ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Elise. I’m incredibly grateful to the Pacific Council on International Policy, our partner in putting on this event. It took a major team effort to pull this event together to be responsive to the real world needs—real world crisis as you said, that is gripping communities near and far. Thank you to Board Chair Richard Goetz and your President and CEO, Jerrold Green, for being here. I’ve had the honor of participating in Pacific Council events in the past, and it is great to be here in your home base of Los Angeles.
Finally, just to thank in advance, my fellow panelists for convening from all over the world—from Haiti, from Honduras, and Argentina—to join this discussion.
I can’t think of a more urgent topic to bring us to the table today. And that is really what people want from this Summit of the Americas. They want leaders, civil society, the private sector, to come together, to be tackling the world challenges in the here and now, and be nimble in so doing.
Even before Vladimir Putin’s war in Eastern Europe, the number of people facing acute hunger and malnutrition was already trending as so many of you know in the wrong direction. In 2020, and you heard an example of this right here close to home, in 2020 thanks to the pandemic, the rate of undernourishment—already rising in the region—spiked to the highest level seen since 2005. Then from 2020 to 2021, fertilizer prices spiked due to a combination of energy costs, increased demand, and supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19. And this led, as we all know, to even higher food prices, and with that, a greater number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean facing severe food insecurity.
You all know the statistics. The war came along, and in so doing we learned more than any of us expected to learn about what Ukraine in particular adds to the global market in terms of food. Russia and Ukraine produce close to a third of the world’s traded wheat and barley, a fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil—supplies that many countries here in the Americas also desperately need. The war has rendered around a third of Ukrainian crops and farmland useless, removing them from the market, removing nearly 27 million tons of wheat, corn, and barley. And this year alone, globally, up to 40 million additional people could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity due to the effects of the war.
That’s 40 million globally as I said, but that includes right here in the Americas. Food prices, and we will hear more detail on this, across Latin America are the highest in a generation. In Venezuela, nearly a third of the population is food-insecure. And up to 4 million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will likely require months of emergency food assistance as they confront acute hunger and food insecurity.
Today’s crisis requires a comprehensive approach, working to meet immediate needs of those facing severe food insecurity, but also addressing the roots of global hunger to sustainably help countries move past the need for food assistance. Nobody wants to be a recipient of food assistance. Not here, not anywhere.
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing $331 million in new funding for food security and humanitarian assistance in the Americas. While some of this money will address other humanitarian needs like hygiene supplies, emergency shelter materials and the like—most of it will go toward food security. The new funding includes significant new food assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where millions face severe food insecurity; for Haiti, where 40 percent of the population, more than half of them children, urgently require food supplies; and for Colombia, one of the many countries in the region where year-on-year food inflation reached double digits between 2021 and 2022.
And later this week, we’ll be able to share announcements about additional, new emergency food assistance to Venezuelans inside their country and those living throughout Latin America, in countries that have generously welcomed them as refugees.
When the Summit ends on Friday, we, the United States, expect to have commited over half a billion dollars to meet urgent food and humanitarian needs in the region. And yet, as we know so well, the food crisis in the Americas will not be solved solely through emergency food assistance. Far from it, it requires a long term solution—one that sees Latin and Central American communities as partners, rather than recipients.
Today, one third of the world’s food is produced right here in the Americas. The current crisis presents an opportunity for the region to not just help end the pressing food crisis here in the Americas, but to supply an even greater share of the world’s food supply—if we can invest in the farmers and agricultural communities, that will help us meet that goal.
And that’s why of the amount of $331 million that I have announced, $132 million of that funding is going to support long-term efforts to build food security and resilience in Central and South America. That means supporting smallholder farmers across the region to increase their crop yields and incomes while withstanding shocks from climate change and high fertilizer prices. And it also means providing financial and technical assistance to support maternal and child nutrition through health and food initiatives.
This is building on the agricultural, Feed the Future, and other food security work that USAID has been doing for some time. Over the course of this summit, President Biden will engage personally with leaders from our two continents in an effort to build partnerships and increase our regional production of food. And we are working with American fertilizer producers to help mitigate global fertilizer shortages, move countries away from dependence on Russian fertilizer, and increase investments in agricultural innovations like drought tolerant seeds and precision agriculture to increase yields even in the face of climate change.
The food crisis that we are here to discuss today is dire. But we know from history that there is much we can accomplish within our own hemisphere.
The very start of the Green Revolution began in our hemisphere, when Norman Borlaug arrived in Mexico to develop and cultivate “semi-dwarf” wheat varieties that would go on to make up 95 percent of Mexico’s wheat and double global grain supplies before the end of the 20th century.
My own Agency’s founding was rooted in strengthening food security and nutrition throughout the hemisphere. One of USAID’s first ever programs began in 1962—Operation Niños—an initiative that, in its first three years, provided nutritious, daily meals for more than 15 million children across Latin America. And since then, our Feed the Future program is working in six countries in the hemisphere.
I deeply look forward to hearing from my fellow panelists about all that they think can be done to deepen our work, to strengthen food security, to learn from one another in real time so that we can adapt to the needs as they arise, and I’m so grateful to our fellow panelists for their work on what could not be a more urgent or important cause.
Thank you so much.