ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Aly, for that generous introduction, and for co-hosting this event with the Farm Journal Foundation. These two organizations share a belief in the power of agricultural innovation and research to fight global hunger – one we, of course, embrace at USAID.
I also like to thank Secretary Vilsack. I really do think, Tom, that people are going to look back at these years as the inflection point – when climate change and conversations about food security and agriculture came together, where that convergence occurred. But, it’s not gravity that is making that happen, it’s individuals who are using their leadership positions to bring communities and programs together in a way that has been needed for a long time. And you have done that, people are going to remember your tenure as Secretary of Agriculture as the inflection point in the U.S. approach, I’m sure of it.
This session takes place, of course, against the backdrop of a grim development in the fight against global hunger – we have just recently received word that an unprecedented fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the Horn of Africa, and we know, thanks to meteorology and science, that a sixth is likely to soon follow.
Already, 21 million people across that region face crisis levels of hunger, including around 300,000 who face famine levels in Somalia. I visited Somalia over the summer – late summer – and heard from farmers, as so many of you have as well, whose crops and livestock had shriveled, mothers who have traveled long distances to bring their children to malnutrition clinics. Babies, just a few months old, born into hunger and too weak to cry.
This food crisis, like so many others, finds its roots in climate change, which has dried out soils and plants and shifted rainfall patterns all around the world. Too often, the regions most prone to drought are also, not only the least responsible for climate change as we know, but also the ones least prepared to withstand it.
To change that, last year in Glasgow, USAID committed $215 million over five years to CGIAR to advance innovations in climate smart agriculture – innovations that will help boost agricultural productivity in Africa and Asia by 25 percent by the end of the decade, and help 200 million people currently going hungry.
The initiative, as we know, also focuses on smallholder farmers, who produce nearly a third of the world’s crops and food supply on just a quarter of its land – and yet often are the ones who lack access to this climate-smart technology and to these improved seeds that so many of our countries are investing such extensive thought and research into producing and into continually adapting.
Last year, our first year of funding continued a collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research to help farmers plant climate-resilient maize across seven million hectares in Africa. In just one year, as a result of this support, smallholder farmers increased their yields by 25 percent, that benefitted – in just one year – more than 44 million people. We have proof of concept, we know what works, it is a question of scaling it.
This year’s funding – $43 million – will go towards developing new seeds that can grow in tougher conditions and resist pests and disease. And it’ll focus on African crops – an area of research often neglected by the private sector due to a lack – a perceived lack – of potential profits, but that holds tremendous potential, in fact, for ending world hunger.
But we have to fight hunger without accelerating climate change. Today, feeding the world, as you well know, emits nearly a third of all greenhouse gases – a number only set to rise as the global population approaches 10 billion. So, we must fundamentally change food systems to produce more while emitting less.
To help do that, the United States is launching new partnerships with the private sector – Innovation Sprints of the kind that Secretary Vilsack has spoken about, that will reduce the climate impacts of producing vital crops.
Together with Bayer Crop Science and the International Rice Research Institute, our first innovation will help scale the sustainable production of rice. Currently, the flooding required to grow rice produces methane – a climate pollutant 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide – making rice cultivation one of agriculture’s largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. New rice varieties and seeding methods reduce the need to flood the soil, saving water and reducing methane emissions by at least 30 percent.
The second Innovation Sprint brings together USAID with major chocolate producers and retailers like Olam Food Ingredients, Nestlé, Mars Wrigley, Costco, Mondelēz International, and Blommer to more sustainably grow cocoa. Cocoa cultivation has long been a key driver of deforestation, which increases greenhouse gas emissions as well. These companies will commit $7 million, matched by another $7 million from USAID, to help smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire increase yields and incomes, while preserving forests and biodiversity and increasing carbon storage in trees planted on and around cocoa farms through agroforestry.
I’m also pleased to announce, here, a new effort to reduce emissions of methane even further. In partnership with the State Department, USAID will invest $12 million in a Methane Accelerator program that will fund methods to cut methane across our programming – focusing specifically on cultivation of rice and livestock, two of the biggest sources of emissions.
To all of our current and future partners in AIM for Climate, I urge you all to put smallholder farmers at the heart of the work – an effort that won’t just lift entire communities out of hunger and poverty, but an effort that will help us end hunger worldwide.
And I urge you as well to take this opportunity to reform the way and ways we grow our food – to feed the world today in a way that will preserve our shared tomorrow.
Thank you so much.