Remarks at the World Food Program - USA Awards Ceremony
Secretary of State
And let me welcome all of you here to the State Department, to the Benjamin Franklin Room. I think Mr. Franklin would be very happy we’re having this event here. There are so many champions in the fight against hunger and food insecurity who are here with us today. I thank Frank Sesno for once again lending his experience and expertise to this important mission that we share. I thank Hunter Biden for, as was said, continuing his extraordinary family’s record of service and stewardship. Thank you so much, Hunter. And Rick Leach, who provides essential leadership for World Food Program USA.
And I also want to pay tribute to Dr. Raj Shah, who is here in his capacity as the Administrator of USAID, but the real story behind his becoming Administrator of USAID is that I stole him from USDA, where he was working on these issues and was one of our absolutely indispensible partners in conceiving and putting together Feed the Future. And under Raj’s leadership, USAID is doing an amazing job of implementing the vision that we had at the beginning of this Administration.
I also want to thank David Lane, Ambassador Lane, who is our Ambassador to the World Food Program. And it’s good to see you here and thank you for your leadership. I also want to acknowledge a dear friend, a Congressman who, upon hearing that I would be nominated to be Secretary of State, set up an appointment to talk to me about hunger. Jim McGovern, thank you for your years of commitment on these issues that affect people’s lives and futures. (Applause.)
Dan Glickman, a former Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one of the real brains behind the Chicago Council Report on Food Security and Ending Hunger, and so many others who are here who have been involved in this struggle. And of course, we wouldn’t be here were it not for the man who inspired this award, Senator George McGovern, who his entire 90 years has been at the forefront of our nation’s fight against hunger. And I was thrilled to receive this award from him two years ago because I admire and respect the work that he’s done over a lifetime.
And then finally, the two people that we are here to honor today. You’ll hear more about David and Christina, but I am personally delighted that they would come from the world of business and entertainment and, with such passion and commitment, really give of themselves to this global issue. And we are so grateful to you both. If I could sing, Christina, I would – (laughter) – want to be on your team. (Laughter and applause.) But since I can’t, I’m glad you’re on this team. (Laughter.)
Before we hear from David and Christina, I want to take just a moment to look at how far we have come since starting this journey together four years ago. We had studied the historic trends and saw that while the Green Revolution had lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, it had largely bypassed many others, especially in Africa. At the same time, if you remember back to the global economic crisis of 2008, one of the impacts was skyrocketing food prices combined with climate problems that really conspired to put so many people into hunger and malnutrition. There were, for the first time in history, more than one billion hungry people in the world.
And so the Obama Administration and partners around the world looked at how both the trend lines and the headlines were talking to us, and said: Look, we can’t wait; we have to act now. And we called on G-8 donor partners, and at the G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, they came up with the Food Security Initiative, which was an unprecedented $22 billion commitment. And the United States did our part with President Obama’s announcement of a $3.5 billion pledge, which led to our Feed the Future program.
As you saw on the video, our efforts are starting to pay off. Feed the Future has helped 9 million children get the nutrition they need to thrive, especially in those first 1,000 days from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. We’re working with the private sector to help farmers connect with markets where they get better prices for their products. Nearly 2 million more farmers are producing the high-quality, sustainably grown products – like rice, coffee, and cacao – that businesses and customers are demanding. Now, we have an ambitious research agenda, collaborating with the private sector, on the next generation of tools that will accelerate our progress. And we will soon launch an action plan to deepen our work with civil society groups.
So we have a full agenda and we’re moving ahead. But I think it’s fair to say that we’re quite humble about the challenges ahead of us. We are racing to stay ahead of climate change, of droughts, in our country and around the world. We’re racing to stay ahead of conflict that disrupts markets and terrorizes smallholder farmers, particularly women. We’re racing to stay ahead of corruption that stands in the way of farmers getting a decent price for their products or even getting their harvest to market unspoiled.
So we know we face a lot of very big obstacles. But what I’m encouraged by, and excited even, is how far we have come and the fact that we have a vision and a plan about how we’re going to get the rest of the way, because we cannot accept a world where children go hungry simply because of where they are born.
So I often say we need everyone who cares about this issue to stand up and use their voice. And well, with Christina, that is literally true. (Laughter.) Now, although she is best known for her chart-topping hits and her top-rated television show, she’s also a mom and a concerned citizen. And as a World Food Program Ambassador Against Hunger, she has traveled to Latin America and seen firsthand the devastation that malnutrition, especially early in life, can cause. And of all the videos that Christina has made over the years, to me the most heartwarming may be the one where she sits with a group of kids in Haiti and sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I even know that song, Christina. (Laughter.)
But I am so appreciative of what you’re giving to the cause. I mean, it’s easy when you’re a big star, as you rightly are, to just stay focused on what you’re doing and producing. But you’ve used your talent to help others, and that is a great gift.
Now, if there is a rock star of the food industry, that is David, the man who oversees some of the best-known brands in the world, and now he is turning his relentless drive and enthusiasm to Yum! Brands’ World Hunger Relief initiative.
With Christina as its global spokesperson, this program has become one of the largest private sector hunger relief efforts in the world, raising $115 million for the World Food Program and other organizations, and providing 460 million meals to hungry children around the globe. That’s the kind of commitment that Rick and the World Food Program here in the United States and around the world are really grateful for. So thank you for taking your business success and just matching those up with values and compassion and doing so much for others.
Now as we look ahead, we are hoping to keep expanding the circle of partners. We want to bring in more private sector partners, more civil society groups, more faith communities, and we want to bring in people who are on the front lines, women who themselves know what we’re talking about. And we need to measure progress not just by what individuals can do, but by what we all together can achieve.
So it’s been my great privilege to work with all of you, and we’re going to make sure that this commitment stays institutionalized at USAID and the State Department for the foreseeable future, because we have a lot to do before we can rest easy.
But it’s been a great honor for me, and now I think we’re going to give out some awards, right? Oh, we’re going to do another video, Frank. Okay. So we’re going to do another video – (laughter) – and pay attention to the video and then we’ll hear from our two honorees. (Applause.)