Friday, May 3, 2024

Fitzgerald, Georgia

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: So I'm the one who is giving all of you a standing ovation. Consider me standing, giving you that ovation. This is an incredible experience for me, and I know for my team that has come here from Washington. Congressman [Austin Scott], it's going to be great to partner with you. Bipartisanship is not something that happens on every issue, I love it when we find things that are so accord – not only with our values and our ideals, but with the interests of the nation, and with the interests of communities like this one in Fitzgerald, this is awesome. So we will take this show on the road, even more than we have already. 

Amy [Towers], thank you for being an early adopter – the early adopter – and bringing all the skills that you have from your backpack into this vital cause. Mark [Moore], you’re a force of nature, and I’m glad I got to see you in person, see what you're building. But what's so clear about you is that you see the unseen. So I'm now seeing what you and Chris [Hohn] cooked up – just probably a relatively short time ago – but what's really interesting is also all the lies ahead, and all the good that your people do. And I just can’t wait to see where your mind keeps taking you, even as you continue to take orders from Chris. And I don't know, it's a little bit of a contrast between the story of him, and the [inaudible] and me playing baseball, but I – I understand.

I was not as preternaturally oriented in the humanitarian direction, I guess, as Chris – who’s done so much in such a short time to catalyze, just as much as he, himself built. But I will say that the seeds to me – being here, we're planted right here in the state of Georgia. I went to Lakeside High School, about three and a half hours up the road in DeKalb County. And so much of my views on justice, my desire to change my little slice of the world, those seeds were planted at Lakeside, right here in Georgia. And so, it's incredibly inspiring for me to be back in my home state and to see what is brewing here. And the kind of global leadership being extended by peanut farmers, by people who are doing the blending, by the builders, by the young people who are – and the parents and grandparents – who are getting exposed to a very simple idea, which is that you can change the world. It's very easy these days to think that you can’t, ‘cause so much is so messed up. But this is a reminder of what happens when people take a risk, and when you combine head and heart around a vision, and you bring powers of persuasion, you bring coalitions together, you bring unlikely bedfellows together. And lo and behold, you rebuild a lifesaving remedy and you scale it. 

There is a lot of famine pending in the world, there’s a ton of food insecurity. This effort, this vision, meets the moment. And it could not be more timely, more necessary, or more important. So Fitzgerald, Georgia, hats off to you, and all of you who have made this happen, hats off to you. Please, let’s give a round of applause.

So I just had a chance to tour the facility and to go back to one of the things that Amy said, I want to just state for the record, there are no bystanders here, only upstanders. It is very rare to visit a place that is so unabashedly idealistic at every layer of the enterprise. It's extremely inspiring for us visitors, and it's something that we are going to carry with us, not just for the rest of our time in these jobs, but for the rest of our lives – it's extremely moving.

The importance of the work here has already been described, and it really can't be overstated. But I was really struck in one of the encounters I had on the tour with a young woman named Tina, who is a mom of three. And I said, what’s it like, what do you tell your kids? She said I tell my kids all the time about the work we're doing, about the good we're doing. And then she said, you know, I tell my kids you don't have to go to college to be a doctor – I'm saving lives right here at MANA in Fitzgerald, Georgia. And that’s just awesome. 

But in my short time here, I want to transport you from this lifesaving enterprise here in Fitzgerald, Georgia to pass along something that I heard when I visited a wasting clinic –  or a clinic that was treating wasted children – wasting children in Kenya in 2022. Parents there shared with me what it felt like for them to hear their kids cry. 

Now, any parent here knows that what that usually feels like – it's not a lot of fun. When you hear your kids crying it causes worry, causes anxiety, distress, you know, what is it? What's going on? Let's get to the bottom of it. What is bringing your child pain – emotional or physical pain that is causing them to cry. But for these parents in northern Kenya, hearing their children cry didn't spark any of the feelings that it sparks in us usually here in the U.S. or in developed economies. 

Hearing their children cry actually sparked relief. Joy. Prayers of gratitude.

You see, while children, of course, cry when they are hungry. That is only true up to a point. Once hunger becomes truly dire, kids actually lose the energy to cry. They become listless, and then they go silent altogether. And that is what we're talking about when we are talking about wasting. Gone untreated, as we know, this severe hunger will hinder a child's cognitive and physical development forever. And for some, roughly 8,000 kids worldwide, every single day – it is a death sentence. But the RUTF surrounding us, here, in this warehouse, can bring these kids back to life – saves lives and prevents the long term developmental consequences. 

It can bring color back to a child's cheeks. It can make kids cry again. The first step to them going on to laugh, and to talk, and to grow. 

Many parents of these kids get to hear the sweetest sound in the world again – the return to crying, thanks to the efforts of so many of you. The peanut farmers, building on Georgia’s incredible tradition of feeding the world. First thing my parents told me we were moving to Georgia, they told me about the peanuts. It was the Jimmy Carter era, so that was very much talked about at the time. One hundred twenty workers and counting in this plant processing the food that farmers grow to turn peanuts into medicine because fundamentally that is what this is about. Right now your work is more important than ever. 

Today, this global food security crisis, that is exacerbated by the climate crisis, historic levels of conflict, the overhang from COVID-19 and all the damage it did, debt distress – has put 164 million people at risk of acute food insecurity. That is a 92 percent increase from before the pandemic. That is a really sharp increase. When we have solutions like the ones in this building – solutions that work, that are affordable, that are readily available – we should be moving toward ending severe hunger for good. For right now you're actually seeing the problem of severe hunger actually increase. So we are taking action with partners around the world to reverse this trend. 

Last year, the World Health Organization took the critical step to improve guidelines for preventing and managing wasting. So that now, community health workers are encouraged to treat children with wasting on the spot at home rather than in a sense requiring mothers to travel often long distances to reach a clinic. This will get more kids into treatment, and thus will save many more lives. But we need to get RUTF to those families who can now be treated in more places. So we are hustling up more resources to meet this growing need. 

In 2022, we made a historic one time – USAID made a historic one time contribution of $200 million to expand access to Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Foods. We issued a call to action to partner governments, philanthropic foundations, individuals, anyone to match that donation and in total together – and Chris was a huge part of this –  we managed to raise another unprecedented $330 million for wasting treatment around the world. We are building on that commitment today. I, here at Fitzgerald, Georgia, at one of our key productions partner facilities, am really pleased to announce USAID’s commitment to provide another $200 million in dedicated funding to RUTF and other commodities to treat wasting. 

We are the privileged ones. We are very fortunate – we can make resources available, so many people here are the ones that do the work. You do the work. And when you do the work, we and our people out on the field meet you at tarmacs and we make sure that your work doesn't go to waste and that we meet the needs of those kids and those parents. There could be nothing worse in the world than not be able to meet the needs of your kid when they are suffering wasting. 

This funding will allow us to purchase many more of these life-saving products, and support the World Food Program and UNICEF to get them to millions of children around the world. I was trying to find a way to – how do we give some sense of scale – if you look around at the RUTF in this warehouse room, the aisles upon aisles of the packages stacked high – imagine twenty of these warehouses. That is at least as much lifesaving RUTF that USAID will be able to procure this year for very sick kids around the world. 

And it really is very important that this also is providing jobs and investment for this community in the process. I also want to recognize that this increased supply is possible because of the expansion of this very facility. And the $200 million investment by Sir Chris Hon to make that expansion possible. So again I want to just thank you, Chris, for bringing this issue to my attention, my first month in the job – educating me and so many people here and around the world. And then as they say, putting your money where your mouth is again and again and again, and allowing us all to continue to dream together about what more we can do. As you say this is a soluble problem. There are a lot of insoluble problems out there or ones that are really hard to chip away at – this is one we can achieve something very major on together. 

To continue this work, we need Congress to reauthorize the Food for Peace Act, so we can continue delivering high-quality commodities from American farmers and producers like MANA to people with the greatest need. At the same time – and this is really important actually for this cause – we need to retain flexibility in our funding so that we can treat, and even better prevent, wasting in the most cost effective manner. And sometimes this gets lost a little bit in the focus on the commodities themselves. It never gets lost for the folks who work this cause because they know how essential the services are to go along with the commodity. And how all of us want to live in a world where this is prevented and RUTF is not actually needed because wasting itself is a phenomenon that we take away. 

So this – we need resources for local food distributions, complementary feeding, again, and of course the vital RUTF produced in facilities like this one. That flexibility also allows us to make the necessary investments in the health system we rely on to administer this lifesaving treatment and in the food systems that are going to be critical over time to keep hunger crises from happening in the first place. 

So again, if you take nothing else, especially young people here – global hunger is a soluble problem.

And you all in this room, you are an essential part of that solution. The fact that you are helping make millions of kids cry may not sound like an obvious achievement. That’s not – you didn’t grow up saying I want to make kids cry. But what that means is that you are bringing back to them the spark of life, the spark of growth, and you are putting them in a position to get back on the path to vitality – there is no more precious gift than that. And the gift you have given all of us, Mark, Chris and team is to just be along for the ride. So thank you for letting us be your partner. Thank you so much.

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