

So today, more than a billion people worldwide suffer from hunger. And many, many hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, labor all day to produce crops that are withered from lack of water and rendered inedible from blight, deepening poverty and social divides, straining governments, and creating situations that squander human potential, like the decaying crops in the field.

Now, in a few decades, the world’s population will grow to nine billion people. If we are to feed the future without leveling the forests, draining the aquifers, and depleting the soils of all nutrients, then we need science. There is simply no other way. But investing in science is not only an imperative; it is also a thrilling opportunity. And it is something that we want to hold up and celebrate. Scientists in our country and across the world are doing dazzling work. But for too long, we haven’t really not only invested in them but really held them up as the heroes and heroines they are. So what we want to do is to reverse the trend that we have seen in our country, where our investments in global agricultural research have failed to keep up with changing circumstances and the severity of the problems faced.

So we’ve asked for a nearly 50 percent increase in funding for international agricultural research in 2011. And we want to target those investments at specific research breakthroughs that, if successful, will not only help save and improve lives, but raise incomes for farmers and generate growth across Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world.

Now, you’ll hear as the days and weeks and months go on about what we want to do, and there are just a couple of examples so that you can sort of see what we’re aiming at.

In East Africa, a single crop – namely maize – provides food and incomes to millions of people. But there was a recent article in one of the papers that I read with such distress about how every few years, drought destroys significant portions of the maize harvest, just totally decimating the economic well-being of the people who depend upon that crop.

So what are we going to do? Well, with our support, scientists in the United States, at the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, and local research institutions in Kenya and Uganda are working to develop maize that flourishes even when the rains fail. Our local partners are testing new seeds in the field, making adjustments to suit local growing conditions, and reaching out to farmers in Zambia and Mozambique and Tanzania.

Now, understandably, many farmers are unable or unwilling to spend their limited income on fertilizers or new equipment, because when it doesn’t rain, these technologies go to waste. So that means that, even in a good year, the harvest may be less productive. So drought-resistant seeds would change that calculus and begin to give the farmers more control over their own environments.

And we estimate that breakthroughs like that would help 4 million people escape poverty and increase farmers’ income by half a billion dollars a year.

In South and Southeast Asia, we’re seeing good research being done on rice, and with our support, research at UC-Davis and the International Rice Research Institute are developing strains of rice that thrive even when they have been submerged in water. We’re funding researchers from American universities and private-sector companies here in our country as well as in India who are developing rice that keeps growing though long droughts. I saw some of that firsthand when I was in India.

And there’s just so much else. We want to fund research to protect livestock, which are often the most valuable asset that a family has. We want to do more to develop a vaccine for East Coast Fever, which kills 1 million cattle every year in Africa. Some of this is not expensive, like no-till farming, which has been adopted by thousands of farmers in Asia with help from the United States. And there is so much that we can do in conveying information about what works as well as investing in new answers.

So with research like this, we hope to have a triple impact. As farmers grow more food, people will have more to eat. The cost of food will decrease, so people can spend more of their income on education, health care, and other critical needs. And as farmers sell more, their incomes then contribute to broader-based economic growth.

So there’s a lot that we are committed to, and to that end, I am delighted to announce a new research initiative that combines the knowledge, resources, and commitment of USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As you will hear from Secretary Vilsack, there isn’t any institution in the world that has done more to help people eat better than USDA. And that research which we do in our own country can really be helpful. And USAID under Dr. Shah is going to be a leader in helping to translate technology and innovation into real-life answers.

We are calling this new venture the Norman Borlaug Commemorative Research Institute (Applause.) And we hope it continues to honor Dr. Borlaug’s life’s work.

And then we also want to train more scientists in our partner countries. We’re doubling our funding to a wonderful program called AWARD—African Women in Agricultural Research and Development. Last year, Administrator Shah and I met with AWARD fellows at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, and not only the results of their research, but their pride and excitement about what they were doing.

So there’s so much that we are excited about in this Feed the Future Initiative, and it is truly an all-government effort that really calls on the best minds and the greatest passion that we can possibly marshal. And we look forward to partnering with NGOs like Bread for the World and Heifer International.

After he received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, Dr. Borlaug urged our country to increase our stake in the fight against hunger. He said, “World peace will not be built on empty stomachs or human misery. It is within America’s technical and financial power to help end this human tragedy and injustice, if we set our hearts and minds to this task.”

We have the commitment, we have the technical power, and we intend to make this happen. And you’ll hear shortly from two of our leaders who are incredibly committed and we’re so lucky to have them in these positions at this moment in history, Tom Vilsack and Raj Shah, because they are exactly the kind of people that I think Norm Borlaug was thinking of when he said the United States could go forth and fight hunger, and not just to a draw but defeat it once and for all.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I’m supposed to be impartial, but I hope it’s okay if I say that was even better than last year. (Laughter.)

Our next speaker is Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Dr. Shah was sworn in as the 16th USAID administrator last December. Under his leadership, USAID has continued its long history of leadership in international agricultural development.

Previously, Dr. Shah served as Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, and as the chief scientist at USDA. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Dr. Shah served as the director for agricultural development in the Global Development Program at the Gates Foundation. (Applause.)

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for that wonderful announcement, and Secretary Vilsack, for your support and partnership. It is – it’s tough to go next here. (Laughter.) But it’s a real honor to look around this room and to see so many people whom I’ve had the chance to work with but who have been so deeply committed to agricultural research in particular, really all around the world, and to see the Borlaug family who has helped really lead the advocacy efforts of Dr. Borlaug. And we’ve all been so moved and touched by your personal leadership and certainly by his powerful example.

Dr. Borlaug created this award, of course, and in it hoped to instill a central point that he repeated perhaps to everyone in this room and certainly every one of us that had the chance to spend time with him, and that is that it really takes only one thing to end hunger, and that is tremendous and consistent political will. And he modeled that behavior throughout his career. He created a shuttle breeding program in Mexico, really against the guidance of all of his superiors, because he thought that that would be the most effective way to develop big breakthroughs that would be applicable not just in one or two agro-ecological systems, but around the entire world. When he was discouraged from bringing some of those improved seeds into Pakistan, he put them in his pocket and flew there, planted them with farmers, and took political leaders to see the fruits of scientific labor and convinced a subcontinent to adopt a set of improved varieties and management practices that ultimately saved hundreds of millions of people.

Today, in our opportunity to honor two leaders, Jo Luck and David Beckmann, we recognize the tremendous role they have played in building the kind of political will that Dr. Borlaug talked about. Jo Luck, in her leadership of Heifer International, created an organization that allows children around this country and around the world to give each other gifts that are small animals. And I have a young son who now happily does that, both giving and receiving. The first time he received it, he sort of had a few questions about how this turns into something that improves his enjoyment at home – (laughter) – but he quickly learned that this was about service and about commitment and about helping those help themselves pull themselves out of poverty with dignity and with effort. And we honor her for that tremendous contribution.

For those of you, I think everyone in this room has had the opportunity to work with David Beckmann, you recognize his unique, really, moral and intellectual leadership on this issue that really inspires and motivates all of us.

Well, today’s award ceremony is particularly special, because this is a unique point in time when we actually have, for the first time in a long time, the political will at the highest levels of government to win the fight against hunger. And the opportunity to present some thoughts between Secretary Clinton and Secretary Vilsack and the opportunity to join them in this journey has been a tremendously enlightening one.

Secretary Clinton, your visit to the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, which you highlighted in your remarks, was an example and a real motivator for the entire community of agricultural researchers here and around the world. And the chance to have now a commemorative research institute in the name of the Dr. Borlaug shows the outcome of that commitment, and we appreciate that.

Secretary Vilsack, I’ve had the chance to walk with you through small farms and have you interrogate farmers about their planting techniques and things they could do differently to improve their yields and their outcomes. And I would just point out I think what we all know and what is incredibly obvious. It’s amazing to have two leaders at this level with that much visibility and passion and commitment be so specifically engaged in this mission. And so for everyone in this room and for the World Food Prize, this is really our opportunity to take forward Dr. Borlaug’s mission and to win this overall battle.

Today’s announcement is one example of the concrete actions and steps the U.S. Government is taking to really win the war against hunger. In announcing this program, we’re doing a number of things differently in how we fund and how we partner with other countries in making agricultural technologies accessible to some of the smallest and most vulnerable production communities in the world.

First, we’re refocusing on core productivity. It is recognized that that is what it will take to meet the aggregate food needs of an emerging global population, but also to meet the specific food access requirements of the most vulnerable populations that currently house the more than one billion people who live in chronic hunger.

Second, we’ve carefully prioritized the specific production systems in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the specific crops and livestock on which we’ll spend our resources, and the traits and diseases that are most relevant. I think Secretary Clinton highlighted examples of the most important ones. But taking that very specific, strategic, and prioritized approach to investing in product development is an important part of doing things differently.

And third, we will have a milestones-and-outcome-based funding approach that will allow us to dramatically expand our support for these programs, but also make sure that they deliver real technologies and real results in a timely way that is visible and that improves outcomes for small farmers.

USAID has had a more than 50-year history in working in international agricultural research including, helping to establish the consultative group on international agricultural research. Now is such an opportune time to take hold of the opportunities of this new initiative to reshape that system and to reshape our international system to make sure we make all of the technologies available here in the United States and elsewhere around the world accessible and affordable and safe for small farming communities in a way that is respectful and understanding of their specific needs. USDA has had a tremendous history in agricultural research, creating the land grant system in this country in the 1860s and participating with USAID in a long-standing partnership.

I want to especially thank Josette Lewis and Rob Bertram from our team at USAID and Roger Beachy and Ann Tutwiler from the team at USDA that have really brought excellence and partnership together to make sure that we can be as supportive as possible of this overall mission.

And finally, I have an opportunity to introduce Secretary Vilsack. I worked for Secretary Vilsack proudly because he’s a wonderful leader who shares a deep commitment to this issue, who’s willing to walk through the farms in any country to give farmers a bit of a tough time, but to really learn about and help teach things that could be done differently to create better outcomes. And we look forward to an ongoing partnership to really live up to the aspirations of Feed the Future and, for the first time in decades, dramatically reduce and ultimately eliminate hunger from our planet. Thank you.

(Applause.)

SECRETARY VILSACK: Dr. Shah, if you think you had a tough act – (laughter) – I’ve got to follow Secretary Clinton and you. (Laughter.) And I want to thank the Secretary for, again, giving us this great opportunity to have one of the most magnificent places in all of Washington, D.C. to have this ceremony. And I want to welcome back to the capital our good friends, the Ruans, and thank you for their generosity, and my good friend, Ken Quinn for his work and effort.

I guess my responsibility here today is to try to summarize what you all have heard. What is it that connects Dave Beckmann, Jo Luck, the World Food Prize, John Ruan, Norman Borlaug, and the Borlaug Initiative? Well, perhaps I can do this in the best way by telling you a story that I told to David Beckmann yesterday. He was in my office at USDA. And we were having a conversation about the Child Nutrition Act in this country, how we’re going to deal with hunger among America’s children, and how we were going to deal with the obesity issue that confronts so many of our youngsters.

And on the table, Madam Secretary, in my office were five loaves of bread and two fish. (Laughter.) We were talking to David and a number of ecumenical ministers and so I thought it was appropriate to talk a little bit about one of the famous parables in the Bible. It is a story of the loaves and fishes and it was explained to me in Dubuque, Iowa not so long ago by a priest who came out and explained that he was going to explain the homily he was about to give to the children of the parish before mass started. And I thought, well, I really needed to pay attention because I might get it this time. (Laughter.)

And he explained the story and he told the story about how Jesus was giving a sermon and he saw the 5,000 and he told his disciples to feed the 5,000. And the five – and the disciples were quite skeptical of all this because they only had five loaves of bread and a couple of fish; they couldn’t possibly feed 5,000 people. But Jesus said have faith, pass the baskets, just have faith, and that’s what they did. And they passed the baskets, and sure enough, all 5,000 got fed. When they got the baskets back, there was more food than they started. And the priest explained it this way. He said what Jesus did in that story is he removed the fear of sharing.

And if there is an overriding theme to our discussions today, it’s that all of the people we honor and dedicate and remember had the power to remove the fear of sharing and, in fact, to inspire the need to share. I mean, if you think about David Beckmann and Jo Luck, what do they do? They encourage us to share. They encourage us to give of our bounty so others can be fed. I was so impressed with Heifer International that when I tried to figure out what I could give my office staff last year, as a present, we bought a goat and bees and cattle, the whole thing on the list. I bought every one of each. (Laughter.) Sort of a Noah’s Ark of – and I think my staff was a little bit like your son. They weren’t quite – (laughter) – didn’t quite understand what the benefit was, but I felt good about it. (Laughter.) But you remove the fear of sharing, and Dave Beckmann and Bread for the World removing the fear of sharing so that children can be fed around the world.

And what did Norm Borlaug and John Ruan do? They suggested that the world needed to put the spotlight on those who do remove the fear of sharing, and we needed to celebrate and honor those individuals. We need to recognize their contributions. Why? To inspire others to do the same. And that’s why we have the Borlaug Initiative. In a sense, it’s actually two aspects of fear of sharing being removed. One is the bureaucracy that Secretary Clinton talked about can oftentimes have us in situations where we are siloed in our thinking and are not looking for ways in which we can partner with other agencies.

But because of the leadership of Secretary Clinton and Administrator Shah, we see the opportunity here to leverage the resources and expertise of USDA with the extraordinary leadership and development of USAID. Let us remove the barriers and the silos and the bureaucratic barriers that exist to sharing information and knowledge amongst ourselves so we are in a position to more effectively share it with the rest of the world.

And in the past, our food assistance programs were primarily designed to share our bounty in terms of overall food assistance. With Secretary Clinton’s leadership, she suggested that we needed to be less fearful of sharing our knowledge and our experience and our technology so that others could be self-sufficient. Why? Because when they become self-sufficient, then they become capable of trading. And when they become capable of trading, they become capable of developing relationships. And when those relationships are developed, they become capable of becoming friends and the world becomes a safer and better place for all of us to live.

So in a sense, when we remove that fear of sharing, we are not only helping those who are in need; we are indeed receiving back far more than we are giving. And that’s what the – (applause) – and having known Dr. Borlaug in a number of conversations and having had the privilege of spending time with John’s father, John Ruan, I know that that’s precisely what they wanted this prize to be about. And so I feel privileged and honored to be working with my good friend, Dr. Shah. I have extraordinary confidence in his capacity and in the capacity of USDA to partner.

And Madam Secretary, your vision of how we can feed the future is one that will become a reality. And when it does, like those who fed the 5,000, we will be better for it and we will have learned an extraordinarily important lesson long overdue. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Ben Franklin Room, Washington, DC

Last updated: June 05, 2014

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