Remarks at Presenting the World Food Program USA's George McGovern Leadership Award to Howard G. Buffett and Bill Gates
Secretary of State
We are delighted to host this event at the State Department because we believe that ending hunger is not only possible, but it is both a moral and strategic imperative. And you know better than most why that happens to be the case. Not only will millions of lives be saved, but we will also promote stability and prosperity and security.
Now, with us are a number of the leaders in the fight against global hunger. We’re going to hear from three of them in just a minute: of course, Bill Gates, Howard Buffett, and Josette Sheeran. And also, you’ve already heard from or perhaps you have spotted in the crowd Dan Glickman and Greg Page. And I want to once again thank Richard Leach for his work in promoting this important event and the incredible commitment that it represents. I want to thank Raj Shah for his leadership and passion about this issue as well.
We heard from the Vice President earlier, and I was delighted that he could join us. He came not only because his commitment to the issue, but because Hunter Biden will be the next chair. And that, I think, says a great deal about the importance that this issue has to the Biden family.
So there are many of you who are part of this amazing effort that is represented by the World Food Program’s USA commitment and all of you who are part of making its work happen.
I have the very pleasant task of not only introducing two people who need no introduction, but formally providing them with an award that I was honored to receive last year on behalf of the Obama Administration’s efforts in our effort to try to coordinate and focus our nutrition and food security and emergency response programs.
The Obama Administration is trying to make sure that fewer people go to bed hungry, more agricultural producers have the support they need to improve their crop yields, access markets, and provide nutrition. And this year, I am delighted to present the McGovern Award to two of America’s leading voices and activists on agricultural development, and our close partners in the Feed the Future Initiative.
You probably don’t think they need an introduction, but I want to introduce their work, because really that’s what they’re here for, because of what they are doing.
The focus that they have brought to individual smallholder farmers has been really a change agent in the world of fighting hunger and improving food security. Everyone knows that 60 to 70 percent of the world’s farmers labor on small plots, primarily for themselves and their families, with the hope that there will also be some left over for the purpose of increasing their incomes.
If we help those farmers produce more, they’ll be able to provide a greater base of nutrition and security for their families, with some left over to sell. And if we can increase steadily and surely access to markets with fair prices for crops and livestock, they may even be able to earn a profit, which they can put back into their families and their communities. And I think that the goal that all of us have through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the United States Government, and others, is to drive toward that vision.
Now, the Gates Foundation has focused on research and development to improve the yield of staple crops upon which much of the world depends. And they do work to strengthen farmers’ access to markets and help countries improve their agricultural policies to encourage widespread economic growth. And I am especially grateful that the Foundation makes sure every grant supports an optimal role for women – because fostering women in agriculture is one of the most effective ways to increase production and nutritional outcomes.
Similarly, the Buffett Foundation supports groundbreaking research to improve soil health, including through the use of no-tillage farming. Howard Buffett is encouraging people to think about a “brown revolution” that will do for Africa what the Green Revolution did for India and Southeast Asia. And he is a tireless advocate for localized solutions that combine better seeds with appropriate techniques that can benefit smallholder farmers.
Both foundations try to make the most of their investments. Together with the World Food Program, the organizations helped launch the Purchase for Progress program, or P4P. Now, P4P buys food locally so the World Food Program’s aid benefits both families in need and nearby farmers. In just three years, P4P has proven itself a powerful tool to help break the cycle of both hunger and poverty.
Supporting such innovation and delivering results are also the basis of the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative. We have pledged at least $3.5 billion over three years to help our partner countries increase value along the entire agricultural chain – from fields to markets to homes. And that is the central pillar of our commitment to finding sustainable, long-term solutions to the hunger crisis.
But working toward a future where no one goes hungry is just one prong in our approach. We obviously cannot and will not ignore the pressing and immediate needs for millions of people who are malnourished or starving today.
The Vice President spoke about the Horn of Africa and the over 13 million people who are at risk of starvation and malnutrition. Tens of thousands of people, mostly children, have already died. And in Somalia, we face the unpleasant reality of al-Shabaab curtailing access for relief workers and denying people food and medical aid. As many as 750,000 people are currently experiencing famine-level conditions. And of course, that then sparks a refugee crisis so that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing in the hope of both safety and nourishment.
The United States is a leading partner in these relief efforts. And thanks to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, we were able to pre-position food aid and respond quickly. We have already committed almost $650 million for food and humanitarian assistance. And today, I am pleased to announce that we are providing an additional $100 million, primarily in food assistance, for drought-affected areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. And this new funding will help us reach more people and support our humanitarian commitment well into 2012.
So we are trying to address hunger on all fronts – providing emergency aid, building resilience, investing in solutions that will have lasting effects, seeking innovations that will help us mitigate crises now and in the future. And in our efforts, we are absolutely dependent upon our partnerships from the private and philanthropic sectors.
Now, we will be discussing this in our discussion, although I told Josette, Bill, and Howard that I wanted to listen more than talk, because they’re the ones on the front line actually delivering what we hope to see make a difference.
But it now is great honor to present Bill Gates and Howard Buffett with the 2011 George McGovern Award for Leadership in the Fight Against Hunger. I’m going to congratulate you both. You’re not going to have to get up. These beautiful awards are here for you to be able to take on your way out. But congratulations to you both, and thank you for what you’re doing. (Applause.)