USAID Administrator Mark Green's Keynote Speech for the World Food Prize

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For Immediate Release

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email:

Downtown Des Moines Marriott
Des Moines, Iowa

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I am delighted to be here in the house that Ken Quinn built. I am from Wisconsin.  I know where Potosi is.  I know where Platteville is. And he went to La Crosse, I went to La Crosse's older wiser brother UW-Eau Claire.

But, no, seriously, it is great to be here.  In the brief time that I have with you, what I want to do is briefly describe what I see as three revolutions that are underway in the field of development, to point out that they're all particularly important in the area of food security. 

And as I do, I hope that you will all agree that these changes, these revolutions, just might make this year's session of the World Food Prize the most hopeful and exciting one ever.

So, the first of these revolutions is no surprise, it's technology. Not the everyday discoveries, but the fact that it's becoming increasingly available and affordable all across the developing world.

Now my own career in development began about 30 years ago.  My wife and I were teachers in a little village in Kenya, in East Africa.  Those were different times.  In our little village, we had but one telephone.  It was a windup phone.  It was mounted on a wooden box in the school office.  So back then, if you wanted to make a long-distance call, you'd go down to the office, you'd pick up the receiver, you'd turn the crank, you'd say, "Operator, give me 662 Kisumu."  Put the receiver down.  Go sit outside under a mango tree, wait for the phone to ring to tell you that your call had gone through.

A dozen years later, I walk into that same village.  I was walking along a path, I see a young boy, and I say, "Do you know Niva?" One of my former students.  He said, "Yes." I say, "Can you go and get him for me?" He said, "Yes." And he pulled out his mobile phone and he called him (laughter).

Five or so years after that, I was an ambassador in an East African country.  My African staff had cheap mobile phones, and they were conducting business, they were paying their bills, they were making calls everywhere.  And that is the lens through which I see technology and innovation in Africa and elsewhere.  This is an extraordinary time of opportunity.  These innovations, this frugal technology is making the impossible, possible, the unsolvable, solvable.

Now in West Africa, USAID is supporting a tropical weather forecasting company called Ignitia.  Ignitia sends daily and seasonal forecast via text messaging.  It's received by 320,000 users across West Africa, increasing their awareness of rain and drought particularly during the growing season.

In Ethiopia, there are now electronic billboards in the countryside that show the latest price for coffee.  The aim is to help those remote small-scale farmers see what the actual price is, so when the unscrupulous middlemen come to try to game them, they've got ammunition.  Not so many years removed from that windup telephone.

Now if the expansion of affordable technology is the most eye-popping revolution underway in the developing world, there's another one underway that I would argue is at least as important.  So, when USAID was launched a little over five decades ago, something like 80 percent of the money that flowed from America to the developing world was traditional development assistance, what we call "ODA."

Today that figure is just under 10 percent.  To be clear, it's not because ODA is fading away, it's because private financial flows have roared ahead.  Large scale philanthropy, remittances, but more than anything else commerce and investment.  The world's fastest growing economies are largely in the developing world.  According to the World Bank, half the nations in Africa are now lower middle income or higher.

Many of these same nations have very young citizenry.  The demographics are showing that they are increasingly young.  And so that means they're emerging consumers and are interested in the very kinds of products that U.S. businesses make and services that we provide.  In short, American business has business in the developing world.

The third and final revolution that I'd like to describe is the one that excites me most as administrator, and that's the rapidly changing relationship between private enterprise and the development community.  Leaders in both sectors are finally figuring out how to take the unique capabilities of each, public and private, and apply them to problems that neither could take on fully alone.  And this is making challenges that once seemed insurmountable, very real and very achievable.

It is hard to overstate how big a shift this is in the development field.  For years, whether we realized it or not, USAID and others saw donors and governments as the proper drivers of progress. Private enterprise was something to keep at a distance or if you could, bend it to your will.  We welcomed donations from private enterprise.  We were even willing to contract with private businesses to obtain goods or receive services.

Today we have moved way beyond.  Today we have moved beyond grant-making and contracting and instead we're collaborating.  We're recognizing that agencies like USAID don't need to be the sole actors in sectors, if we can be the catalytic actors in those sectors.

We're rethinking how international development initiatives are designed, tested, rolled-out and we're embracing the creativity and the entrepreneurship that only the private sector can bring to the table.

Feed the Future, which so many of you know and so many of you participate in.  Feed the Future, America's global hunger and food security initiative, in so many ways, is helping to lead the charge.

One example, CoolBot.  In many parts of the world, some of you know, farmers harvest much more food than they actually need, enough to generate a modest income, but they lack access to temperature controlled storage.  And what that means is what they produce spoils before it ever gets to market.

Where they should be living comfortably, they're barely scraping by.  So last fall, Feed the Future called out to the private sector research community for help.  CoolBot was one of the solutions we received.

An engineer in upstate New York figured out how to turn a regular window air conditioner into a low cost cold storage unit.  ColdBot.  His unit cost about $300 compared to $300,000 for traditional commercial units.  An American company, Store-It Cold, saw the device was a huge hit with small and medium farmers back here in the Midwest.  They thought it just might work in the developing world.  So, we collaborated with Store-It Cold to scale CoolBots in Central America, right product, right place, right time, it's taking off.

Now, our role wasn't simply to pay them to provide their product.  That's what we might have done years ago.  Instead what we tried to do was help them understand the local market and culture, and then try to use our connections to help them exploit the opportunity. 

The goal for CoolBot, is to reach fifteen thousand small farmers by year's end.  That would be 15,000 rural farmers and cooperatives who, for the first time ever, will have access to refrigerated storage.  This will help them keep produce fresh until it's sold.  This will give them that chance to do more than barely scrape by.

And the endeavor works because it joins the special capabilities and connections of each side, public sector and private, again to tackle problems neither of us can do alone.

As Administrator, I pledge to make CoolBot and that story, not the exception, but the rule in our dealings with private enterprise.

As a further down payment on this approach, today I'm announcing two new exciting ventures in which USAID and private enterprise are collaborating to lift lives, lower poverty, and yeah, catalyze commerce.

The first involves the Syngenta Foundation.  It takes on a key challenge in food security getting state of the art seed varieties to smallholder African farmers.  Our collaboration will help local African agribusinesses gain access to high quality seeds so they can be sold at affordable prices.  It will bridge the gap between the labs that develop cutting edge seed varieties and remote farmers and communities so desperate for a high-yielding harvest.

There's a second collaboration that we're announcing today.  It's one with Keurig Green Mountain and Root Capital.  It aims to support small scale coffee farmers who suffer from poor access to markets and private capital.  Through this partnership, small scale farmers will gain greater access to credit, learn new business concepts and strategic planning, and connect to lucrative markets that value sustainable agriculture.

So, I hope my message to all of you is clear.  At USAID, we want to move beyond grant-making, beyond contracting, and embrace collaboration, co-design, and co-financing.  I hope it gets your wheels turning.  I hope it gets you thinking about the possibilities.

Now, just in case it doesn't, I want to take a step further.  My job now is to manually turn those wheels.  I hear some squeaking as we do it.

Instead, what I want to do is issue to everyone here a call to action.  It's a call to action that should really affect every one of us and it's something that we have to take on and something which working together, I think we can conquer.

As many of you know, and I know there's been lots of talk about it, the Fall Armyworm is truly a great challenge to the survival of agriculture in Africa.  It's a destructive pest endemic to the Americas that is now spreading all across Africa.  In fact, it has already been positively identified in nearly every country in sub-Saharan Africa.

It has a voracious appetite, particularly for maize, and is pesticide resistant.  It has the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage and put hundreds of millions of lives at risk for hunger.

The potential impact of the Fall Armyworm highlights a fundamental challenge that farmers all across Africa face, limited access to the tools, technologies, and management practices that are really necessary to take on and manage this threat.

So, as many of you know, here in the U.S. we know the armyworm problem and we've controlled it.  We've done so by using the best science and tools that are available, from crops with built-in resistance to smart, safe pesticide use.

So, USAID is calling public, private, civil society, research, and university partners to channel those tools, to enlist those tools to take on this problem.  Let's control the Fall Armyworm in Africa before it becomes a true food security crisis.

We're launching this call to action to connect and mobilize our partners and ensure that Africa gets humanity's greatest thinking on this subject.

As part of our role in the collaboration, I'm announcing that Feed the Future has already begun assembling like-minded international and African organizations, companies, and research institutes to mobilize their solutions to the Fall Armyworm epidemic.

And I'm reaching out to all of you to offer you a role in this effort.  In fact, I am challenging you to join us.  If you're willing and interested, and if your organization can commit to this global effort, go to Feed the Future's website and tell us what you could bring to the table.

A hundred years ago Teddy Roosevelt had this to say about challenges like this: he said, look, "far and away the greatest prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."  And I submit to all of you here today that sustainable agriculture, Feed the Future, these new partnerships, especially as applied to daunting challenges like the Fall Armyworm, hard work, but God knows it's worth doing.

Thank you to all of you for what you do.  And more importantly, thank you for what you are about to do.  We appreciate it and we promise to be there every step of the way as your partners.  Thank you.

Last updated: September 23, 2021

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