Briefing by Chief of Staff and Counselor Cheryl Mills on Food Security

Special Briefing
Chief of Staff and Counselor Cheryl Mills
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York, NY
September 25, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Happy Friday to you. Many of you were over at the Sheraton for the speech by the Secretary of State as part of the Clinton Global Initiative. The speech focused on food security, which is a significant imperative that will infuse our diplomatic and development work going forward. During the course of the speech, there was a shout-out for the coordinator of the food security initiative, our Chief of Staff and Counselor, Cheryl Mills. So we thought we would bring her down to kind of help put the food security initiative in proper perspective.

MS. MILLS: Let me start by just saying a few words and then, really, just answer your questions. And I think the one thing I do want to start out by saying is that getting to today has really been a model of cooperation across the government. And so I do think it’s really important to recognize how many different agencies have participated in getting to this place and who are going to have to continue to participate to have this initiative be effective.

And I didn’t fully appreciate the joys of full USG collaboration until this initiative, and there have been many moments where I think the challenges of what it means to actually set aside what agency, what program, and what equities you might have are to actually come together and think about what you actually can do collectively. But it was actually quite an impressive process in that regard, and I feel like those of us who have been working through this process really see the benefits of what it means to actually collaborate in an effective fashion.

And I say that about a lot of people who are working both at – in the NSC, but certainly at USDA, USAID, MCC was incredibly helpful in participating in this process, USTR, Treasury, which has been very thoughtful about how we think about multilateral funds and how we think about the opportunities that are out there. So I want to just lay all that out first.

And then I just wanted to talk a little bit about this initiative. I think it is an incredible and unprecedented initiative from the standpoint of the amount of investment that’s going to go to agriculture. We have a long history of our investments in agriculture being significantly less than where we are going now. Indeed, there’s been a doubling, so if you looked at where we were last year, there was approximately, I’d say, about – I’m just trying to make sure I get your numbers right for you – it was about $430 million that we were actually spending on aid in FY ’08, and we were spending about 1.71 on emergency aid.

So when you look at where our investments have gone, we have been increasingly recognizing the need for emergency aid, but we haven’t recognized the need to track, at the same time, getting at the root causes of what is causing the demand for that emergency aid. And so one of the nice things about this particular initiative is that in thinking through how we attack global hunger, it’s thinking about what do you need to do to actually address the problem in a comprehensive fashion.

You need to think about what’s going to drive economic growth – agriculture. You need to think about one of the key underpinning pieces that is kind of enduringly a challenge, even when you have food, which is nutrition. And you need to think about what you do in the urgent moments, which is the emergency aid. The emergency aid is something we’ve done well and been getting right for a while. We have made significant investments in that space, and this is really about making similar investments in the agriculture space.

I didn’t really fully appreciate food security in its construct; indeed, I always like to say that the first time someone mentioned it to me, I thought, is the food running away, does it need to be armed? It’s such an unusual term, and in a way, it’s a distancing term. It doesn’t say that people are hungry and that people don’t have access to food. It says food security. And while in a lot of ways, it does get at the concept of what you’re trying to ensure, is that people have consistent access to food, it doesn’t make you feel that emotional moment until someone says people are hungry – people are hungry and people are dying of – dying from that hunger.

It was very poignant to me when I went to visit Haiti. I went to – down to Haiti on a trip where Special Envoy Clinton was also down for a period of time and he was visiting a hospital. And because the crowd was where he was, I wandered back to the back part of the hospital and wandered into the children’s ward, and there were two children there. One was nine months and the other one was about a year. One had what’s called kwashiorkor, which was – she was obviously undernourished, and the other one had marasmus. And I was talking to their mothers and saying how beautiful their babies were, but at the same time, appreciating how challenging it was for them to be knowing that their children were starving and were there to try and address that starvation.

And if you think of the lands of Haiti and you step back one more step, what are the challenges that are there? If you are out in the fields, you can find individuals who are taking the crops off. They usually put them on a donkey – the bananas, in the instance where I was watching. A number of children – teenagers – take it up on a donkey, out of the ravines, out to a pretty much dirt space, because I wouldn’t call it a road. It’s been cleared. They take that donkey, and you can drive alongside or you can go drive and be back and they’re still in that same space and your road – the driving is pretty challenging just because of the nature of the roads – to a main road, where there are women who actually gather the different crops that people have, put them on trucks. They end up sitting on them, so in a lot of instances, that means that the quality of the fruit that they get to market is not as good as it would have been if they had something appropriate to put them in.

And then when they get to the market, you can see alongside the road there’s just lots and lots of crops, but not a lot of buyers. And so in a lot of ways, the challenge was very, very obvious, both from that moment all the way to the end. Of course, why – when you think about food security, it’s so critical that we think about all elements of it, that we think about what it means to address it comprehensively. And that’s one of the things that’s, I think, different about this initiative.

It’s not just about productivity. Oftentimes, we have focused on productivity; how do we increase productivity. That’s a critical part, but it’s not the whole story, because there are many instances where there are crops there, but they can’t get them to market. And so we would get stuck in places where – when there’s been a lot of productivity, but not a lot of infrastructure ways to get it to market, or markets where their fruit would actually – or their crops or their livestock would actually be transformative for what they were actually able to earn. We ended up with, still, the same challenge of hunger.

So this is really an effort to try to get at that not only from the standpoint of focusing on all the elements that are necessary – a comprehensive plan, if you will, to ensure that you actually get from, really, starting even further back, the lab to the farm to the market – but also looking at ways in which we do a few other things, I think, a little bit differently, that we focus on the smallholder farmer. Frequently, a lot of times, there has been some focus on the commercial farmers because there are enormous opportunities in that space to be able to raise the overarching income of a particular country or community.

In this particular instance, the people who are continuing to be without are smallholder farmers, and that’s what we’re targeting so that they actually receive the opportunity for the things that need to be transformative to occur, because collectively, that’s what’s going to move the ball meaningfully down the road.

We know it’s pretty important for this process to be country-led. There are very different needs, even if you go within a country from region to region, for what actually needs to be done. And if you are not actually in a country, listening to a country, talking to the individuals who are on the ground, the opportunities to be able to be effective can sometimes be missed. And I think it’s critically important that we actually have country-led processes, but more important, that countries themselves own what is ultimately going to be the long-term solution to some of the challenges that they confront.

That ownership often means that they are stepping up to put in those things that are going to be critical for their effective leadership. That might mean how much they’re actually investing in agriculture. That might mean creating a climate where you actually can have investments in agriculture and have those investments be meaningful.

So in a lot of ways, we think that that is also an important difference for what we’re trying to accomplish here, and we’re focusing on those individuals who are going to be drivers of economic growth, and in many ways, women, because they are 70 percent of the farmers in Africa and Asia. It really is important to actually think about what are the ways in which we are making targeted assessments to capture what they bring to the market, because they also are so impactful for their families and their communities.

And one of the ways in which that is transparent – and a lot of times when – if you are a targeted enough community that may not be able to read, the answer isn’t always in – to hand out literature that explains to you what to do with a particular seed; hand out something that shows pictures on how to do that. If you have a particular type of utensil for crop-yielding – a hoe, there’s a particular type of hoe that is really more adjusted for men, and so there’s a different kind of hoe for women if you were really trying to accomplish that goal. Simple things, but they are things to be thoughtful about, about how you can be effective. And so in that regard too, it is one of the ways in which we are going to try to ensure that this initiative has a good chance of success.

And finally, I was also thinking about the environment. I think we are all more sensitized today than we might have been years before about the environment. But there are particular challenges in the environment also with how we go about doing the appropriate adaptations for the changes that are happening in our climate and in our environment, and to do that well, we also need to be very protective of our natural resource space.

In Haiti, I think many of you all probably know, the natural resource space is obviously considerably depleted, particularly in areas of trees and other things because of the use of their trees for charcoal. That has meant a lot of things, but it also means, particularly when the rains come, the opportunity for anything to be a natural watershed has been dissipated. And so one of the things that we want to make sure that we do through this initiative is make sure that we’re paying attention to the environment and making sure that we’re actually protecting the resource space in a way that means that we will ultimately end up seeing, hopefully, the outcomes they’re looking for.

So that’s just a top line. I’m happy to answer questions that you might have about the initiative.

QUESTION: Can you shed any --

MS. MILLS: How are you?

QUESTION: Good. I’m a little tired. (Laughter.)

MS. MILLS: I am too. I am too. I hear that.

QUESTION: So thanks for coming down to speak to us.

MS. MILLS: No, no, absolutely, no. I appreciate you all actually being here, so I’m grateful.

QUESTION: Can you now shed any light on the actual details of how you’re going to spend the money that you’ve pledged? Have you actually asked the Hill for the money? Just – are you not going to do that until, you know, the next budget submission process? And where’s – can you give us any actual detail of where the money is going to go in sort of a concrete sense – X for R&D, Y for you know --

MS. MILLS: I can’t give you that level of detail. What I can tell you is the FY10 budget does ask for the doubling, so we are seeking, obviously, the increases in resources starting in the FY10 budget, and in the FY11, which is now beginning as a process, but we have obviously not make a request yet to the Hill on the FY11 budget.

We’ve been spending a fair amount of time with Congress kind of talking through what we see are the investments that need to be made. In terms of how they’ll be made, ultimately, we obviously – we live in America, and Congress ultimately ends up appropriating the set of resources that are effective for what we need to try and accomplish overarchingly for the country. We do have, I think, a lot – a fair amount of support on the Hill for what we’re trying to do, and I think a fair amount of understanding among a lot of the members, particularly Senator Lugar, who has been very thoughtful about what we’ve been trying to accomplish, Representative McGovern – a whole series of members who are very focused on this particular initiative. So we are hopeful that the full appropriation will be provided, but I think that will remain to be seen.

When we actually have that, there – yes, we have spent some time thinking through how these resources could best be used. And I think in our way of thinking through this, there are a set of challenges that – of first ensuring the country could actually embrace a large influx of resources and dollars, if you will. We want to make sure that countries are actually in a place where they can create a plan, that they have the support to create a plan, and that we also can do some long lead time items that are going to be impactful for the impact of that plan.

So what do I mean? Roads. Those things take a lot of time, so you really want to try on the front end to front-end some of your infrastructure so that you are in a place where the actual impact will be felt by the time you actually are starting to get in there and do some of the capacity building that’s going to be necessary, the training that’s going to be necessary for some of the individuals who are on the ground and who are farming.

But also, in particular, we are also going to spend some money in research, because that’s also another long lead time item. So if you were looking at where we would first be looking at some of the opportunities, it would be in that space as well.

But then we are anticipating, assuming we get the benefits of Congress’s approval through this process, that a lot of the investments that we will be making will be directly related to what each country’s specific needs are. And that’s going to actually be driven by a process that’s with those countries. So while there could be any number of a menu of things that you might end up doing, they’re going to ultimately be specific to each of the countries.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a couple of questions. First of all, is this process – is this a process that’s kind of led by Department of State, or is it – and has the input of other – of all these other agencies? And you said you didn’t realize how many agencies were involved, but I don’t think, if you gave it – whether you gave a number. But is this kind of a joint program between the U.S. – between the State Department and U.S. Agriculture Department? And also, there was a commitment, a pledge that President Clinton announced (inaudible) one of those commitments with General Mills.

MS. MILLS: Oh, okay, okay.

QUESTION: Is – are you looking to do more of those kind of public-private partnerships in this type of initiative, or are you going to use your own expertise with them, like the agriculture one?

MS. MILLS: Okay, so I’m going to do both questions. The first question was the agencies and the whole-of-government approach. So, President Obama tasked Secretary Clinton with coordinating a whole-of-government approach for a strategy on food security, and that’s how the process came to be and – Secretary Clinton and with the State Department. In that process, it’s a whole-of-government approach, and so yes, it has been a completely collaborative process in terms of the actual interagency process working through how you go about thinking about all the different issues that need to be addressed to have a comprehensive strategy.

It does mean that in its implementation, there will be different agencies that are actually participating in the implementation. There are certain trade and regional barriers that likely will be at USTR’s participation. There are obviously the country-level implementations that happen, and USAID, obviously, is going to play a very strong role in this overarching initiative. Similarly, when you look at the multilateral support that at least we anticipate being able to have through working through multilateral institutions, Treasury obviously has a set of expertise and a set of resources to be thoughtful in that process. USDA, given their obvious technical experience and their overarching understanding of agriculture in a very fundamental way, will also be providing a meaningful role in this process. So it really will be a collaboration of all the various government agencies to do this effectively.

You then asked about public-private partnerships. Yes, in fact, one of the distinctions in this effort would be that we actually see strategic coordination as being beyond just the coordination that’s necessary for governments. It’s the coordination that’s necessary to take advantage of the private sector, which in many ways has been leading in this area, both in the research and the activities on the ground.

We similarly see the same thing as an opportunity with the different NGOs and foundations with academia that have been actually spending time looking at this issue. So yes, the kind of partnership that you would see would be a broader partnership than just government-to-government. It’s going to be a partnership with the country, and in doing so, that country becomes responsible for the kind of planning and coordination of all the different stakeholders who are going to want to participate in the process of hopefully bringing about food security for that country.

QUESTION: I’m interested in money.

MS. MILLS: Money, money, money, money. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Aside from the support from Senator Lugar and others, I mean, you know, getting the money is always difficult.

MS. MILLS: I think that’s true.


MS. MILLS: And I don’t profess to be a seer.

QUESTION: But going forward, I mean, not even the first year, but beyond, do you really think this is sustainable when it comes to crunch time in appropriations (inaudible)?

MS. MILLS: Well, President Obama has put this high on his agenda, and so in that regard I do feel like --

QUESTION: A lot of things (inaudible).

MS. MILLS: Well, what else has he announced that significant of an investment for?

QUESTION: I don’t know. I’ll yield to you.

QUESTION: Healthcare? (Laughter.)

MS. MILLS: Healthcare. That’s fair.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. MILLS: Healthcare’s a little big.

QUESTION: Healthcare (inaudible).

MS. MILLS: But not in certainly the same arena. I mean, I think – I would say this. I do think that this is something that, as he just spoke about today at the G-20 but also as we’ve been looking back over what are the opportunities that are in this space, this is fundamentally part of his commitment. He campaigned on the goal of advancing agriculture. This really fulfills that commitment and more. And so in a lot of ways, this has his firm support, and certainly the support of the Secretary. So we are very hopeful through this process that Congress will be responsive. But if I could actually predict, boy, I’d be wealthy.

QUESTION: You’d have an even better job.

MS. MILLS: I would, I would. Any other questions?

QUESTION: You’re going to be – you’re going to be shepherding the –

MS. MILLS: No, I’m actually shepherding us getting us to the place where we actually have a strategy which we can then anticipate that there will be a government task force that actually will, day-to-day, spend time on food security --

QUESTION: Can you just talk about a few – I mean, obviously, it’s kind of encompassed a lot of countries, but could you kind of specify a few target countries? Like, Haiti you mentioned, but are there others that you --

MS. MILLS: Well, see, we haven’t actually gone through the process of how we are going to – actually, I shouldn’t say it this way. We haven’t identified the countries that will actually be the recipients of these funds for a set of reasons: one, obviously, monies need to be appropriated; but two – appropriated; but two, the other piece of this is whether or not these are countries that would be appropriate to receive the money given a certain set of facts.

What are the kinds of things we’ve looked at? One is hunger, and is hunger actually a significant issue in that particular country? If it’s not, then obviously we are going to be looking at countries where there’s a high indication of hunger. Two, whether or not there’s a lot of arable land and whether or not there’s the opportunity for this to be a successful strategy. It’s an agriculture strategy, so it it’s a country that doesn’t have an enormous opportunity for the use of agriculture, then that obviously doesn’t put it in the same place for this strategy being effective there.

Three, whether or not, actually, this country is at a place where they too are looking at making an investment in agriculture. One of the things that’s been particularly helpful through this process in Africa, they have, actually, a set of plans that they’ve been doing through the African Union, which had created an organization that was about – it’s called CAADP, but it’s Comprehensive African – okay, you know the rest. And that program actually is about helping to create food security plans. It creates an easy opportunity to be able to collaborate and understand where each country’s investments might be and whether or not the strategies that they are laying forth are comprehensive ones.

So that’s going to be the initial lens through which we would look at whether or not a country would be a country where we would actually anticipate being as active in.

Did you have something or --


MS. MILLS: Okay. Okay, great. Well, we’ll have many times to talk about it, I’m sure. So I hope that you all have as much fun with it as I do. So, thanks.

PRN: 2009/T12-24