Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah to the World Food Programme Executive Board in Rome, Italy

Monday, June 7, 2010
Subject 
WFP Executive Board

Thank you so much, Josette, for that kind introduction and Mr President, Ambassador de la Vega and Commissioner Georgieva for those wonderful comments. It is really a great honour to have the opportunity to address the Executive Board of an organization that I have so much faith and profound respect for. I also want to recognize Ambassador Eartharin Cousin who is our very capable and inspiring leader here whom we are all deeply supportive of and say how exciting it is that at a WFP Board meeting, that you have a Minister of Agriculture from Sierra Leone. We appreciate, Mr Minister, the leadership you are showing in supporting an expansion of activities in agriculture.

I would like to build on a comment the Executive Director made during her remarks when she said the global battle against hunger is winnable. We believe that deeply, but we only believe it is winnable if the most operationally capable hunger-fighting organization in the world, the World Food Programme, applies its infrastructure, its knowledge and its capabilities to breaking the cycle of hunger by promoting effective food systems, agriculture and nutrition in the places where we all spend our resources and work with a great deal of focus.

I saw this effort come together in Haiti as has been noted by so many of our speakers this morning and I just want to thank the country director, Myrta Kaulard who I believe is here, as well as Ramiro da Silva and the Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, for her direct leadership. I know in those early days, we were all quite concerned about the millions of people that might go without food and the deep partnership between the United States, our European partners and the WFP and the country and government of Haiti, really made a significant and profound difference and we appreciate both the experimental approach that you took in Haiti and the sheer application of your logistics prowess, which I think does serve as a model for what can be accomplished elsewhere.

I did also recently visit both Southern Sudan and Darfur and had the opportunity to visit the Autach camp for internally-displaced persons, a site that designed for 11,000 people that today houses 71,000 people. A few days after I left, after visiting a WFP food distribution, three humanitarian workers were kidnapped and of course, last year, between January and August, a staggering 50 United Nations and NGO staff were abducted in that area. So I thank you deeply for your courage and your commitment in executing this work. And that courage and commitment is really needed now more than ever. As we saw in this morning's first presentation, the number of hungry is going up, not down, and that is inexcusable. We are particularly concerned in the United States about this increasing food insecurity and very focused on the critical next steps we will take in Niger, in Chad and also watching the situation very closely in Yemen.

In all of these cases we prioritize our partnership with WFP around its capacity to respond effectively and efficiently to emergency food and feeding needs and the emergency relief programmes that prevent large-scale hunger and starvation. Without those programmes, the level of instability and the broader deterioration of the social fabric would be extensive. But we also know that you can use, at WFP, the tremendous operational capability you have to sustainably solve hunger by creating sustainable food systems. In the United States and around the world, we look to you for leadership in that area. I appreciate the management's efforts to both narrow the scope of the protracted relief and recovery operations programmes to focus as efficiently as possible on emergency activities while being very creative about the range of activities that can accelerate the transition from food aid to food assistance to social recovery and development.

We know that food aid can save lives but if we are not careful, we also know it can have unintended consequences such as distorting local markets and discouraging local production. In the United States and at USAID we, like you, are taking careful steps to make sure this does not happen. We are expanding the application of independent market analysis as we did in Haiti and as we are doing in eight other countries through what we call our Bellman process to make sure we have methodologies that will protect local producers and local markets in events when outside food assistance and aid is necessary. Although in-kind food assistance will remain the major source of US food aid, we will expand our cash vouchers and grant assistance, especially for local and regional procurement under the emergency food security programme that we launched earlier this year. In 2009 this programme represented about US$95 million of activity for the United States and we expect that to be 300 million in 2011 per this administration's request to Congress.

We also know that food assistance can play a unique role in promoting the transition from feeding to recovery and help lay the foundations for sustainable agriculture over time. In that regard, President Obama in announcing the United States' commitment to eliminate hunger said, and I quote, "Aid is not an end itself. The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating the conditions where foreign assistance is no longer needed." I know the management board of WFP already recognizes this because reducing undernutrition and strengthening the capacity of countries to reduce hunger have been set as co-equal objectives. President Obama's announcement led to a broad commitment in the United States Government but perhaps far more important, a broad commitment here in Rome last fall when a 192 countries plus the EC committed to a global food security effort. In the United States we call that the Feed the Future Initiative. And I would like just to describe briefly why we think this effort is different from previous efforts to invest in eliminating hunger. We will maintain our commitment to humanitarian aid, food aid and food assistance but through the food Feed the Future Initiative, we will also expand significantly by spending an additional US$3.5 billion to promote sustainable food systems development, agriculture and nutrition in prioritized countries where we collectively believe success is possible. And in doing so, we will do business very differently.

First, we will centre our initiative around country-owned plans, country leadership and country accountability. In the past, USAID and many other development agencies have been appropriately criticized for doing too much planning and implementing from donor capitals and from doing its work in a way that does not effectively integrate with country efforts. Two weeks ago I visited Dhaka as part of that country's leadership summit on food security. I was thrilled to see so many leaders from FAO, from IFAD and notably from WFP, the present and active participants in helping Bangladesh develop a robust national policy plan that all donors and all operational partners can align against. Their plan is turning into a smart and focussed plan. It is focusing on undernutrition, it is investing in the relative price difference between access to grains in that case rice and access to higher value, more nutritious forms of food such as animal protein, vegetables and dairy. On June 14 there will be a similar meeting among West African partners in Senegal to take forward the CAADP process to implement a series of significant country-owned plans. We request and are pleased to hear that of course the World Food Programme will be present at a very senior level to substantiate those planning activities and give those plans the full force of leadership that you are capable of.

Second, we are doing a better job of coordinating our efforts as a donor community and with implementing partners and really trying to work shoulder-to-shoulder as opposed to in a disaggregated manner. Multilateral organizations and UN agencies are critical to this effort. The newly established World Bank trust fund for food security now has US$880 million and we believe it will have significant additional resources over the next several years. It is bringing in new development partners like South Korea and it is trying to learn from examples of success as seen as Brazil and apply those best practices around the world.

In Rome you have a unique responsibility and opportunity to serve as the coordination hub for the international community. WFP, FAO and IFAD are already creating programme synergies that will help improve effectiveness on the ground. But now, more than ever, we need far more visible and transparent mappings of activities of these three agencies in countries. I personally would request GIS mapping as a simple and easy technological tool to make it clear where our activities are and USAID, by the end of this year, will have all of its food security efforts mapped in an easily accessible internet-based GIS system. We also think stronger country coordination that focuses specifically on agricultural development, food transport and food access through nutrition programmes will be critical to expanding the platform and achieving success.

Third, we are redoubling our efforts to improve private-sector investment along the entire value chain from research to farm production to the table. We think there are a greater range of tools that the US government could employ to achieve this objective. We are coinvesting with philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and encouraging greater participation from corporate partners including Walmart and other large-scale buyers of food that have the power to create supply chains that can reach hundreds of thousands of farmers and create real markets and improve their incomes in a successful and stable manner.

At the World Food Programme, you are often the largest buyer of food in the countries that we collectively call priority Feed the Future countries. You interface directly with food producers, with producer organizations and with food companies. The power of your purchasing is tremendous and I am glad to hear of the great progress in the purchase for progress initiative. I am honoured that the United States government has been able to increase significantly its direct support for that programme and I believe it has a greater potential to be used to create the kind of sustainable food systems that will help us be effective over time while simultaneously improving the efficiency of our humanitarian feeding programmes. You also partner with transport and logistics sectors in a unique way. And I enjoyed visiting Southern Sudan and learning about how those partnerships are significantly reducing the unit cost of providing emergency food assistance to people in need. I believe those partnerships could be expanded and better integrated with our Feed the Future initiative.

Fourth, we are trying very hard to prioritize women in everything we do. Everyone in this room knows that additional resources in the hands of women and additional tools and technologies in the hands of women disproportionately affect the ability for societies to sustain their own welfare gains. Yet, outside of a few specific examples, the development enterprise including USAID, has not always been successful at making sure we operationalize that knowledge effectively. I commend the World Food Programme for effectively operationalizing its women's focus and in visiting your own food distribution programmes we see the rigour with which you have created operational guidelines and templates to guide all of your partners to effectively focus on the stability and security of women. We would like to better employ those same operational rules in the execution of agricultural development programmes. This would include focusing on crops such as sweet potatoes and legumes with more intensity and more resources and would include collecting gender disaggregated data, in many cases requesting the disproportionate hiring of female extension workers.

We also observe that strategic objective 5 for WFP has to do with building capacity in your NGO network. We would ask that you use that strategic objective in your investments in that area to allow NGOs to more effectively focus on women both in food aid distribution and in food production and food systems development.

We also know that nutrition, particularly among children, is a clear vulnerability to hunger, so as part of the Feed the Future initiative we are ramping up investment in nutrition interventions, particularly in the minus 9 months to 24 month high risk age group with high intensity feeding in micronutrient supplementation. We will also expand our school feeding programmes with the real focus on improving educational and nutritional outcomes, and in both regards, we support the Executive Director's strong advocacy on these issues.

Fifth and finally, during these tough economic times, it is more important now more than ever for us to be able to demonstrate real results and efficiency in achieving them, and that is why we strongly support the Financial Framework Review that WFP is implementing in order to strengthen its already strong record in financial transparency and its ruthless pursuit of efficiency. We urge WFP to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation capabilities and make them even more transparent so that regular public audience, as well as the Board and its partners can fully understand the impact and sustainability of its programmes. We are working to strengthening our own monitoring and evaluation work, particularly in the area of food security, by doing a better job of investing in national level indicators and collecting national level data on food production, hunger and vulnerability. These investments must build on WFP's successful vulnerability assessment mapping programmes as well as the programmes at FAO and FEWS NET that collectively come together and provide us with the visibility we have on hunger and food insecurity. But it is worth noting in this setting that that data system, as strong as it is, is inadequate to the larger task of solving hunger and requires greater investment.

So I would conclude with simply highlighting that I believe right now is a unique opportunity for us to partner in a different and more efficient way. The goal of this partnership would be to improve the ruthless efficiency and focus with which we collectively solve the challenge of global hunger. The partnership builds on our President's strong recognition that chronic hunger threatens global stability and that feeding the future in a sustainable way is really the foundation of our national security. It builds on our Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton, who insists that development is a strategic, economic and moral imperative and includes humanitarian assistance in that as a central way of advancing American interests as central as diplomacy and defence. In fact her direct leadership of this initiative has significantly elevated our ability to gain resources and execute more effectively. And I believe this Feed the Future initiative will deepen our partnership with the World Food Programme. In doing so we really do want to learn if what we are doing is most enabling of WFP's ambitions and strategies. We want to learn from those of you at this Board meeting about what we can do differently to be a better partner. We are open to learning and changing as we go, but we really do believe in President Obama's initial comment that we invest in this area with the mindset of hopeful exit many decades from now, and that we will only do this if we use WFP's strong operational prowess and procurement footprint to really create the kind of food systems that will, over time, eliminate the need for humanitarian aid.

Rome, Italy

Last updated: September 22, 2014

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