U.S. Official at U.N. on Agricultural Development, Food Security

United States Mission to the United Nations
Remarks by Robert Marks,
Advisor, U.S. Mission to the United Nations,
To the UN General Assembly’s Second Committee
(Economic & Financial Affairs)

New York, NY
October 24, 2011

(As Delivered)

Remarks by Advisor Marks on Agricultural Development and Food Security

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The United States welcomes the opportunity to offer our views on Agricultural Development and Food Security.

We are experiencing a period of global food price instability, and the World Bank estimates that some 50 million people have been pushed into poverty since last June because of rising food prices. For hundreds of millions of people, the staples of life, like rice, wheat, or corn, are in danger of becoming out of reach, and people who are already vulnerable have fallen into an even more precarious situation. However, we have reaffirmed that food security and achieving the hunger-related Millennium Development Goals are priorities. And donors have responded. Despite difficult economic times, the United States is determined to follow through on its commitment made at the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009, of at least 3.5 billion dollars to combat hunger over the course of three years. Together, the G8 pledged $20 billion at L’Aquila to combat hunger, which was increased to $22 billion at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. We urge all partners to continue to follow through on their commitments as well.

And we are also focused on the more than 13 million people in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa, primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to that region, now providing nearly $650 million in life-saving assistance to those in need. This assistance has reached nearly 4.5 million people, many of whom would otherwise have died from starvation or related disease. A large-scale international response is underway to prevent the further deterioration of an already dire situation in the Horn, but there will be no quick fix. Al-Shabaab’s continued efforts to block NGOs access to the most vulnerable areas of Somalia and its limitations on the delivery of life sustaining humanitarian assistance further exacerbates the humanitarian crisis.

Because emergency assistance alone will not solve the underlying problems in the Horn of Africa, the United States also is supporting long-term food security in the region to help prevent such crises from recurring. This is part of President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative which places a premium on broad-based economic growth as the foundation for sustainable development. This strategy focuses on helping countries accelerate inclusive agricultural sector growth through improved productivity, expanded markets and trade, and increased economic resilience in vulnerable rural communities and through support to small-holder and women farmers.

Feed the Future helps address the root causes of hunger and under-nutrition through sustainable development of entire agricultural value chains. Increasing the resilience and further developing the capacity of pastoralists to engage in commercially viable livestock trade is crucial to breaking the disaster cycle, particularly across the Horn of Africa. By working with other donors and governments in the region, Feed the Future will increase overall agricultural production. Globally, we aim to lift incomes of 18 million vulnerable men, women, and children; to prevent stunting and child mortality for seven million children; to generate $2.8 billion in agricultural GDP in the target regions that we have chosen through research and development activities; and to leverage 70 million more dollars in private investments that will improve sustainable market opportunities for vulnerable populations.

The United States also strongly supports the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) as a part of its Feed the Future strategy. This innovative multi-donor trust fund is designed to support the country-led agricultural development and food security strategies of the world’s poorest countries.

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 development. We were pleased to participate in this year’s High Level Meeting on Nutrition, which focused on the first year of progress under the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and reviewed plans and commitments for the future. At UNGA 2013, we hope this alliance will show evidence that we’ve had a positive impact on under-nutrition indicators. The children of the world deserve nothing less.

As we look at UN programs, we believe that the World Food Program must continue to deliver lifesaving emergency aid, 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 look to the UN agencies to focus on cost savings to get the most value for donors’ money, especially in what is still a very difficult global economic environment. That’s why we’re very strong supporters of FAO’s reform process, and we look forward to working with Director General Graziano da Silva on FAO reform, particularly results-based management and more effective program evaluation.

The U.S. is also confident that a reformed Committee for World Food Security (CFS) — a central component of the evolving Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition (GPAFSN) — will constitute the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for a broad range of committed stakeholders to work together in a coordinated manner and in support of country-led processes towards the elimination of hunger while ensuring food security and nutrition for all human beings. We believe that a successful CFS must be a truly multiagency forum for real cooperation among UN agencies — particularly the Rome-based agencies — involved in food security, agriculture, and nutrition. One of the major outputs of this CFS will be the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure, and we look forward to a successful outcome on that as well.

Mr. Chairman, I’ll conclude with a food security issue that is very close to the heart of our Administration: empowering female farmers. If we are to meet the food security needs of a quickly-growing global population, then we cannot afford to marginalize the productive capacity of female farmers. In the developing world, women make-up a significant percentage of the small-holder farmers, yet agricultural technologies, markets, land rights, and customs often do not enable them to reach their full productive potential. The FAO estimates that equalizing access to productive resources between female and male farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5 to 4 percent, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.

To this end, we hosted an event last month entitled, “Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security,” to demonstrate why the United States has placed female farmers at the forefront of our Feed the Future program. Secretary Clinton announced allocating $5 million for a new Feed the Future gender program that will: fund innovative activities that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in agriculture and land use, expand the knowledge base, and promote greater gender integration into agricultural development and food security programming. Given the crucial but undervalued role that women play in agricultural production in the developing world, the gender component will continue to be a central concern as we implement our food security strategy.

We are optimistic that we can all successfully pull together to invest in the research critical to the policy, governance, and societal changes that we must make in order to turn our women farmers into agents for change in the fight against hunger and poverty. Their countries’ futures depend on these women participating fully in the fight. As the saying goes, “If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Perhaps the corollary is, “If you teach a woman to fish, she’ll feed her whole family for a lifetime.”

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.