Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Washington, DC

[Remarks as Prepared]

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here with all of you today. I’d also like to recognize UN Foundation President Elizabeth Cousens as well as their Excellencies Marie-Claude Bibeau of Canada and Laura Suazo of Honduras, for their leadership and dedication to challenging all of us to do development better.

And I’d like to thank all of our private sector partners for joining us today, including our friends at Bayer, both for the work they’re doing with USAID in Ukraine, and the work they’re sharing here with us today.

When the United States and the United Arab Emirates launched AIM for Climate at COP 26, we did so out of necessity. Today’s climate crisis is animated by extreme weather conditions and events that make it harder to do the basic activities that have sustained human life for millennia: growing food, fishing and raising livestock, and reinvesting the returns back into the community.

In the face of this crisis, catalyzing greater investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation is a necessity.

It is likewise imperative to engage with the communities that are feeling the harshest impacts of extreme weather events; to bring their voices to the table and invest in their futures. 

And it is necessary that we devote ourselves to new and reinvigorated partnerships that can spur the kind of innovation required to make farms, food systems, and communities around the world more resilient to a changing climate. 

The importance of partnerships was a focus of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s speech last week, in which he noted that the first principle for the Biden Administration is both to strengthen those partnerships we already have, and to develop new ones to address the fundamental set of challenges we face – from food and health security, to climate change.

For more than six decades, partnership has been at the heart of USAID’s work. But to measure up to today’s development challenges, we need to partner differently – more creatively, more inclusively, and more locally – if we are to achieve the sustainable results we seek. 

Many of us here today have already forged new partnerships and made important commitments since AIM for Climate’s launch in 2021, recognizing that innovation and research and development in agriculture are crucial to building a climate-resilient future. 

USAID is excited to contribute significant funding – over 200 million dollars for R&D [Research & Development] – towards the total amount mobilized by AIM for Climate, announced yesterday: an impressive global commitment of $13 billion. These are commitments and contributions that will go a long way, and that we should all be proud of. 

But today, I want to talk about how we can make these investments go even further; how we can target funding in research, development, and the application of innovations in agriculture to maximize our impact and drive truly sustainable results. 

The answer is simple and it’s supported by decades of research: It’s investing in women. 

To achieve climate-resilient agriculture and food systems, women must be empowered as change-makers and have access to innovations that work for them. 

The FAO’s 2011 report made clear: closing the gender gap in agriculture – in crop yields, specifically – was going to be critical to ending global hunger. Twelve years later, as the FAO’s latest report indicates, progress has been slow. The gender gap in farm productivity in low- and middle-income countries has plateaued at around 24 percent. Women’s access to irrigation, livestock and land ownership, and advisory and educational services, has barely budged over more than a decade. 

This is of course due, in large part, to the fact that women are disproportionately impacted by the challenges that led to today’s food crisis in the first place. 

But what is especially frustrating is that we have numerous examples of how incorporating women and other underrepresented populations early in innovation processes, and tracking gender-specific outcomes, can have cascading positive effects for households, communities, and entire economies. 

The latest FAO report quantifies the enormous opportunity right in front of us: if we can close the gender gap in farm productivity, we could achieve a trillion dollar increase in global GDP, and a reduction of food insecurity for 45 million people globally. 

Take, for example, an innovative approach to increasing profits and addressing post-harvest loss reduction for women smallholder farmers in Ghana, designed by a USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Post Harvest Loss Reduction at Kansas State University in partnership with local groups and smallholder farmers in Ghana.

Research shows that Ghanaian smallholder and poultry farmers lose up to one-third of maize within six months due to poor sanitation and storage capacity – eighty percent of which is avoidable with proper drying and access to better storage systems. 

The Post Harvest Loss Reduction Innovation Lab at Kansas State trained a women’s poultry association to use new grain drying and storage technologies, which increased maize availability year round. This led some farmers to increase their poultry flocks tenfold over three years due to increased feed availability; others grew profits by strategically timing their sales to higher market prices. Additionally, this expanded availability of nutritious, affordable eggs to consumers, especially women and children. 

Women farmers in Bangladesh were introduced to similar technology to dry rice, reducing their required labor from four to five days to a matter of hours. 

USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Labs bring together the best and brightest researchers, practitioners, and local communities to develop and deliver tailor-made solutions to improve crop production, conserve genetic resources, protect livestock and animal health, help farmers manage pests and diseases, reduce post harvest loss, and food waste and build sustainable farming systems resilient to a changing climate – and they are demonstrating just how far our investments can go when we prioritize and invest in women. 

We’re also demonstrating the power of innovative private sector partnerships. Alongside our friends at Bayer, who are here today, and cocoa producer, ofi, we’re working with global cocoa producers through an AIM for Climate Innovation Sprint to improve climate-smart practices for 15,000 cocoa farmers, while ensuring that women make up at least a quarter of the farmers we support. 

And we are pleased to be partnering with Ireland and private sector companies such as Pyxus and Malawi Mangoes in an Innovation Sprint that will help support the transformation of the food and energy systems in Malawi. 

I’d like to commend our Irish partners for their commitment to elevating gender-specific components of this sprint. Their investment is helping mobilize climate smart practices and adding value to commodity crops like peanuts and mangos.

Here’s the upshot with these examples: when climate-smart agricultural innovations are designed by and with women in mind, especially the most vulnerable, the benefits spread throughout societies. By expanding access to cutting-edge tools and technologies to households and communities across the agriculture and food value chain, we are able to increase overall prosperity and agricultural-led growth. 

But it requires thinking differently – and in many cases, thinking more locally. And when it comes to empowering women, it requires thinking – and investing – with intent. 

That means making sure that women aren’t just “in the room,” but that their voices are heard – and that women’s ideas are incorporated in discussions about research and development and targeted investments. 

It means that women are defining what our specific development objectives are in the first place – before any money is obligated.

Because when women have the tools to succeed, they reinvest in their families and communities, creating a multiplier effect that promotes wellbeing, prosperity, and stability.

So my request to all of you here today – government, private sector, and non-profit organizations alike – is to develop strategies and forge new partnerships, including new Innovation Sprints in advance of COP28 in November, that have a significant, intentional focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Delivering on our climate goals, and moving the needle for women and food systems worldwide, demands we think differently about partnerships. We must all be clear-eyed that we will only be able to address the development challenges of our time if we can achieve effective partnerships among the private sector, country partners, and local organizations to scale the inclusive interventions we’ve heard about here today. Together, I’m confident, we can dismantle the barriers that have been setting us back. Thank you. 

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