U.S. Statement on Drought, Desertification, and Land Degradation

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
USAID Press Office

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), delivered the following statement on behalf of the United States at the United Nations General Assembly.

"It is my honor to join you today to focus on the global challenges of drought, desertification and land degradation.

Right now, these dangerous realities are threatening the lives and livelihoods of over one billion people who live in fragile dryland ecosystems.

They severely limit our collective goals of promoting sustainable development, eradicating poverty and strengthening food security around the world. They also threaten our national security.

Nowhere is this challenge more critical-and the need for action more pressing-than in the Horn of Africa. The devastating consequences of famine are playing out before our eyes-in the stories of women who have to watch their children literally die in their arms.

We know that the Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years and 13.3 million people-predominately women and children-are in need of assistance.

As the single largest humanitarian and development partner in the region, the United States is supporting life-saving aid for millions of people, including food, water and medical services. And though the American people will always provide aid in times of urgent need, emergency assistance is not the most efficient or lasting solution.

The reality is we must do more to prevent these crises in the first place. That is why President Obama launched a global food security initiative called Feed the Future to help countries develop their own resilient agricultural sectors and food systems so they can feed themselves over the long-term.

Through these partnerships, Kenya has seen a 300% increase in maize yields, while vitamin A enriched sweet potatoes are now reaching malnourished children in Uganda and Mozambique.

These achievements are the result of collective action. African governments, the private sector, civil society and local farmers are increasing their investment in agriculture, adopting new innovations and technologies and measuring results.


And we believe this new form of partnerships extends through to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The United States strongly supports the convention and its clear mandate to focus on drylands to enable better results.

Addressing desertification through long-term, sustainable land management and agricultural development is one of the most effective tools we have to prevent the crises that result from a lack of available food and nutrition.

In fact, as a nation, we have a long history of grappling with the devastating consequences of soil degradation and severe drought. As we speak, the state of Texas is enduring its worst one-year drought in recorded history.

In the 1930s, a prolonged catastrophe of drought, land degradation and food shortage led to the Dust Bowl, resulting in the migration of two and a half million people.

As a result of our experiences, the United States fundamentally reformed our strategies and methods for dryland management.

We strengthened collaboration between local governments and farmers, invested in agricultural universities to foster innovations in farming practices and water management and embarked on larger-scale efforts to manage our productive lands more sustainably.

An aggressive focus on science and improved technology has been a vital part of our approach. Therefore, the US supports the proposed Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which will cover dryland ecosystems, as opposed to a separate, redundant science mechanism devoted solely to the convention.

We remain committed to harnessing the power of science and technology to help transform global agriculture.


Across the international community, we now have the knowledge to establish stable, productive environments, dramatically improve crop yields, mitigate natural disasters and deliver meaningful results.

In order to meet the challenge of poverty and hunger around the world, we have to invest in long-term solutions through Feed the Future-focusing on connecting smallholder famers to strong markets and harnessing advances in science and technology.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, "The question is not whether we can end hunger, it's whether we will."

That is why Feed the Future is driving a new approach to global food security. In Tanzania, we are working in partnership with the government and the private sector. In regions vulnerable to drought-like the Ethiopian highlands-we are particularly focusing on drought resistant crops and improved soil, water and land management.

These efforts build on 40 years of experience the U.S. Government and U.S. Agency for International Development have had in greening the Sahel, where farmer led agroforestry and water management techniques have transformed 50 million hectares threatened by desertification-an area larger than Sweden-into sustainably productive lands.


We welcome ongoing collaboration with the global community to help address the crisis in the Horn and continue, in particular, to call on al-Shabaab to allow unfettered humanitarian access in areas it controls.

Responding to the crisis today is not only a moral imperative, it protects our national security.

In regions where we witness scarcity of resources today, we are more prone to face heightened tensions and conflict tomorrow.

By fighting drought and famine in the Horn of Africa today, we fight the despair that can lead people toward violence and terrorism. When we help a nation feed itself through good times and bad, we break the cycle of food riots, famine and food aid that creates instability throughout regions.

When we help a woman farmer use cutting-edge technologies to increase her harvests, we expand her country's economic potential and develop new markets for international trade.

And by providing help in times of desperate need, we express globally shared values of compassion, dignity and equality.

Thank you."

Last updated: October 16, 2017

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