For Immediate Release

Office of Press Relations

Press Release

MS. KATE WARREN: Hello again, I’m very happy to be back on stage with Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator for Policy and Programming at USAID. Thank you so much for joining us today.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

MS. WARREN: So, these next two days are about bringing together all the actors that are working on global hunger, really to spark a social movement, to take advantage of this galvanizing moment. Actually, last month at UNGA, I believe you spoke about how this is a real galvanizing moment to bring the world together to fight against global hunger, given such the depth of the crisis. So as you think about that, and your role within USAID, how are you thinking about seizing this moment, to actually really make more progress on combating hunger?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you for having me here. Food security and addressing hunger is such an important issue personally, to me, and I know for Administrator Power too. USAID has been on the frontlines of trying to address food security issues for many, many years. And after the last food crisis when we stood up Feed the Future, I think we saw some very promising signs of progress, real investments in food systems to help countries be more resilient and more secure in terms of being able to produce their own food.

In the last several years, we've seen a confluence of events that have shocked the system. Climate change, which isn't new, but is accelerating, including in some particularly vulnerable areas of the world. Whether it's drought or extreme flooding – we're seeing both. We're also seeing the hangover effects, certainly of COVID, when supply chains were disrupted and farmers were unable to do a lot of their planting. Everything sort of slowed down and got frozen in some places. And then, of course, Russia's terrible invasion of Ukraine, which has spiked food prices, globally, but really, also energy prices and fertilizer prices. And you've seen this whole confluence of events that has created this galvanizing moment when people realize that so much more still needs to be done in strengthening food systems globally, and making sure that people have enough to eat. The reality is that there are still many, many millions of people who go to bed hungry every night and that number is growing. And we've seen conflict, not just in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but conflict in many countries around the world exacerbate food insecurity. So all over the place, we're seeing it. This is a moment to take stock and redouble our efforts to improve agricultural productivity and resilience for food security.

MS. WARREN: And so, how are you thinking about that at USAID and your programming, and addressing climate disruption, conflict? How's that shifting the way you approach hunger?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, we're thinking about it in a number of different ways. Certainly, in the short term, making sure that we have sufficient resources to address the severe humanitarian crises. We've programmed over a billion dollars just alone for the Horn of Africa, where you see famine conditions underway. So, in the short term, we recognize that we have to address the immediate needs of people facing the most severe acute malnutrition and famine conditions. At UNGA, we also announced over $500 million for unprecedented investment in RUTF – ready-to-use therapeutic food – in partnership with UNICEF and others, and bringing together private philanthropy, governments, and multilateral organizations on RUTF. So, there's the humanitarian side, addressing the immediate crises, but then, as we've always done, looking at the medium and the longer term.

In the medium term, we've been relying on various different analyses to help guide our programming. IFPRI has done some interesting work indicating that, the real levers to help resiliency for smallholder farmers, let's not forget that 30 percent of the world's food is produced by smallholder farmers, and that the real sort of leverage points are fertilizer efficiency, and also cash transfers. So, we're looking very much at investing more in social safety nets, and also providing more access to the most vulnerable farmers for fertilizer. Just as an example, we've done a partnership with Yara, which is the Norwegian fertilizer company in Ghana, to provide 100,000 farmers in Ghana with access to fertilizer. In the medium term, we’re making sure that farmers have the inputs they need to plant for the next season so that we can see this replicated next year and the year after. Cash transfers as a social safety net is also medium term.

Longer term, USAID is continuing to make investments in the inputs that farmers need – the tech, the financing, the connections to markets, all of those components, storage, addressing the after harvest waste issue, which is so profound in so many places. We’re looking at the whole chain and system. Feed the Future, over the past decades since it started, has enabled two and a half billion dollars of private sector investment in the [agriculture] sector in the countries where we work; has leveraged five billion dollars of financing, and helped generate more than $20 billion of sales by farmers in the agriculture sector. So, [USAID is] really helping to turbocharge all of these efforts going forward over the longer term, to build resiliency. And then the last thing I'll say on this is really integrating the climate work that we're doing with our [agriculture] work, because more and more, we do see the interconnections of that, both institutionally meshing that up much more closely, and really aligning our programming, between our climate programming and our agriculture programming.

MS. WARREN: So, I want to touch more on the private sector engagement, and you have a lot of experience in this. So, there's a role for big food, big agriculture, to play. In many cases, they are a huge part of the food system. But there can be, I guess, maybe a little bit of controversy around how to work with those groups in many ways that can be contributors to a lot of the challenges we're trying to solve. Obviously, the motivations can be different and the values, but how do you see working with particularly big food, big agriculture, and helping to solve the food system challenges?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, I think we both know, there's a lot of controversy in [the agriculture sector], writ large. It's a space where people have strong views on lots of different things. But at USAID, we definitely believe in science and technology, and leveraging what we can to help increase productivity, and enable more people to not go to bed hungry at night. In the private sector work that we've been doing, a lot of it is very local. It's really trying to work with local markets, so that ultimately, smallholder farmers are able to grow food, use it for their own consumption, but sell it. One of the things we know is that investments in agricultural growth deliver twice the bang for the buck in reducing poverty than investments in other sectors. And the private sector's incredibly important in that. You have to have the market systems available in these local economies so that farmers can be buying the seeds, and inputs that they need, and through the whole process leveraging technology. It could be simple, having cell phone access so that they can check market prices and things. One of the things that we've been delivering has been a new tech app that we've been working with some of our other government partners, using geospatial data on soil conditions because farmers use fertilizer – it's very expensive – and they don't always know what their soil conditions are. And so they use it inefficiently, and providing them with very specialized data on what their soil is and what fertilizer they should be using, allows them to use less fertilizer and increase their productivity. So there's a tech component, there's a distribution component, there's market, there's after sales, there are all sorts of things that the private sector has to be involved in.

MS. WARREN: So, I mentioned this in an earlier session, but we released a report with Action Against Hunger that was looking into some of the causes that practitioners believe contribute to the challenge of fixing hunger, and one of them that was cited was just the whole system of bidding for grants and contracts, whether it's with USAID, or other donors, really breeds an environment of competition versus cooperation. I believe many people here in this room and joining online probably work for a USAID partner. Maybe, are frenemies here in the room, so I'd love to hear your thoughts, and the role of USAID and donors, and helping to facilitate cooperation rather than competition or duplication of effort?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, that's a really good question. And there's no silver bullet to this answer here, because you're right, when there's a fixed amount of money, people are going to be bidding for it, and there will be competition. Let's not sugarcoat that. But, we really go to great lengths to try to make sure that there's not duplication of efforts, that we are coordinating with other partners, other donors – you're doing that, okay, we'll be doing this – and really looking to fill gaps. The fertilizer spaces I mentioned earlier, I mean, there are many different players working in this space. I am on calls regularly, understanding what they're doing, and what types of interventions, what they're covering. We sometimes co-invest, to make sure that we're really being able to get the most leverage out of the work that we're doing. It's not perfect. Is there some duplication of effort? Sure. There is, inevitably, when my portfolio is global around the world. Are we certain that there's no duplication of effort? No, but we do put in place as many different efforts as we can, to make sure that we're not doing that.

MS. WARREN: And you just recently got back from Niger and Cote d'Ivoire, and on the ground, maybe a couple of days ago. So briefly, in our last minutes, can you talk a little bit about that experience and how that underscores your points today?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: It is like in action, seeing everything that we're talking about on the ground. Niger has the fastest growing population in the world. It's experiencing drought. It's experiencing conflict. I went out to Maradi and the south to look at efforts that we're making to restore grasslands. Conflict is driven between competition for land, between herders and farmers, and it's everything right there. The earlier panel mentioned one of the elements of hunger being gender disparities, it's right there. Women have less access to all sorts of inputs, and technology, and land, and land rights. It all comes together. And it's a complex crisis that requires a complex solution.

MS. WARREN: Right. Well, thank you. We’ll continue discussing those solutions over the next couple days. Thank you, Deputy Administrator Coleman for your time today.


Isobel Coleman 2022 Global Food Crisis RUTF unicef IFPRI Action Against Hunger
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