Administrator Samantha Power’s Q&A Following Her Keynote Address at the World Food Prize Foundation's Annual Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue

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Wednesday, October 19, 2022

MS. STINSON: Thank you Administrator Power. What an amazing travel through, not only the history, covering so many dimensions, but also, giving us the optimism and hope that we are trying to ground this entire discussion in. Because, while there is so much going on that is so terribly challenging and devastating, and you painted that picture, there is so much reason for hope. And that's part of our foundation, in our discussion this entire week – is to understand those areas for hope, and action. And you've depicted tremendous areas of action that the U.S. is leading in but also building on what's going on around the world. So, we're going to take a few more minutes, for maybe you and I – I'll have just one question – and then we're going to turn it to the audience for just a few minutes, maybe one or two questions, just so you have a chance to hear from our group – we have a global audience. This is the global food security community – part of it – and I know that they just so welcome all of your remarks, and this strength and passion that you're bringing to all the work that you're doing. 
 
So, capturing for us the commitment in climate smart agriculture, things like fertilizer, waste, inefficiencies gained there, new announcements like AFFORD program, and really leveling the playing field for farmers, in order to fully uplift. We've been talking the entire time about sustainable practices that need to really accelerate and scale, and that's exactly what you've covered. So, with everything that you have described about what's going wrong, but what we're trying to get right, just talk to us a little bit more about other opportunities. What worries you most about what you see now in the global food system? And how important, really, is this acceleration? And how do we do it?
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Okay, great. Thank you. Nice to meet you all. Sorry, I can't see you. They could make it more pleasant to meet you, if I could see you properly.
 
MS. STINSON: Lights are coming up.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: There we go. Okay, wonderful. Thank you. I guess I'd say a few things. My son, I'm gonna digress for a second, but he has the hardest history teacher you can imagine. He's 13, and it's graduate school history tests. But, the teacher who traumatizes these kids, because the tests are so hard, he refers to the test, not as tests but as opportunities. So, this is the approach I'm going to take. 
 
We have a lot of opportunities, right? In this messy world. And so, what worries me most – in the day-to-day – I worry a lot about Putin. But, in the short, medium, long-term, you can't help but worry most about the intensification of the climate change effects. 
 
And I was in Pakistan, a month or five weeks ago, and a third of the country is under water – maybe two months ago – a third of the country underwater, just underwater. You’re in a helicopter, and you look down, “Oh, I'm over the ocean?” No, actually, the ocean is 300 kilometers away. You're over farmland – what was farmland – and every one of those farmers probably took out some debt, in order to be able to plant, in order to buy those inputs, and now what? It's gone, right? We’re lucky that the death toll wasn't even more substantial, but the long term effects, so that's the worry. And again, what's exciting about being at USAID, and being surrounded by people like you, who are just constantly generating new ideas, and approaches, and seeing them work, and being able to bring the data home, and then go forth with real empirical evidence of what works – is that there is a path to mitigate the worst effects. And above all – not above all, to equally – to have this sector contribute to the broader global effort to cut emissions. And so, we just have to pursue the mitigation effort with such accelerated zeal, and change the timelines that we're on – at the same time, the adaptation is now and so that's our opportunity. I think that what worries me is, so far we haven't seen the kind of interest in adaptation financing, whether climate smart or agriculture, or the vast array of other infrastructure adaptation, insurance adaptation – there's so, so many ways we need to do adaptation to support these communities. And right now, I think two percent of adaptation financing is coming from the private sector. Contrast that with renewables, and the fact that so many companies now believe there is significant money to be made, and that's where things are going, and that is now even outpacing government regulations, and so forth. And so, you could imagine how much more we would have on hand to scale in the climate smart agriculture realm, if you saw that similar embrace, and people coming to the table from a corporate social responsibility standpoint, but it's often more reliable to rely on the profit motive over time. And so, I think that places an extra burden on us to make the case. I mean, the royal us. But, to be able to show why this is a sound business investment as well, because I think right now they're being kept at this, this sector is more at remove than we can afford, again, from companies where I think there is significant money to be made, and where there is a massive civic responsibility as well, given the role that large emitters have played.
 
The other thing I would just say is, both central to this conversation but also more broadly in development, is the agency of communities, the agency of women farmers, the agency of local actors is paramount. I think we all know, say that regularly, and that's good. But, at USAID, we are trying to migrate more of our resources to that actual approach. So, there’s a gap between what we aspire to see, and what we are actually funding on the ground. So, we've set targets, as you may have seen around localization, both in terms of who we fund but also in terms of co-design, co-evaluation, really being true partners, not just partners in rhetoric, and partners on paper even, but it just won't work otherwise. And it's not sustainable otherwise, right? Because then the large assistance partner comes in, they run a program, and then they're gone. And this is where, again, the partnerships with government, the greater investments that they make in agriculture, their willingness to invest in extension services or to encourage catalytic private sector actors to do so, all of that is just so important. And then, just because research is such a big part of this, very much related to what I've just described, the need to invest in universities along the lines of the partnership that I described today, and the additional resources there. But, that $3.8 million is important. You could imagine what investing, for example, in African research institutions, the payoff of that over time, in the communities, in the faculty, in the students who go back to their communities. And so, in Feed the Future, we do that more and more, but for other donors, other funders, to really be looking to make those indigenous investments in the human capital that will have, as Bobby Kennedy said, ripple effects, great “ripples of hope” and ripples of knowledge, over time. 
 
And then the very last thing I'd say is, I am worried that assistance budgets, even this, I can't even call an opportunity – even in the most generous sense – but what I said in my remarks about emergency budgets eating a larger and larger share. That would be one thing if overall development and humanitarian budgets were growing, and again, thanks heartily to the U.S. Congress for these substantial Ukraine supplementals, which provided an additional $760 million in food security assistance, well and apart from the additional more than $5 billion they provided in humanitarian assistance, not just for Ukraine, but again, written to allow us to address some of the dire spillover effects from Ukraine and the drop that had occurred in our base funding for humanitarian assistance. 
 
But if the pie is static, or just growing incrementally, some countries are counting surplus vaccine donations, as part of their development assistance, you can do that for number crunching but that's not going to help us scale this. And then you'll end up in this, which we risked doing, ending up in this doom loop, where again, it's emergency crisis after emergency crisis. The resources get sucked into that, but everybody providing those resources knows that it's the underlying – you're putting a bandaid on, in a sense of a metastasizing ailment or disease. 
 
And so, unless we get the assistance to keep people alive in the here and now – by assistance, I mean, there's government assistance, public sector assistance – but unless we get the investments across the board, to walk and chew gum at the same time to do that, because we want to save lives, we're privileged to have that opportunity to do that. We're grateful to anybody who contributes to that effort. 
 
But again, it is the underlying issues that you all work on, and building that resilience, so that the effects of the next, failed rainy season, are far less dire. So those pastoralists who've lost 500 livestock in the last nine months, that their kids at least go to school, and are in a position –  maybe pastoralism in that area is not going to be as viable as it might have been. I mean, I'd love to think there was a solution there, but there are major shifts in where communities are going to live and how they're going to live, and there's a lot we can do through adaptation and building resilience. But the implications of these shocks to the food systems, and to livelihoods, go well beyond what we can do within a food lane or within an environmental lane. There are health implications and education implications, there's economic growth, programming – so this just requires ambition and comprehensiveness, that is also not the strong suit of the international community. We tend to work, and luckily food security, and environment and climate are coming together in an absolutely overdue way, but there are many other dimensions to this challenge that need to be folded in as well. Sorry, for the long answer.
 
MS. STINSON: No, it’s wonderful. And, honestly, what you've done today is to paint that comprehensive picture of where action is needed in so many areas, and so many tremendous calls to action and that's what we're seeking in our debate and dialogue this week: what are the substantial areas for action. And one of them of course, on everybody's mind is Putin, of course, but really focused on climate change, and agriculture, and how they affect each other. And especially trying to address the adaptation needs, and the mitigation needs, and the huge investments going into mitigation, and the huge need in adaptation. And you're depicting it beautifully, and giving so many examples of where it can advance, and the call to greater investment bilaterally among donors of all types in the private sector. We all know this is what we have to see, in order to have this acceleration, everyone has to look at multiplying their investments, and then to try to do it in a smart way. 
 
One of the things that people are committed to, I think, in this group – and we are here now in the climate change arena and in agriculture – is bringing together the silos of mitigation and adaptation. They have been siloed, and our Laureate for 2022, Dr. Rosenzweig, is committed to bringing that together through a lot of our modeling projects, and the multistakeholder cotton projects that she runs, but it's got to be so pervasive, and we'll see it in COP 27 and the way that they are really looking at the impacts and the investments that are going to have co-benefits. Hopefully we'll be exploring a lot of that territory. 
 
But you've covered so much, and I think everyone here appreciates being grounded in reality, and the real challenges that we have, but also that optimism in the opportunities. So, I think we should turn it to the audience for a moment. We're going to continue to take a little more time and make adjustments for the day. So, it's just an opportunity, so we can't possibly resist. Elsa, I'm gonna go right to Elsa Murano right here. And we can take one other. 
 
MS. MURANO: Yeah, I think if it's okay, we'll ask both questions, and you can answer them at that.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: That'd be great. Okay, actually, I don't know if you wanted just to get their voices in the mix, we could hear from the few people who have their hands up and then I could answer a couple and try to be a little more succinct than I've been.
 
MS. MURANO: Well, thank you Administrator Power.
 
MS. STINSON: Please introduce yourself and Julie as well.
 
MS. MURANO: My name is Elsa Murano, and I have the privilege of being the director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, where we lead the innovation lab for small-scale irrigation that you mentioned in your remarks, in terms of describing the work that we're doing with the women farmers and water accessibility. 
 
MS. BORLAUG: I am Julia Borlaug, Norman Borlaug's granddaughter, and I'll let Elsa ask her question, and I just want to compliment you on some many things. But one thing in particular,
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, we can't leave that out.
 
MS. MURANO: But my question is, because of exactly what you were talking about, the fact that budgets don't increase, but yet the proportion of your budget going to emergency relief has increased, so it takes away from others. There's other agencies in the government – I used to work at USDA – and USDA, of course, has their partnerships for climate change, and so we think that maybe if the same kinds of projects that are now being undertaken, as part of that partnerships for climate change, or climate-smart agriculture I should say, for example, we at Texas A&M got one of those grants. Virginia Tech has gotten another grant, and so forth. But it occurred to me immediately, even though we're working in Texas, they’re working in Virginia – those same principles that we're using in those projects could be used in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and so forth. So, can you speak a little bit about the collaboration that maybe does exist already, or that will be existing among the various agencies – USAID, USDA – regarding climate smart agriculture and adaptation, please?
 
MS. BORLAUG: Oh, I'm really quick. And Elsa, was my boss, and kind of still is. But, so many of us in the Borlaug legacy world – which is pretty much all of us – have a hard time explaining a lot of the unintended consequences of the Green Revolution. And you so eloquently did that, and then pivoted to the future, and what really matters. So, could we all have a copy of your remarks? And we will quote you, paraphrase you, because it was wonderful. And that's what we need, so we can move people, you know, to the future. Thank you.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. And maybe the only thing that is asked of me today that I can deliver. But, thank you. Thank you, so much. And let me just say the team, again, that helped us think through how to do this, the knowledge and the learning – I'm relatively new to USAID – just comes from years of research, and then trying to find a way to both talk to this audience, but also know that many audiences are not where you are, and as a newcomer to USAID, wading into some of these debates, and some of the contentiousness that sometimes sneaks up on me, trying to find these bridging formulations to say, “look there's incredible good” – and then here are the things, this is iteration, right? This is life. And so what can we learn? What were the trade offs? And how, as we think about deepening the endeavor that we're all a part of today, how can we take from that, what we need and find the remedies. So, I really appreciate you saying that, and I'll pass it along, most importantly, to the people responsible for the thinking behind it. Did you want to get another question? Okay, great, and then I'll answer Elsa’s. 
 
MS. STINSON: We're gonna take one more question. Lawrence Haddad is here from GAIN.
 
MODERATOR: Barbara, so we have a question from our wonderful Global Guides youth educators.
 
MS. STINSON: Yes, we can do that. But I'm gonna have Lawrence come next and then we’ll come to you, Daniel. And then that's really all we're gonna have time for. I'm sorry. 

MR. HADDAD: So, thank you so much for a great speech. Thank you for everything you do. You talked a bit about finance and catalytic finance. And I know you've been very supportive of the work we've been doing with Incofin under the nutritious food financing facility. But, I think USAID and yourself, you're kind of head of the field in this regard. And I wonder, if you could reflect a bit about why you are a trailblazer in this area, and what we need to do to bring other development agencies along to be maybe a bit more – take more calculated risks? Thanks.
 
MS. STINSON: Thank you Lawrence. Daniel?
 
MR. FOSTER: Administrator Power, thank you so much for being here. My name is Daniel Foster. I'm an agriculture teacher educator at Penn State University. And, I'm proudly representing approximately 55 educators, learning about practice to improve on advancing global food security education, and being those catalysts of change for that human capital you discussed. And my question is, what can we do? They're sitting here thinking about what their role is and how they can contribute to their local communities. And my question to you is, how can we think about the need for workforce development in this generational challenge? How can we build ways of investment to amplify developing the capacity of these agricultural educators around the world as a community of practice? What ways can we identify partnerships and collaborations of picking up teachers all over the world, to share how they engage in these complicated issues, of motivating that next generation of hunger warriors? So thank you, again, for being here.
 
MS. STINSON: Thank you, Daniel.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Okay, let me just try briefly to just touch on each and thank you all. So, you will have, I think, Secretary Vilsack coming here, later today. 
 
MS. STINSON: Thursday.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Ok. He was on my plane last night.
 
MS. STINSON: He's here. 
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: He is definitely here. We were actually going to do something jointly today, but our schedules didn't quite align, but we work incredibly closely with USDA. And I've been privileged, he and I are repeat senior officials. He was, of course, in the same role under Obama when I was at the UN, so we have the sort of personal relationship that is very collaborative. And, it's really the integration of our teams. And I think, very much stemming – and I'm sure Elsa that you can educate me a little bit about where there are shortcomings here – but stemming from the premise of your question, stemming from this belief that research, wherever it happens, if it has practical application in other communities and other soil with other climates, that we need to take advantage of that. 
 
And where the synaptic sort of breakdown is, or how we accelerate the transfer of knowledge, from the kinds of investments that are being made here, through the kind of partnership you mentioned, but any other happening in a U.S. agricultural research investment, how we either fill in those synapses where they're not happening or accelerate the movement of knowledge, again, where applicable, I think that there's always more work to be done there. But it isn't for lack of collaboration, many of the land grant universities, for example, that I have visited with – including Historical Black Colleges and Universities, where we're making a big push to deepen our collaboration, particularly in agriculture – you'll meet the crop also of USDA-funded young people who are going up. And as they get trained, they're getting trained, yes to work in the agricultural sector perhaps here, but many of them are already branching out and going overseas, or want to join USAID.
 
MS. STINSON: And honestly many of them here. We have an entire crew of Borlaug fellows here and others. So, I think the audience really understands.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: You know better than me then. But how it works in practice, I think our – Mike Michener, some of you know comes from USDA over to USAID – and I think that kind of cross pollination is happening a lot. 
 
But again, we can't pretend that the world as it is – that we're meeting the needs, or that knowledge is reaching people at scale, and the way that we need, I mean, that's what I'm getting at here today. And so, any ideas about how that surge in investment that is being made, through the partnership, and through other funding opportunities – because there's just a lot more money, again, invested inevitably in the United States. So, again, making sure that we are optimizing I guess the best way to put it, in terms of our reach. And I think that these joint collaborations where you bring in our African, or universities from the Global South at an earlier stage, then it's not just about transferred knowledge, and needing to hire some consultant from here or there, it's actually a joint enterprise. 
 
In terms of other donors, there's so much I'm asking of other donors taking calculated risks I will now add to the list. But, it's been difficult to see some long standing donors really pull back, granted, the financial climate right now, is as inhospitable as one could imagine. At the same time, that's why these investments are especially needed right now. So, it's, of course, the wrong time to ask, and yet the only time to ask. But I take your point on nutrition, specifically, on food fortification. I was very gratified that – this isn't really as responsive to your question – but at the General Assembly, we came together. I had issued a commitment in the emergency settings to fund the provision of RUTF, through UNICEF. We've made a $200 million pledge, which is the largest of its kind. And, of course, sadly, acutely needed right now – in this kind of miracle paste that can resurrect severe, acutely malnutritioned kids – and I issued a challenge to other donors to match and exceed that philanthropy, private donors and governments. And the challenge was for $250 million. And again once you have that pipeline, once you know that RUTF is – that you know you're going to have that amount of money, and that number of orders, some of the pipeline issues can be addressed. After I got off the stage and had issued the challenge, I was like, wait, we've got like a month, like what was I thinking? There's no way. And, we ended up – countries really did step up and meet that challenge. It's a kind of, I suppose for donors, a more gratifying investment in the sense that you could just measure the number of lives you have saved, with this miracle paste with RUTF. But, it was an example of them also doing things that they hadn't done before, and will allow investments in indigenous production capacity as well, in Africa, and so forth. 
 
So, thinking through in the more longer-term resilience space, or the longer-term nutrition space, how to frame the risk taking and the challenge, in a fashion that kind of puts oneself in the shoes of a politician who's thinking “How do I describe this in a manner that lands?” That’s maybe part – it’s not just, “Hey take a risk and here’s why this can be beneficial or why this?” – how can you communicate this in a manner that will resonate, let me put it that way. 
 
And then lastly, on the educational front, I think you would know best, I do think marrying
the gloom and doom, of various forecasts with the energy – and it's not blind optimism, right? It's an energy that in every generation, in every field comes with science, and discovery. And I think, for young people, and I see this again, in my own kids, it's just polar bears on melting glaciers, and Pakistan underwater. In my family's case, mommy going off to a Pakistan that's underwater, I mean, the amount that they, that young people are taking in, that can render them almost paralyzed by how overwhelming these needs are and how daunting the forecasts are. Marrying that with knowledge of what breakthroughs have achieved in the past, and what is in the works, and what has been piloted, but not yet been scaled. 
 
And I think, just as a teacher myself, that getting that combination right, and I don't think we are necessarily right now, I've been – I'm not speaking for you like, but I will say I taught at the Kennedy School before coming back to government – and there's plenty of coverage of innovation there. There's plenty of knowledge about development, breakthroughs and so forth, but when you see the SDG gains, just being walled and having seen the inroads made in – even on malaria, TB, HIV – and then because of COVID, those interventions falling behind, routine immunization falling behind, and then the climate, the kind of mother of all threats that touches every development sector – it can be challenging, right? And we want to recruit people into this line of work to feel inspired, with the knowledge that they can make a difference. As I like to say, they may not change the world, right, but they will be able to change many, many individual worlds. And I think finding that way to talk about what we do, to summon people with the urgency, and with the need, and with the realities, fairly grim realities, but always again, going out of our way to try to paint a picture of that pathway.
 
MS. STINSON: Thank you so much. Great, great set of questions, and of course, education and educating our young people. Part of the mission of the World Food Prize is absolutely the next generation of norms, and grounding them in knowledge, we start in high school doing that, and through our programs. And I appreciate all of your comments so much. Thank you for spending extra time with this. And thank you again for coming to Des Moines.
 
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, glad to be here, two for two.

Last updated: December 06, 2022

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