Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah at the International Food Aid and Development Conference in Kansas City, Missouri

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
International Food Aid and Development Conference

I would like to thank Nancy Lindborg, Dina Esposito and Jon Brause for their efforts in organizing this important conference and administering the Food for Peace programs.

Thanks also go to Julie Howard and Tjada McKenna for their leadership of our new Bureau for Food Security and all their work in advancing the goals of Feed the Future.

I especially want to express my appreciation to Under Secretary Michael Scuse for his keynote address this morning and to Secretary Tom Vilsack for his video message.

Finally, I want to thank the conference participants—farmers, shippers, agribusiness, nongovernmental organizations, academia, Congressional colleagues, and other government officials.

For nearly 60 years, your partnership with Food for Peace has allowed us to pursue a historic mission to fight hunger and famine around the world and strengthen our country's agricultural production.

As one of the purest expressions of our core values, we have provided the most vulnerable people in the world a chance to thrive, while strengthening our agricultural economy into the powerhouse it is today.

While we should look back on 60 years of partnership with pride, we must acknowledge the world we live in today is very different.

Tonight, nearly 1 billion will go to bed hungry, and each year 3.5 million children will die of malnutrition. And unfortunately, these numbers will get worse.

In 2008, we saw world food prices hit new highs, driving 100 million more people into poverty—the first increase in poverty numbers in decades.

Today, that pattern is repeating. Food prices and staples have hit all time highs:

  • Wheat prices in India are breaking records, despite bumper crops.
  • In Indonesia, the price of rice is skyrocketing, disrupting local diets.
  • And cereals, meat and dairy are quickly escaping the reach of poor families worldwide.

Already this year, the World Bank estimates 44 million people who escaped a life of hunger and poverty have been forced back into a life of subsistence. And food riots have combined with protest movements, disrupting global stability.

Despite a consistent commitment to provide food aid to vulnerable people, for more than two decades, the U.S. Government stepped away from its historical leadership in food security.

After nearly three decades of declining agricultural investment, less than three percent of US foreign assistance was directed toward agriculture in 2006

But in 2009, President Obama and Secretary Clinton—with strong bipartisan support from Congress—strengthened President Bush's efforts to reassert America's leadership in food security by launching Feed the Future.

Feed the Future—which many of you helped design, shape and support—grew from a recognition that strengthening global food security required a more comprehensive approach than providing food aid.

While food aid remains critical to saving lives and ending food emergencies, we've struggled over time to bring those benefits to scale or to make them sustainable.

For years, a commodity-based approach to food aid did not do enough to improve nutrition or build sustainable agricultural or economic growth.

Without a long-term commitment to build agricultural capacity—the core aim of Feed the Future— we couldn't address the root causes of hunger.

It was clear, a more comprehensive approach was needed—one to ensure long-term food security for the world's poor. That approach requires a focus on long-term agricultural capacity building, while strengthening and sustaining the short-term gains of food assistance.

That last point is an important one—and it frankly gets overlooked in discussions about Feed the Future.

In a time of growing hunger but tightening budgets, it is critical that our food assistance become faster, more nutritious, and more efficient than ever before—helping countries bridge a path to the goals of self-sufficiency and food security

Our food aid must be tightly integrated with our long-term agricultural development efforts and nutritional goals, recognizing that each play complementary roles to solving the common problem of ending hunger.

There are several measures we've taken to make our assistance faster, to ensure we can assist people in their time of greatest need.

The fact that instability can spread quicker and farther than ever before, threatening our global security, means we have to reach emergencies faster than ever.

We developed a new early warning system—the Food Assistance Outlook Briefing—that predicts food assistance needs six months in advance. These predictions are critical because of the time required to purchase and ship in-kind food assistance.

Already this system has allowed us to preposition commodities near the Eastern Horn of Africa to provide quick delivery of commodities in response to severe droughts.

Globally, we've expanded our prepositioning of commodities to six sites, allowing us to maintain a continuous flow of vital aid, reducing our response time in just months.

In Pakistan, when epic flooding first began last year

  • Food for Peace sourced commodities from prepositioned warehouses,
  • Diverted ships carrying Title II food assistance,
  • And allowed partners to borrow from Title II commodities already in the region.

As a result, we were able to provide emergency food assistance to the flood survivors in days.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, we diverted over 6,500 tons of food aid already on the ground, purchased over 3,000 tons of American rice and dispatched over 14,000 tons of food aid from prepositioned stocks in Texas to reach survivors within one day.

Today the United States has become the largest, fastest provider of food aid in the world.

But being faster than the rest is not good enough for those in need.

Last year, we launched the Emergency Food Security Program to locally procure commodities and provide food vouchers and transfers when American aid cannot reach shores fast enough.

This new program has the potential to improve market linkages and conditions in target countries, improving the capacity of the private sector to respond to needs and provide services.

In Haiti, we funded a project that pioneered the use of e-vouchers with beneficiaries—allowing Haitians to purchase food from local vendors using their cell phones

And in Niger, our partners used this program to pay for voucher programs, complementing the Title II in-kind food assistance that was provided after last year's droughts.

And through the World Food Program's Purchase for Progress initiative, we've dramatically expanded the amount of food aid we procure from smallholder farmers—raising our commitment from zero to $37 million in just two year's time

This program gives smallholder farmers exactly the kind of stable demand they need to invest in new crops and break free of a life of poverty.

But fast food aid means little if it does not address the nutritional needs of vulnerable people. Instead of simply exporting U.S. commodities, we must make sure that what we provide vulnerable people serves to make them healthier.

In 2008, a series in the Lancet medical journal helped catalyze our efforts to improve the nutrition of our food aid.

It helped inspire the Scaling-Up Nutrition movement, which aligned our food aid and nutrition assistance with the plans and priorities of partner countries.

And it shaped the First 1,000 Day's initiative, which focused global attention on the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child's second birthday.

Within that window, if a child doesn't receive basic nutritional requirements, we know that their brains will never fully develop and they can never reach their full intellectual potential.

We are not only targeting our food assistance to reach those in that critical window, but also strengthening the nutritional value of that aid, to ensure we meet their specific nutritional needs.

Just two months ago, in partnership with Tufts University, we released a two-year food aid quality review produced in close consultation with private sector stakeholders, NGOs and leading nutritionists.

The review identified several ways to better match the nutritional quality of the food USAID provides to help children reach their maximum potential.

To implement the study's recommendations, we are now working with Tufts researchers and our stakeholders to develop the next generation of food aid commodities.

Immediately, we will reformulate milled grains and vegetable oils to address micronutrient deficiencies in malnourished populations.

For example, we can quickly add vitamin D to fortified vegetable oil to address the growing evidence showing its crucial role in childhood development.

And standardizing the micronutrient formulation of American food aid will harmonize it with international standards.

We will also seek to develop and field test new fortified food blends that include dairy protein, to specifically meet the needs of older infants and young children.

And we will enhance USAID's ability to respond to crises around the world by increasing the range of products available and by developing new emergency bars, biscuits and pastes that can quickly be distributed to displaced, malnourished populations

We will continue to rely on many of our private sector partners to help us research, develop and distribute these more effective, more efficient, more nutritious products.

We recently partnered with PepsiCo to improve the production of chickpeas in Ethiopia. By building the capacity of local farmers, millers and processors, we will strengthen a value-chain that can be used to create high-energy products that reflect local diets and meet nutritional needs.

The PepsiCo partnership highlights the need for new partnerships. As government budgets around the world tighten, we must learn to deliver food aid more efficiently then ever before.

Food aid can no longer rely solely on governments. Leveraging private sector investment is crucial to multiplying the power of our impact. For decades, debates raged about the right role of the private sector in agriculture.

What is now clear is that agriculture depends on private and public institutions working and investing together. Without strong private sector support, new initiatives cannot sustainably be taken to scale.

Our efforts to preposition food aid and acquire it locally have also helped improve our efficiency.

In Sudan, by prepositioning food before rainy seasons or predictable climate events, we reduce the cost of transport and assure timely delivery.

And according to the Government Accountability Office, procuring food locally in sub-Saharan Africa costs 34 percent less than similar in-kind food aid transactions and reaches populations more than three times faster.

To improve our efficiency even further, we must accurately measure our performance.

As part of our USAID Forward reform agenda, we have committed $15 million to monitoring and evaluating our food security programming.

Today, all Feed the Future missions must develop evidence-based targets for programs, capture baseline data, and publicly report their findings using a common set of indicators.

Food for Peace is aligning its Title II program indicators with Feed the Future country-level metrics so we can measure whether our food aid programs are complementing our long-term strategy.

Finally, we're conducting a second global food aid and food security assessment to review Title II program performance over the last six years.

This review will identify best practices and the lessons we've recently learned. But it will also identify how changing policy environments both at home and abroad will affect food aid moving forward.

I want to make clear: USAID and the United States Government remains committed to supplying in-kind food aid to vulnerable populations overseas.

Over nearly six decades, food aid has helped save millions of lives, avert famines and end emergencies. It has served as one of the purest expression of our core values: generosity, compassion, a willingness to assist in difficult times.

By helping a starving child with little recourse for a better life, we provide them the dignity that comes from ending needless suffering.

Food aid has also strengthened our country's national security, by strengthening stability abroad and fostering good will for our country.

When President Kennedy renamed the Agricultural Trade Development Assistance Act to Food for Peace, he did so with this understanding.

“Food is strength,” he said, “and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a help to people around the world whose… friendship we seek.”

It has also served as a helpful boost to our farmers and agribusiness companies, creating a stable market for U.S. commodities abroad and strengthening our agricultural exports.

But the world we live in today is very different from that of six decades ago. Just as our relationship with South Korea has changed from assistance partner to trade partner… just as the Marshall Plan has created stable, self-sufficient allies…so too must our food assistance programs reflect a goal of sustainable development.

We have moved from a state of global surplus to scarcity. Prices and population growth have combined, causing demand to outstrip supply. And climate shocks and dwindling resources are adding pressure from all sides.

As the world's needs change—and our national interests change in an era of austerity and geopolitical instability—our food assistance must reflect a new reality.

At a time where Africa is generating the highest investment returns of any continent—and growth in the developed world is slowing—the economic future of many of you in this room will increasingly depend on working in developing markets.

That kind of investment is the only way to ensure our food aid efforts lead to sustainable gains, and delivers real results, both for our own farmers and private companies and the people of the developing world.

As the President, Secretary and I have all made clear, sustainable growth is our key goal. We must break the cycle of food aid, famine, and failed states that has defined food security for decades.

Our goal is to create a world where famines and food emergencies no longer happen; to create the conditions where our assistance is no longer necessary.

We've worked hard to create those conditions. By making our food aid faster, better and more efficient in the short-term…and by creating Feed the Future to sustainably fight hunger in the long term.

Because we know the true yield of food security.

It isn't a lush field or a full silo or a bustling market.

The true yield of food security is the chance for every child to fulfill his or her potential for a healthy, productive, dignified life.

Thank you.

Kansas City, MO

Last updated: October 19, 2017

Share This Page