Remarks at the 2009 World Food Prize Announcement Ceremony
Secretary of State
I’m delighted to have my longtime friend, Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has gotten off to such a great start at the Department of Agriculture, here with us today. Ambassador, thank you for representing your country; Acting Assistant Secretary Nelson; and of course, the sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Ruan, thank you for your dedication to this cause. It matters greatly for everyone who cares about the rights of people to have access to sufficient food for themselves and their children.
I also want to recognize Congressman Leonard Boswell, Congressman Steve King, and Mrs. Grassley. Thank you all for being part of Iowa Day at the State Department. (Laughter.)
It is such a pleasure to be here among so many distinguished guests. The issue of chronic hunger and food security is at the top of the agenda that we’re pursuing here in the State Department and in the Obama Administration. This morning, one billion people around the world woke up hungry. Tonight, they will go to sleep hungry. Today, in a village in Niger, a woman will walk for miles in search of water to irrigate crops that are parched by drought. Today, in Haiti, a farmer’s surplus fruit will go to waste because he has no way to store it or to bring it to market. Today, in Congo, a family will flee a conflict that has left their farms and fields fallow. And today, in a schoolhouse in Bangladesh, children will struggle to learn because their bodies are struggling to survive on insufficient nutrition.
The effects of chronic hunger cannot be overstated. Hunger is not only a physical condition, it is a drain on economic development, a threat to global security, a barrier to health and education, and a trap for the millions of people worldwide who work from sunup to sundown every single day but can barely produce enough food to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
Most of all, hunger belies our planet’s bounty. It challenges our common humanity and resolve. We do have the resources to give every person in the world the tools they need to feed themselves and their children.
So the question is not whether we can end hunger, it’s whether we will. For years, brilliant and determined people have dedicated their lives to the fight against hunger. They have worked for breakthroughs in the science of agriculture. One, of course, is Norm Borlaug. His green revolution transformed farming in many parts of the world and saved millions of lives. Dr. Borlaug earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, but his work was also the work of men and women who labor unnoticed in labs and fields and factories around the world, who invent better ways to raise, sell, and ship food, so that the abundance of our world’s harvest can be enjoyed by more people.
Dr. Borlaug established the World Food Prize to keep our attention focused on the ongoing hunger crisis and on those whose work is significantly contributing to its end. This year, the World Food Prize is awarded to a man whose work is not confined to a single field, but covers several: in the science of plant genetics, to the creation of thriving local markets, to the training of famers in new agricultural techniques.
Dr. Ejeta began his journey in a hut in Ethiopia, where he was born to a mother who was passionately committed to his education. He walked 20 kilometers every Sunday to attend school. He boarded in town for the week, and then he walked home to his family every Friday. Eventually, he made it to college, where he planned to study engineering, but his mother convinced him he’d do more good for the world if he studied agriculture.
After completing his Ph.D. at Purdue, as you’ve heard from Ambassador Quinn, he has gone to work focusing on sorghum, a staple crop in parts of Africa, Central America, and South Asia. He helped develop Africa’s first commercial hybrid strain, which needed less water and actually yielded more grain. Then he developed another variety, resistant to Striga weed, which had regularly wiped out a significant portion of Africa’s cereal crops.
Even while he was making breakthroughs in the lab, he took his work to the field. He knew that for improved seeds to make a difference in people’s lives, farmers would have to know how to use them, which meant they would need access to a seed market and the credit to buy supplies. So he traveled to India and studied its flourishing seed industry and then returned to Sudan, where he helped create one there, along with a system to train farmers in crop management and help them purchase seed and fertilizers on a regular basis. Today, more than a dozen seed companies are operating in Sudan in the market he helped to build.
Now, he reminds us that a system of agriculture that nourishes all humankind requires more than a single breakthrough or advances in a single field. It requires a sustained and comprehensive approach. We need to create a global supply chain for food. Today, that chain is broken, and we need to repair it and make it stronger.
The Obama Administration is committed to providing leadership in developing a new global approach to hunger. For too long, our primary response has been to send emergency aid when the crisis is at its worst. This saves lives, but it doesn't address hunger’s root causes. It is, at best, a short-term fix.
So we will support the creation of effective, sustainable farming systems in regions around the world where current methods are not working. We will do this by helping countries carry out strategies designed to meet their specific needs; for example, through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Plan, which establishes a collaborative and inclusive process led by African countries themselves.
We know one-size-fits-all will not work in agriculture, as it doesn't work in most other areas of human endeavor. Furthermore, to facilitate coordination and best practices, we will seek to convene stakeholders from every sector, including donor governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, private companies, foundations, universities and individuals, to create a web of advocates and experts.
We have identified seven principles that support sustainable systems of agriculture in rural areas worldwide. First, we will seek to increase agricultural productivity by expanding access to quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation tools, and the credit to purchase them and the training to use them.
Second, we will work to stimulate the private sector by improving the storage and processing of foods and improving rural roads and transportation so small farmers can sell their fruit, the fruits of their labor, at local markets.
Third, we are committed to maintaining natural resources so that land can be farmed by future generations and that it help – that includes helping countries adapt to climate change.
Fourth, we will expand knowledge and training by supporting R&D and cultivating the next generation of plant scientists.
Fifth, we will seek to increase trade so small-scale farmers can sell their crops far and wide.
Sixth, we will support policy reform and good governance. We need clear and predictable policy and regulatory environments for agriculture to flourish.
And seventh, we will support women and families. Seventy percent of the world’s farmers are women, but most programs that offer farmers credit and training target men. This is both unfair and impractical. An effective agricultural system – (applause) – an effective agricultural system must have incentives for those who do the work, and it must take into account the particular needs of children.
So these are the seven principles that will guide us in the coming weeks, as we scale up our work and help us set benchmarks to measure our efforts. We are committed to collecting data and assessing our progress, and when necessary, correcting our course.
Now for us, sustainable agriculture won’t be a side project. It is a central element of our foreign policy. Ambassador Quinn and I were speaking before we came in, and he told me something that I’ve heard from others as well: Where the road ends, it becomes a refuge for extremists and for violence. And the more we enhance agricultural productivity, because it’s the right thing to do, we will see positive results in terms of our relations with other countries and our ability to affect extremism and violence and conflict.
Attacking hunger at its roots directly impacts whether we meet our other foreign policy goals, from achieving economic recovery to stabilizing fragile societies, creating stronger partnerships, cleaning up our planet, and creating economic opportunity.
In the weeks to come, President Obama, Secretary Vilsack, and I will seek input and guidance from those who have worked for years in this arena. And we want it to be an invitation. Let us know what you think will work, best practices, advice, and also from our partner countries around the world, many of whom are represented by their ambassadors here.
Now, ever since human beings began practicing agriculture thousands of years ago, we’ve been improving on it. Through droughts and blights, and floods and frosts, we’ve honed our techniques, we’ve sharpened our skills, we’ve increased our knowledge of how to care for the land. And today, our understanding of how to plant crops, raise livestock, and cultivate fisheries is unsurpassed.
But even as we’ve improved the practice of farming, we have never been free of famine. Hunger is one of humankind’s oldest problems. Dr. Ejeta was born in Ethiopia, educated in the United States, inspired by India, a partner now to nations in sub-Saharan Africa. His whole life reminds us of the international approach we need to this problem. We don’t believe any country can do it on its own, but we believe the United States has a particular opportunity to lead and to make the changes that we have outlined in our policy.
By working together, I believe we can show the will necessary to end the hunger crisis, to usher in a new era of progress and plenty. That is our goal. That is our challenge. And it’s wonderful to look out, see many of you whom I know, others whom I don’t. But I understand every one of you is committed to this goal. Ending hunger, providing food security will bring us together across all the lines that too often divide us. And if we do what we should and are capable of doing, by next year and the years after, when we meet here to award this prize, we’ll be able to mark our progress, and most importantly, the lives of millions of women, men, and children will be the better for our efforts. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)