Remarks by Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development Ambassador William J. Garvelink - "Feed the Future and the Role of Universities"

Sunday, November 14, 2010
Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development Keynote Remarks - "Feed the Future and the Role of Universities"

Chair: Brady J. Deaton, Chancellor, University of Missouri-Columbia
Moderators: Deanna Behring, Director of International Programs, The Pennsylvania State University
William B. Lacy, Vice-Provost University Outreach & International Programs, University of California, Davis

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today about a ground-breaking development initiative that has ambitious plans. Feed the Future, a presidential initiative designed to reverse global hunger trends, is a whole-of-government approach aligning our resources with country-owned strategic plans to transform agricultural development and, ultimately, spur economic growth. It is part of a collaborative global effort to improve food security, agricultural production, and nutrition.

The U.S. higher education community is helping us make this happen.

Feed the Future aims to significantly reduce poverty and improve nutrition by harnessing the power of agriculture to increase the incomes of poor rural people, expanding opportunities for smallholder farmers and rural businesses throughout the value chain, and increasing the productivity and quality of food that poor people eat.

This initiative comes at a crucial time. We are experiencing a degree of support for development, and specifically agricultural development, in historical ways not only within the U.S. Government, but across the world.

Last month, President Obama issued the first-ever development policy by a U.S. president, demonstrating that development is a core component of policy at the White House and across multiple agencies.

In addition, there has been a significant shift in funding for agricultural development. In the 1980s, 25 percent of U.S. foreign aid went to agriculture. That number dropped to 6 percent by 1990 and was a meager 1 percent by 2008. World Bank lending for agriculture fell from 30 percent in 1978 to 16 percent in 1988 to only 8 percent in 2006.

But, the focus has changed.

We watched as the spike in world food prices in 2007 and 2008 destabilized local and national economies across the world. The international community responded with the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative, launched at last year's G-8 Summit, which reversed the decades-long decline in official development assistance for agricultural development.

President Obama pledged to spend at least $3.5 billion over three years on agriculture-led development. The United States is well on its way to achieving that financial commitment with an approved FY 2010 budget of $888 million.

We will measure our progress in building food security by the impacts we make on poverty and on children's nutritional status. We know that agricultural growth is the most effective means of reducing poverty across the widest segment of the population - so we have designed a growth-oriented agenda.

Agricultural growth in food insecure countries helps boost incomes directly for farmers and their families. In the poorest countries around the world where up to three quarters of the population depends on agriculture, this is a significant impact. Consumers also gain, because productivity growth makes food both more abundant and more affordable. Poor, food-insecure consumers benefit most, since they spend so much of their meager incomes on food. And low-income consumers are found in both urban and rural areas.

Research is a critical means for driving productivity gains in the crops and livestock which the food insecure depend on. In fact, agricultural research stands as one of the best of all development investments. For research to be successful in solving problems and driving gains at the farm level, partnership with our host countries is crucial to success.

Because research is one of the natural links to the academic community, I would like to take this opportunity to dive down into the specifics of our research strategy.

It is important to understand that our Feed the Future Research Strategy is a country-led strategy. This means that out all our partners - both those funding and implementing research - none are more critical than those in our potential focus countries. We developed a research strategy based on their assessments of major constraints faced by smallholder farmers and designed our global strategy to respond to those regional and national needs.

This resulted in research priorities clustered in three general areas:

  • First, Advancing the Productivity Frontier: This is where cutting-edge science, linking U.S. public and private sector laboratories with international and national partners, is attacking age-old problems of pests and disease. These partnerships will also look at new challenges, like climate change, and create crop varieties that are more tolerant to heat, drought and salinity.
  • Second, Transforming Production Systems: The technologies that emerge from these efforts need to come together in the context of local conditions, taking into account soil fertility, water resource management, markets, trade and extension. So, we will integrate policy and biophysical research with sustainable production systems, increasing productivity and incomes while reducing risk.
  • And, third, Improved Nutrition and Food Safety: Under Feed the Future, our focus is on the quality as well as the quantity of food. We will seek to enhance the role of grain legumes, as well improve access to high quality foods-dairy, meat and fish-and do so in ways that reduce food safety risks.

USAID research investments will focus on linking our partners in ways that build on and emphasize respective comparative strengths. We envision linkages spanning from upstream research in U.S. universities, USDA and the private sector, to CGIAR centers and research leaders in strategic partner countries like India and Brazil to full participation by national partners, both public and private. A more integrated research portfolio, where all can share in the credit of a collective effort that drives real impacts, is what we are after.

At every step, we are building in capacity building through real participation in research-it is not only whole-of-government in approach, we want it to be whole-of-country. We hope that other countries will approach it the same way, mobilizing their full range of partners and capabilities to work towards food security.

USAID is reaching out to U.S. universities not only in conducting critical research programs, but also drawing on your experience and expertise in critical areas like extension and human and institutional capacity building. The U.S. private sector, with its unparalleled capacity for product development, is also working with us to bring innovations like drought-tolerant crops developed using the latest biotechnologies.

Overall, the Feed the Future research strategy seeks to ensure that science responds to the need of developing countries, growing their economies, helping reduce shocks from pests, diseases or drought, and improving the lives of millions of food insecure families. We expect the university community to be a key partner in implementing our research strategy.

Last month I spoke at a day long symposium on 25 years of USAID food security research. Entitled "Food Security III: A Quarter-Century of Lessons Learned," the symposium highlighted key findings from food security research conducted by USAID through its work with Michigan State University.

Topics included best practices for developing staple food markets; poverty reduction through high-value cash crop cultivation; impacts of fertilizer subsidies; and the importance of regional agricultural markets. Speakers presented key findings from research, discussed application of findings to the Feed the Future initiative, and advised how USAID's agriculture investments could achieve lasting impact.

I highlight this event to demonstrate not only that Michigan State researchers have been carrying out integrated programs of applied research, capacity building, and policy dialogue focused on food security for decades, but to remind you of how that work is inextricably linked to the U.S. Government's efforts to promote sustainable agricultural growth as a means to cut hunger and poverty.

Let's talk more about some of the existing programs we have with the higher education community that connects to research.

Our Collaborative Research Support Programs, or CRSPs, harness the capabilities of U.S. land-grant universities to carry out the international food and agricultural research mandate of the U.S. Government. These collaborative agricultural research and agribusiness support programs benefit both the United States and developing countries with which the United States collaborates. $30 million was allocated this year to U.S. universities through the CRSP programs.

For example, USAID recently awarded funding to Oregon State University to increase profits for small aquaculture operations in Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania, which are all Feed the Future focus countries. This $1.1 million dollar award will share best management practices with farmers to improve inland aquaculture, which will increase jobs and improve food security.

This is part of the broader AquaFish CRSP managed by Oregon State University, which includes nine USAID-funded projects in 16 countries located across Africa, East Asia, and Latin America to improve health and food safety, create income generation for small-scale fish farmers and fishers, sustain aquatic resource use, and enhance trade opportunities. Development work in the host countries is guided by formal partnerships between 17 U.S. universities and 28 host country institutions.

We also have long-term relationships with specific universities, including an investment of over $25 million over the past eight years with Cornell University for the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program II. The program involves a consortium of public and private sector institutions that supports scientists, regulators, extension workers, farmers and the general public in developing countries to make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology. The program builds capacity, develops bioengineered crops, and boosts food security, economic growth, nutrition and environmental quality in Uganda, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

And, we have seen real results.

This year the program continued research and testing of fruit and shoot borer resistant eggplant, late blight resistant potato, and papaya ring spot resistant papaya in South and Southeast Asia. India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approved the use of Bt technology in eggplant in October 2009 and final government approval for product release is pending. If approved, Bt eggplant would be the first genetically modified food crop to be commercialized in India. The program's public sector partners are ready to distribute pest-resistant varieties to resource-constrained farmers on a non-profit basis through existing university extension systems.

As a whole-of-government initiative, USAID will also be partnering more actively with USDA's research investments in ways that will make them more relevant to Feed the Future goals. For example, we are exploring opportunities for building on grants from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA. NIFA will consider "dual-use" opportunities for relevance to global food security in making its grants. Likewise, USAID will explore potential complementary grants that enhance the ability of U.S. partners to build research capacity and relevance to Feed the Future focus countries, and build the ability of international partners to participate more fully in the research. This collaborative approach with USDA in working with the university community is an important aspect of our plans to expand research under Feed the Future.

We will also involve U.S. universities and training institutions in the broader agricultural development process.

With USAID support, Virginia Tech will develop agricultural education and training institutions in Senegal's public and private sectors to enhance farming systems and value chain productivity and sustainability.

The Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) Project awarded to a consortium led by the University of Illinois will provide a virtual center of excellence in modernizing extension programs-public and private-to meet emerging needs. The extension support project includes training programs to promote new strategies and approaches to rural extension and advisory service delivery, access to user-friendly materials and up-to-date information, and appropriate application of cutting-edge information technologies.

We know that universities are among the most important parts of civil society, and their engagement in addressing global development challenges is critically important.

Many of you in this room are familiar with the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative, which APLU President Peter McPherson was instrumental in starting in 2008. For those of you who are not, $15 million was earmarked this year to support partnerships between U.S. higher education institutions and their counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Grants are made through the Higher Education for Development and a majority of the grants are awarded to countries that are a focus under the Feed the Future initiative.

I would like to add that we are working with the APLU this year to identify even more effective ways to promote such partnerships between U.S. and African universities.

The higher education partnerships under the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative jointly address development challenges ranging from food security to solar power to health care. Earlier this year we announced eleven innovative new partnerships between 22 universities in Africa and the United States, each awarded up to $1.1 million. These partnerships will maximize the resources of U.S. institutions while placing African universities in the lead to capitalize on their on-the-ground knowledge, proximity to the challenges, and build their own capacity to better address these challenges.

Out of the eleven new grants we have awarded through the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative, seven are directly related to food security and five are in Feed the Future focus countries. For example, in Uganda, the University of Makerere is partnering with North Dakota State to develop a Center of Excellence that will coordinate and manage capacity building in Eastern and Central Africa for surveillance, risk assessment, and policy development to address potential trans-boundary animal diseases that can jeopardize food security. In Ethiopia, Addis Ababa University is partnership with the University of Connecticut to develop an integrated water resources engineering program to train professionals to address water resources as it relates to food insecurity, agricultural productivity, droughts and floods, and more.

There are many investments within the higher education community that complement Feed the Future - from our CRSPs to the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative. There is a tremendous opportunity to work together to leverage each institution's strengths to achieve food security in the developing world.

I would also like to emphasize that Feed the Future, with its focus on country-led development, holds great promise for a renewed emphasis on human and institutional capacity. Country-level investments will be guided by strategic planning now underway. For example, we are assessing needs and strategies for expanding work on agricultural education and training program development. I do not need to say that it has been a long time since we have paid adequate attention to these issues. Now we plan to do so, and we do so in a 21st century context that takes advantage of many of the new tools and technologies that your community has pioneered.

The Feed the Future Research Strategy will be released very soon. It is the beginning, not the end, of a process for engaging the U.S. research community and all our partners in this vital aspect of the initiative. As we move forward, we will work closely with USDA and APLU, looking at both what we hope to accomplish and how we hope to implement purpose-driven research.

As a first step, in January, we are working with APLU to convene a planning workshop that will have representatives from the university community, the private sector, our foundation partners, and international partners such as CGIAR and the NARS. We will plan a series of meetings and opportunities for later in the year that engage researchers and also those whose expertise lies in human and institutional capacity building. We will also include a focus on impact pathways, social sciences, policy, gender-all areas where the university community is a vital partner.

I know that I speak for my USDA and State Department colleagues when I say how grateful we are to APLU for stepping up to the plate as a key partner in Feed the Future. We will continue to work with them to make your community aware of opportunities for engagement going forward.

Thank you.

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) 123rd Annual Meeting Luncheon sponsored by the Africa - U.S. Higher Education Initiative Hyatt Regency, Dallas, TX

Last updated: August 09, 2017

Share This Page