Vilsack discusses administration's commitment to global food security
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Aug. 5 addressed attendees of the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum and discussed the Obama administration's efforts to enhance global food security. He also highlighted the USDA's ongoing food security efforts in Africa and other places throughout the world which is focused on building the agricultural industry in developing countries.
Below is Secretary Vilsack's speech as prepared for delivery:
"I, like virtually all Americans, have never known what it means to be hungry. I have never experienced hunger like so many on this continent have. So, it is difficult for me to come here today to talk about how to address the growing number of hungry in your region.
"So, I come here to listen. To listen and learn from each of you. To hear your experiences, how you have dealt with hunger in your own life or that of a loved one. Ideas you may have to address this issue in your own countries and how the United States may assist you to create a truly food secure environment.
"President Obama said it right in his Ghana speech: "The true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by, it's whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change." I too believe that we need a transformational change if we are to establish food security across the globe.
"In 2000, when AGOA passed we did not foresee the possibility that so soon after, in 2008, our world would experience a global food crisis that would affect 1 billion people, 265 million of them in Africa. And a large number of these hungry are children.
"Yesterday, I visited a school in Kibera where many of the children are orphans. With this, I can relate. I too was an orphan. Although my situation was vastly different, I now appreciate all of the opportunities afforded to me that enabled me to realize my full potential. These children and so many others will only be able to realize their full potential if they have regular access to food. Hungry children simply will not develop as fully as they should and therefore, will not be as productive a member of the world community. This affects not only the individual child, it affects the community in which that child is raised, the country he or she lives, and all of the world.
"We are all affected in some way by this issue, whether it is the actual child that regularly goes to sleep hungry, or the family half way across the globe that does not face the same issues. Understanding this must be a part of the planning involved to address this issue. The practice of the past--focusing our efforts on providing food aid--s not enough.
"We need a comprehensive approach focused on sustainability. We must address not only increasing availability of food by helping people and countries produce what they need, we must make food accessible to those who need it, and teach people to utilize it properly so that they make the most of it.
"Plans must be country-led. Food security efforts must be country-driven and focused at the local and community level. Farmers in small villages are responsible for much of the food produced globally and must be fully engaged at the earliest stages of the process for planning agriculture development.
"We do not propose to come here and tell you how things should work. Our efforts should be focused on listening to you tell us what will work best for you. Each of your countries has unique cultures, unique experiences and unique issues related to food insecurity. Likewise, any plan to move your countries towards true food security must be uniquely tailored to fit your needs and respect your cultures and heritages.
"Africa should be proud of the fact that not only has the United States recognized the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) as the model framework for such a country-led plan, but so has the G-8.
"Efforts must be long-term. Quick fixes are not enough. We must make investments that will create a real and sustainable difference and chart a path for success in the future. With 75 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa employed and involved in agriculture, developing the agriculture economy will be critical to providing opportunities for the future.
"Plans must be coordinated. Efforts should maximize success by engaging multi-lateral institutions and processes. Our strategies must deal with increasing agriculture production. A number of things could help countries increase output including seed technology, the establishment of appropriate uses of fertilization, the applications of critical land management techniques, and the creation of a strong post-harvest infrastructure.
"Women must be an integral part of this effort. In Kenya alone, women produce more than half of the agricultural product. To carry out President Obama's effort successfully, we must focus on women farmers as they will be important and integral participants.
"And to establish integrity of the effort not only in the country implementing the plan but around the world, thereby enhancing future investment, good government and transparent practices must be in place and utilized.
"The global community has increased its commitment to ending food insecurity. At the G-8 Summit, leaders of the eight largest countries agreed food security is an international problem and they committed to increase international assistance for agricultural development to $20 billion over next three years.
"And President Obama recently asked Congress to double its commitment to global agricultural production in 2010. USDA is playing a large role and will play an even larger role to establish food security across the globe.
"Some examples of USDA's activities here in Africa include helping governments develop trade capacity by building relationships with stakeholders including international standard-setting bodies, international and regional organizations to help countries implement open, market- and science-based trade policies.
"We have given technical expertise to help address issues such as sanitary compliance in food safety and animal and plant health, with advisors on the ground in Dakar, Senegal; Pretoria, South Africa and right here in Nairobi.
"And USDA's Bourlaug International Science Fellows Program has partnered with non-profit and for-profit organizations to identify new agricultural techniques for cocoa cultivation and to control cocoa diseases.
"Helping people grow food to feed themselves is the first step on path to produce goods that can be exported and provide benefits to growers and the communities in which they live. We commend the efforts of the regional economic communities to develop innovative solutions and aid countries in the region.
"We continue to encourage these regional economic communities and African governments to pursue interregional trade as a means to combat food insecurity and hope to see more developments such as the free trade zone that resulted out of the Tripartite between the East African Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and South African Development Community.
"USDA has the capacity to greatly enhance the agricultural capacity of developing countries. And we know that many of these efforts cannot be completed by the United States or Sub-Saharan Africa, alone.
"Transformational change is not easy. It will be difficult, but change often is. You will face many obstacles, many detractors and many people telling you "this can't be done." Each of you is a messenger of this change. Each of you is on the front line of one of the most important battles facing this planet. Working together I hope we can ensure a better future for the people of Sub-Saharan Africa and all those that face the issue of food insecurity around the world.
"Thank you for allowing me to listen and learn about the ways in which we can assist this region to become secure and prosperous in the coming years."