Remarks by USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Dirk Dijkerman, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, at the 2009 International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City, Missouri

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
2009 International Food Aid Conference


Thank you very much. It is an honor to be here at the 11th annual International Food Aid Conference. Our partners and colleagues here today continue the important U.S. tradition of collectively being the world's top provider of food aid -- and a concrete example of American generosity -- a role we are and should be proud of. Ours is a collaborative effort involving food producers, processors and shippers, as well as representatives of government, private voluntary organizations, trade associations and the United Nations. It takes all of us to meet the pressing and growing demand to assist millions of people around the world who suffer from chronic hunger.

Together we faced unprecedented challenges and needs in 2008. The food price crisis brought 40 million more people into the ranks of the hungry last year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. More than 1 billion people worldwide now live with chronic hunger.

What caused the food price crisis? It was an explosive collision of at least factors

  1. Increases in fuel and transportation costs, as well as higher prices for fertilizers;
  2. Historically low world grain stocks;
  3. Two years of poor harvests in exporting countries;
  4. New export controls as countries tried to meet domestic needs first; 5. Increased demand for meat and other food products in countries such as China and India, where incomes are improving and diets changing; and 6. Underlying decline in investments that could grow the agriculture sector in many developing countries.

Because of this food price crisis, unrest erupted in more than 30 countries on four continents in 2007 and 2008. Tragically, a number of deaths resulted in countries such as Haiti and Somalia, and in some places there were violent clashes between citizens and security forces. These events showed how high the stakes are when so many people worldwide are unable to produce or purchase sufficient food. While global food prices have eased in recent months, they still remain high in many developing countries. The global financial crisis has only compounded the problem, further depressing agricultural investments and incomes of the poor.

The U.S. Government is providing an unprecedented response to these urgent needs. Last week at the G-20, President Obama pledged to work with Congress to provide 448 million dollars in immediate assistance to vulnerable populations, and to double support for agricultural development to more than 1 billion dollars in 2010, so that we can give people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. We will also support the United Nations and World Bank as they coordinate the other assistance needed to prevent humanitarian catastrophe. As President Obama said, this is not just charity. These are future markets for all countries, and future drivers of growth.

The comprehensive U.S. government response to the food price crisis includes not only a renewed focus on agricultural development, but also innovations such as local procurement of food aid in the country or region where it is needed. Our overall goal, to state it simply, is to make sure we are providing the right food to the right people at the right time. As we seek to respond to emergency needs and to address the root causes of food insecurity by improving the performance of the agriculture sector and by increasing the productivity and trade of major food staples.

The food price crisis has reinforced the continued need for in-kind food contributions. The United States remains the leading contributor to the World Food Program, providing a reliable supply of food to countries with significant ongoing needs, such as Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. Yet we know we must continue to assess how we can improve food aid. We are constantly asking ourselves-are we providing the most appropriate commodities, and do we need additional options?

To answer those questions, we are conducting a food aid quality review to rigorously assess not only how to maximize the nutritional value of our processed and fortified food formulations, but also how best to standardize and improve food quality control. This review, which will be conducted under contract with Tufts University's School of Nutrition, will examine the nutritional needs of food aid beneficiary populations and the commodities currently available to meet their needs. We will use a consultative process to reach out to the many stakeholders working with us to provide food aid, in order to arrive at a consensus on potential reformulations and possible development of new products. With recent studies showing the importance of preventing malnutrition in the first 2 years of life, this deep review of the food aid basket is timely.

We are also examining ways to improve our existing capacities and implement new capabilities.

Here are some of the ways we are building on our existing capacities. First, by stimulating rural economies through broad-based agricultural growth, we can improve the lives of four-fifths of the world's hungry. Since most poor people in the developing world live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihood, we must help provide them with economic growth opportunities to achieve global food security.

Our response to date has focused on increasing food productivity in sub-Saharan Africa-where the world's food needs are greatest. But we will expand globally in future years, focusing on countries where significant and rapid expansion of food production is feasible. We are utilizing new funds to increase staple food production; to link producers to markets; to alleviate bottlenecks in transportation, distribution and the post-harvest supply chain; and to promote sound market-based principles in the region. The initial efforts will address the root causes of the food crisis in Africa by facilitating the movement of food from surplus to deficit areas, and by changing the imbalance in supply and demand of key food staples.

In West Africa, we are working with five countries: Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, and regional organizations to increase the production, marketing, and regional trade of staple foods. We are helping farmers in these countries with 130 million dollars in support for irrigation systems, seeds, fertilizer and improved market linkages, as well as technical advice.

In East Africa, we are working with four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, and regional organizations to support a targeted response to meet urgent food security needs and strengthen staple food markets. Our efforts of course extend beyond Africa as well. In Honduras, we are training rural farmers to more efficiently utilize their land. In one valley, farmers are learning to change their crops from corn to plantains, and as a result, some are seeing a 60-fold increase in profit margins. These farmers then use their growing income to purchase new goods and services-a tin roof, a bicycle, farm labor and equipment-thereby spurring the local economy and creating demand for more jobs-and perhaps buying staples from elsewhere.

We have allocated 40 million dollars for research and development to increase the productivity and affordability of staple foods through new technologies. This will include increasing the productivity of key staple crops such as rice, maize, wheat and cassava to address changing global food demands and future challenges, such as climate change.

We are also expanding our successful pre-positioning of food aid commodities where they are needed most, with more funding available under the 2008 Food for Peace Act-10 million dollars per year for overseas storage costs, beginning this year, up from 2 million dollars in previous years.

Here are some of the ways we are implementing new methods to improve our capabilities. First, local and regional procurement of food aid enhances our ability to respond to emergencies by reducing food delivery time and filling pipeline gaps while food shipped from the United States is on its way. USAID this year began utilizing the 125 million dollars available from accounts other than Title II food aid for local or regional procurement of food aid, with purchases already completed for Ethiopia, Somalia, Tajikistan and Nepal. The 2008 Food for Peace Act also mandated a 4-year, 60 million dollar pilot project for local and regional purchase of food aid in the country or region where it is needed. This initiative is now under way and will conclude in 2012 with an independent analysis of how well it worked.

In addition to our own local and regional procurement efforts, we are providing 20 million dollars to the World Food Program for its Purchase for Progress initiative, which seeks to help smallholder farmers in developing countries by purchasing their products in areas where WFP operates. Our contribution will be used to purchase commodities that will be utilized in WFP emergency and relief programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

Second, USAID has developed three new emergency food products-a paste and two types of bars-to prevent malnutrition in emergencies. These products differ from existing therapeutic ready-to-use foods because they are designed to prevent, rather than treat, malnutrition. They build on our expertise in food science and nutrition. This will enhance our ability to respond to crises, including through airdrops to areas that are not easily accessible. These new products will be available later this year for efficacy tests. We will purchase these products in the U.S.

Third, we are utilizing important findings from a nutrition trial in Haiti that showed the need to invest in nutrition during the first 2 years of life. This trial showed that without adequate nutrition in the first 2 years of life, people cannot reach their human potential. Our new "Preventing Malnutrition for Children Under 2 Approach" is a five-year initiative that targets pregnant and lactating women, infants and children up to age 2 with supplementary food. The program includes health and nutrition education for mothers to help improve the family's nutritional status. This year we will implement programs under this initiative-which we call "PM2A"-in Burundi and Guatemala.

So where do we go from here?

We seek to restore U.S. global leadership on food security, and lead a whole-of-government strategy to help countries achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half by 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from extreme poverty and hunger.

We seek more predictable funding to respond to emergency food needs. Our successful responses in Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe show the importance of early warning and pre-positioning capabilities-but this is contingent on timely funding.

We are working actively to increase our funding levels for agriculture development to support a sustained increase in the production, processing, trade, and marketing of staple foods which will create the rural economic growth dynamic to bring millions of people out of poverty.

We are also developing global public-private partnerships with private sector partners and financial institutions, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Monsanto, and John Deere. Monsanto, for instance, is sharing proprietary seed technology with smallholder farmers in several sub-Saharan African countries to increase crop yields and resistance to drought and disease. Foundations are also partners in this effort, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

We and other donors are sharing information and coordinating efforts, so that together we can more effectively and comprehensively maximize our resources as we respond to hunger and food security needs. In Africa, we are supporting the implementation of the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). USAID, the World Food Program, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the African Union and other organizations have also formed a "task force for early action" to share information, work jointly to assess needs and reduce duplication, and identify resource gaps in Africa.

Finally, we are also working with the United Nations High Level Task Force and the G8 Experts to establish a Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security. As the leaders of the G8 announced following their meeting in Japan last July, this proposed partnership could provide efficient and effective support for local leaders and initiatives, and would utilize a global network of high-level experts on food and agriculture to highlight needs and future risks.

In conclusion, alleviating hunger is among the top priorities of the Obama administration. The President and Secretary Clinton have pledged to focus new attention on food security to help developing nations invest in food production, affordability, accessibility, education and technology. With this renewed commitment and with your help, we will restore U.S. global leadership on food security. Together, we will be taking concrete actions to make sure that no one in this abundant world goes hungry. And we will use all the tools at our disposal, including new ways of preventing malnutrition and procuring and delivering food, so that we continue America's tradition of generosity on our shared path to a healthier, more prosperous, more secure world. Thank you.

Century Ballroom, Westin Crown Center Hotel, Kansas City, MO