Remarks at Food Security Event

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Food and Agriculture Organization
Rome, Italy
May 6, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. Thank you very much, Director General, not only for that extremely kind introduction about the work that the United States, under the Obama Administration, is doing, but also for your leadership. It is a great privilege for me to be here to join with you and to discuss an issue that demands our attention from every corner of the world. I want to thank the director general and the staff and, of course, our Ambassador, Ambassador Cousin.

I come to you today with appreciation for what you are taking on at this moment of challenge. Global food prices are once again on the rise. The FAO Food Price Index reached an all-time high in February. Yesterday’s update showed little decrease. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since just last June because of rising food prices. I know that you have been working very hard around the world as a voice for market-based approaches to managing the impact of rising food prices. And the recent FAO-organized regional meetings have had a very positive effect.

But we know what the consequences are, because during the last major rise in food prices in 2007 and 2008, they were grave. For hundreds of millions of people, the staples of life, like rice, wheat, or corn, were suddenly out of reach. People who were already vulnerable fell into an even greater danger zone. Anger and frustration over food prices sparked riots in dozens of countries.

Now, thankfully, the situation we face today is not yet as serious. But I come before you to reinforce what you are already doing, because we must act now effectively and cooperatively to blunt the negative impact of rising food prices and protect people and communities. We need to respond to the current climb in prices with immediate action while simultaneously deepening our commitment to long-term investments in agriculture and food security worldwide.

The director general and I were talking before we came in here for this event about how necessary it is that we try to keep simultaneously focused on the short-term needs, which are great, but the longer-term solutions, which are years in the making. I want to discuss three key ways in which we can work together to minimize the short-term harm caused by rising prices while maximizing the impact of our long-term efforts in agriculture development.

First, we must embrace smart policy responses to protect the most vulnerable among us. Second, we must redouble our commitment to sustainable agriculture and food security. And third, we must improve our coordination within and across all organizations so that everything we do can be more effective, because we learned in 2007 and ’08 the importance of our policies in making a difference in ameliorating the consequences of the food shortages and the rising prices.

We also saw how unwise policy also had an impact. Some policies that countries enacted with the hope of mitigating the crisis, such as export bans on rice, only made matters worse. They spurred panic buying and hoarding, which made rice unaffordable from East Asia to West Africa to the Caribbean. They also undermined countries’ broader food security by discouraging farmers from increasing production. Rising food prices can have a positive effect if they send a signal to farmers to grow and sell more. But that can only happen if there is transparency in markets and stocks so signals about prices and supply are accurately received.

So we have learned from the past and we now must embrace better policies based on that collective learning. Right now, the United States and other partners are working directly with affected countries and multilateral institutions such as the G-8 and the G-20, the African Union, APEC, and of course, the UN food agencies represented here to encourage everyone to respond to rising food prices not with failed policies of the past, but with a sounder approach. And that sounder approach includes improving and sharing information about food production and stocks, abstaining from export bans no matter how attractive they may appear to be, using export quotas and taxes sparingly if at all, discouraging panic buying and hoarding, and implementing programs that deliver urgent assistance to people at greatest risk.

Now, I am well aware that some policies and approaches may be difficult to implement. Many countries face very challenging domestic policy, political, and budget environments. I think that’s fair to say about my own country right now. But we need to do all we can together to find the best ways for markets to work more efficiently and deliver results. I appreciate that the FAO has launched this series of regional conferences with policymakers to promote sound policy responses. We are proud to be a co-sponsor of that through the United States Agency for International Development.

In Asia, where the first FAO conference was held, major rice importing and exporting countries are now working together more closely to improve how they share information and build a strong collaborative policy approach. Cooperation can therefore help prevent rising prices from spiraling into a full-blown regional or even global crisis. Now of course, cooperation also accelerates our longer-term efforts to address the entrenched problems associated with food and security.

And that brings me to my second point: Maintaining, indeed deepening our commitment to sustainable agriculture and food security. As the director general said, food security is a foreign policy priority for our country, and happily, for an increasing number of countries and institutions. At the 2009 summits of both the G-8 and the G-20, global leaders did commit to significantly increasing their investments in food security with the pledges eventually totaling $22 billion. The U.S. Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, which we call Feed The Future, to constantly remind ourselves that unless we feed the future, the problems in the present can never be resolved – Feed The Future was born here in Italy with President Obama’s pledge of $3.5 billion over three years. It is a comprehensive initiative, a reflection of the Rome principles for sustainable food security.

This started very early in our Administration. In fact, as the director general noted, the very first thing I did as Secretary of State was the video message to the Madrid conference. I think it was the first day that President Obama had sworn me in. But we were absolutely committed that from the start, we were going to be on record of trying to change our policies and work with others cooperatively to get better results delivered.

So we are intending and achieving the goals of strengthening the entire agricultural chain, from improving the quality of seeds, to connecting farmers to local markets, to connecting local markets to regional and global ones, to encouraging crop diversity and health education so people get the nutrition they need to thrive. Feed The Future, along with the commitments by other countries, reflects a reversal of a decades-long decline in investment.

In the early 1980s, at the height of the Green Revolution, which we know helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of food insecurity and out of poverty, assistance to agriculture was 17 percent of total global development funding. In 2002, it had dropped to just over 3 percent. Today, it is 5 percent. Improvements in agricultural productivity lagged behind population growth. And many of us were somewhat shocked to see the UN’s projections of a population growth to 10.5 billion in the future.

Now, there are few easy answers to the problems facing rural farmers, the majority of whom are women around the world, or those problems facing hungry people everywhere. And many of the new investments in agricultural development will not be evident for years. But we cannot let the complexity inhibit us. We cannot let the timeline of change deter us. We can’t keep falling back on providing emergency aid just to put the band-aid on to keep moving forward to try to mitigate the damage insofar as possible.

We can adopt a smart, strategic approach. We can increase agricultural productivity, decrease poverty, drive economic growth, and reduce under-nutrition that will enable millions of children to be on a better path toward the future. Through Feed The Future, we aim to lift incomes of 18 million vulnerable men, women, and children. We aim to prevent stunting and child mortality for 7 million children. We aim to generate $2.8 billion in agricultural GDP in the target regions that we have chosen through research and development activities. And we aim to leverage 70 million more dollars in private investments that improve sustainable market opportunities for small-holder farmers.

We are working to support countries carry out solutions that they take the lead in designing and implementing. We want to help countries and those who live and farm within the countries to actually bolster their own long-term capacity for agricultural growth. In Africa, as many of you know, 19 countries have developed plans for investing in agriculture and food security. Thirteen of those have been reviewed by experts. Countries like Haiti and Bangladesh have also created prioritized and evidence-based plans. Tanzania is transforming the southern region of the country into an agricultural growth corridor that could become the breadbasket of East Africa.

This region has good, basic infrastructure and fertile soil. But to capitalize on its potential, farmers need better seeds, particularly drought-resistant seeds, fertilizers, and technologies, as well as companies that can connect them with export markets. We have brought together global agriculture businesses, international development agencies, including, of course, USAID, and farmers groups to work with the president of Tanzania to transform the fortunes of 2 million people.

As we make our investments, we are trying to be as targeted as possible, for example, by developing more nutritious, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant crop varieties. We are connecting researchers with civil society organizations that can then help turn these breakthroughs into real gains for farmers in the fields of Malawi, Senegal, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. We are particularly focused on supporting women and girls who shoulder a considerable amount of the agricultural work in the developing world. They too need access to essential tools like land, title to land, improved seeds, fertilizers, microfinance.

In Kenya, for example, we have redesigned our agriculture training program to accommodate the schedules of women farmers who often have other time-consuming responsibilities like caring for children or collecting water or wood. We also support a horticulture program focused on highly nutritious crops that women commonly produce in market, like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Research obviously shows that income in the hands of women translates into better nutrition and health for their children. When we invest in women producers, we get a double benefit now and in the next generation.

We are also shining a spotlight on nutrition. We know that all the research has made it absolutely clear: Good nutrition in the critical 1,000-day period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday has the biggest impact on saving lives and improving lifelong cognitive and physical capacity. So last September, the United States joined with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Irish Government and other world leaders in the launch of what we call the 1,000 Days Initiative. It’s a partnership that supports the scale-up nutrition movement. And we are working to achieve measurable results during a 1,000-day challenge that concludes in June 2013.

We’re also improving our emergency aid by accelerating response time and making the food assistance more nutritional by weaving together food assistance and development programs. One effort we support is a World Food Program initiative called Purchase for Progress. The WFP works with local farmers in food-insecure regions to help them grow and prepare food of higher quality and quantity, which the WFP then buys for its food assistance programs. By purchasing food produced locally, we can help drive economic growth. And by training farmers, we help them participate in local, regional, and global markets. All of these efforts are dependent on and defined by partnership among countries, private companies, NGOs, foundations, and civil society along with multilateral organizations. And we are very grateful for the partnerships we have here with our hosts today, all of the UN food agencies in Rome.

We believe that the World Food Program must continue to deliver lifesaving emergency aid, and that the International Fund for Agricultural Development must continue to design and implement finance programs to support the rural poor, and that the FAO must continue to develop best practices in sustainable agriculture and recommit to using the highest management standards to accomplish its core missions.

We all need to be questioning ourselves during this time. We’ve learned a lot, but we haven’t applied it all and we haven’t brought it to scale. We need a common vision with a coordinated approach. I know this is hard even in our own government, where we are coordinating and leveraging the distinct capacities of multiple agencies, from AID to the Department of Agriculture to the trade representative. It’s been a major challenge. We held the first meeting where we had in one room everyone in the United States Government who worked on food. And it had never been done before and a lot of people wondered why we were doing it, because they had gone along in their own programs, in their own stovepipes, answering to their own higher authorities. And what we’re trying to do is to break down a lot of that bureaucratic obstacle course and get people to actually run the race together.

We need the UN agencies to do the same, focusing on cost savings to get the most value for your money, especially in what is still a very difficult global economic environment. That’s why we’re strong supporters of FAO’s reform process, particularly the introduction of results-based management and more effective program evaluation. So as countries, organizations, NGOs, and multilateral institutions strive to improve our coordination, we look to you, we look to Rome for guidance and leadership.

Two years ago, it was here in Italy at L’Aquila where a community of nations made a promise to stop the cycle of hunger and poverty that has trapped nearly a billion people worldwide. It was a promise to feed the future, and since then, we’ve actually moved forward well together. We’ve developed new solutions. We’ve adapted new ways of working together. But this is only the beginning. I would like someone in 10 or 15 or 20 years from now to be speaking to an audience like this and to say, “Back in 2009, ’10, and ’11, the world made a very important commitment and then we followed through.” And the results are like the Green Revolution of an earlier time, where people are empowered, where they are enabled to actually work for their own food security, and where necessary, because of unforeseen circumstances, they are assisted. And then they are able to go back and rebuild and start producing again.

We can make this happen together by making this a cause of our time. Now, I know the headlines are filled with other matters. I know that there are many issues that are on the minds of everyone. I like to look at the headlines, but I like to keep my eye on the trend lines. And the trend lines are that if we do not act now to increase the opportunity for food security, we may never catch up. Demography, climate, other problems are militating against our efforts, which therefore requires us to be even more determined. Let’s move relentlessly ahead in advancing food security not only for more of the world’s people, but a goal of all of the world’s people. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2011/T45-02