Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman at The Fight for Food: Value Chains and Partnerships Panel During the 2022 Concordia Annual Summit

Speeches Shim

Friday, September 23, 2022

Liz Schrayer, President & CEO, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition: Earlier this year, you said we may look back at 2022 as the year that broke the humanitarian system as we know it. I'd love to spend a whole day hearing all about it, but I’d like you to look through the lens of the food crisis and tell us where we are in this food security crisis. How serious is it and what is USAID doing?

Deputy Administrator Coleman: Thank you so much, Liz, and it’s wonderful to be back on the Concordia stage. The crisis that we’re facing today was, in some ways, long in the making in previous years. It's a confluence of events. We’ve got the disruption of supply chains with COVID-19. We have climate change, which has led to drought in some very significant ways, particularly the Horn of Africa. Big markets have reduced agricultural output. And then, of course, we have Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has very much disrupted one of the bread baskets–the major breadbasket–of the world. 

All of these things together have conspired to really raise prices. So you've seen a price shock that has made it more expensive for people in the heartland to buy food, but it has made it prohibitively expensive for millions and millions–hundreds of millions–of people living on the edge around the world who were already food insecure. This has really put them into a crisis situation. So that's the serious situation we're dealing with. 

What USAID has been looking at is not just this year, but next year and the out years because it’s not only about food prices–it’s also fuel prices and transportation costs, all of the inputs that go into growing food. Thirty percent of the world's food is produced by smallholder farmers. That in and of itself is a very big number, but when you think about the concentration of smallholder farmer-produced food for consumption in certain countries, it's a much higher number. 

Poor people in many countries are very dependent on what is grown locally by smallholder farmers. They are facing price shocks for the inputs they need to be able to buy the fertilizer and seeds to be able to grow this year and next year. It becomes a downward spiral. 

So USAID is very focused on trying to give smallholder farmers more access to fertilizer and more access to innovative seeds that allow them to have shorter growing cycles and be more drought-resistant. And more access to technology. Technology, for example, that really helps them use less fertilizer using geospatial data and soil analysis. In a country like Ethiopia, where we’ve deployed this technology, farmers are able to use in some cases eighty percent less fertilizer with higher yields. These are the types of things we’re working on. 

Schrayer: If Concordia is nice enough to invite the five of us back a year from now and I would ask you to reflect on the last year, could each of you give us one public private partnership, one innovation that made a difference in the fight for food in addressing the food crisis?

Deputy Administrator Coleman: I’m going to footstomp on the point about investing in smallholder farmers. I come back to seeds, fertilizer, technology, finance, and working with the private sector. In Ghana, for example, we are partnering with the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership and Yara, which is one of the biggest fertilizer companies in the world, on a program to deliver 360,000 bags of fertilizer to smallholder farmers who are really the most vulnerable. It’s going to reduce their input costs by a third, reducing the amount of money they need to borrow and allowing them to produce more food going forward. Scaling up those types of public-private partnerships going forward a year from now will really deliver results. 

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Last updated: December 01, 2022

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