Keynote Address to Bread for the World's National Gathering 2011

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Renaissance Hotel
Washington, DC
June 13, 2011

Thank you, Tom, for that warm introduction. It’s great to be here and see so many familiar faces. I have a long history with Bread for the World and remember fondly the years I spent on the Board, working with Bread’s wonderful President, David Beckmann and the entire staff. Of course, today’s event is made all the more extraordinary by the presence and partnership of two outstanding organizations: Bread and Concern Worldwide, whose intentionality and commitment to the hungry have made real and tangible differences.

When many of us, I dare say all of us in this room, set out to address the endemic challenge of hunger and under-nutrition in our world, we set our sights high. We knew then, as we know now, that the bounty of our planet affords enough food for every human being.

And yet, what we know to be true in theory has yet to be proven in practice. Tonight, after a full day’s work, millions will go to sleep with empty stomachs. And this year, many millions of children will die from under-nutrition.

When I lived in Honduras, I saw this firsthand. I saw it in the homes of many of the microentrepreneurs I visited in my capacity as the direction of ACCION International in that country. When trying to measure impact of the loans one of the men I interviewed said to me, “How do I know of my business is doing well? If I can feed my family, then my business is doing well. If I can’t buy food for my family and they are hungry, that tells me my business is down.”

Even more starkly, I remember taking a trip to a small village in the rural countryside to visit a local family. As is the custom there, the family provided us with the very best that they had–a plate of honey from their beehives. I was struck by their generosity but was filled with sorrow. They literally had no other food to feed their family.

That is why we are here: to end the pain and suffering caused by hunger and malnutrition. It is why, even decades after setting out to combat global hunger, we hold fast to the truth that we can provide for our fellow brothers and sisters–and that we can create a future without the hunger pains of empty bellies.

Hunger strikes first at the individual. Too often, its early victims are women and children. But it does not stop there. Hunger strikes at communities and entire societies.

Improved nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood is a critical driver for economic growth and poverty reduction at the national level. A child’s cognitive and physical development is improved. A child’s susceptibility to other deadly diseases is lessened. Over the long-term, these factors contribute to a workforce that is more capable, and a society that is better educated and more equal.

We know that investments in nutrition are highly cost-effective, and are paramount to the success of virtually all of the Millennium Development Goals. A group of leading scientists and economists, including several Nobel laureates stated in the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus that combating under-nutrition is the best investment in international development.

That is a strong statement. We are here today because we know that statement is true. Nutrition underlies many of the foreign policy priorities of the Obama Administration, foremost among them: women, water, and food security:

First, women play a crucial role, not only in the nourishment of their families and communities, but also in the acquisition of food and reaping of harvests. And yet, gender gaps in accessing agricultural and financial resources inhibit a woman’s ability to provide and to prosper. Economic projections by the Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, suggest that closing the gender gap will increase agricultural output and produce a related decrease in “the number of undernourished people” in vulnerable nations. To close this gender gap, USAID funds programs such as the Women Farmer’s Advancement Network (WOFAN), which seeks to relieve hunger and poverty by providing training and educational resources to rural women working in agriculture.

Secondly, clean water is a critical component of nutrition efforts. Forty percent of the world’s people lack access to safe drinking water, and water-borne diseases are the leading cause of death in children under five. By developing clean water resources through the WASH (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene) in Schools Program and promoting exclusive breastfeeding, along with appropriate complementary feeding for infants, we’re taking a multi-pronged approach to ensuring both adequate nutrition and food safety for our youngest and most vulnerable.

And thirdly, the U.S. Government has elevated food security within our foreign policy agenda, recognizing the extraordinary potential it has to change the scope of international development. FEED The FUTURE, this administration’s key initiative focused on food security, draws on resources and expertise from the State Department, USDA, MCC, Treasury, the U.S. African Development Foundation, and the Peace Corps. Today, through Feed the Future, the United States is more focused on global food security than at any other time since the earliest days of the Green Revolution.

That leads me to the 1,000 Days partnership, which brings together all of these important issues under one banner: nutrition.

As you know, the partnership supports the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement by drawing international attention to the 1,000 day window of opportunity from pregnancy through age 2. In this time period adequate nutrition has the greatest impact on saving lives, the greatest impact on developing a child’s cognitive and physical capacity, and mitigating the risk of chronic disease.

1,000 days is also a window of opportunity for us in the international community–a challenge to take concerted action against under-nutrition within 1,000 days. The efforts and momentum achieved during this timeframe will serve as a strong foundation for moving towards the ultimate elimination of malnutrition.

1,000 Days takes a multi-sectoral, country-led approach to improving maternal and child nutrition. Today, I’m pleased to represent my boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who understands the significance of the 1,000 Days Partnership. She is traveling in Africa right now and in fact spoke about the 1,000 Day Partnership yesterday, in Tanzania. So without further ado, I believe we have a few words from her: //

We are very pleased to present our new international advocacy tool to help keep nutrition and the health of pregnant women and children on the international agenda. has been revamped to include tools for national and international nutrition advocates and leaders. Continue your exceptional work!

It is also a forum for discussion within this community, and for sharing successes and lessons learned. In this way, we hope to facilitate better communication, nurture a close nutrition network and foster a team effort to scale up nutrition globally, in support of the Scaling Up Nutrition or “SUN” movement.

The 1,000 Days partnership supports the SUN movement and its principles in two key ways:

  • First, it galvanizes action and leadership around the critical 1,000 day window of opportunity between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday; and
  • Second, it helps us as a global community to establish benchmarks to improve maternal and child nutrition in the 1,000 days between September 2010 and June 2013.

Through both political and civil society leadership, we are making great strides to invest in nutrition, and in particular, support women and young children.

The 1,000 Days partnership wouldn’t function without you, our partners who are doing so much work to advance it. I’m delighted to hear that the partnership is now supported by the 1,000 Days Hub, a group of committed nutrition advocates who will help build connections and a sustained movement. We hope you’ll draw on the Hub and the new, as critical resources to amplify your exceptional work and continue scaling up your nutrition efforts.

By contributing to the 1,000 Days partnership, we improve the health and well-being of future generations, and, thus, substantially invest in global development, security, and prosperity. The United States is pleased to join the Irish Government and our global partners, especially civil society, to take part in a renewed effort to combat under-nutrition and make these critical investments.

We all know that we are currently in a difficult budget environment, which will force us to make tough choices. Nutrition investments are cost effective, proven, and have impacts both in the short and long term. As Secretary Clinton announced, we are increasing our support for nutrition programs and fully support your continued efforts.

Building multi-stakeholder platforms that bring public and private sectors together will be critical in maintaining momentum to ultimately eliminate under-nutrition. Our commitment to maternal and child health must remain a priority, and we need your continued work and investment in fighting hunger. We are working so that someday, the bounty of our world will support every human being on the planet. We will not stop until that truth becomes reality.

Thank you.