July 26, 2021
Link to the video can be found here.
Thank you Special Envoy Kalibata, and to the UN for organizing this year’s Food Systems Pre-Summit.
Last month, I had the chance to visit an agricultural training facility deep in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, a region with the highest rates of malnutrition in a country where nearly half of all children are malnourished. Here in this cutting-edge facility, farmers were learning the latest techniques to boost their productivity, save water, grow more nutritious crops, and adapt to climate shocks that threaten their harvests. The U.S. made a minor investment to build this facility—just $500,000—but because we were willing to move first, we were then able to leverage another $1 million dollars from the private sector.
Bringing the latest technology to bear, investing in the places most in need, using public funds to unlock private capital—these are the only ways we can win our battle against hunger and malnutrition. A battle that frankly, we are currently losing.
A catastrophic combination of flaring conflicts, shocks from climate change, and a still-raging COVID-19 pandemic have shattered many of our recent gains. There are more people who are currently chronically hungry—going to bed hungry each night as though it was as normal as sleep itself—than there are people in Europe. And the number who are acutely hungry—where hunger threatens their life or livelihood—has grown by 20 million people in just the last year.
But no matter the current trends and the continent-sized scale of the problem, we cannot lose sight of our goal of Zero Hunger—especially with less than a decade to achieve it. To reach that goal, we must be honest about the most troubling driver of hunger: conflict and war. We will never end hunger if governments starve their own people and use food as yet another weapon of war. Willfully displacing families from their homes, destroying crops and livestock, impeding the delivery of relief supplies, targeting and attacking humanitarian workers delivering relief—I wish these were relics of our past but they are sadly very current realities. We must all loudly and unequivocally condemn the purposeful starvation of people and fight to secure humanitarian aid access for those in need.
But we cannot, as the world so often has, focus only on humanitarian aid and food assistance at the expense of investing in agricultural productivity. Especially because climate change poses such an existential threat to our global food supply. Without ambitious climate action, global food yields could decline by as much as 30 percent over the next 30 years. We must give smallholder farmers the tools and technologies that will help them boost their yields and manage the impact of growing climate shocks as we race to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Biden-Harris administration is committed to confronting these accelerants of hunger head on by addressing climate change, supplying the developing world with vaccines, and working to end conflicts and expand humanitarian access. And we will continue to invest in Feed the Future as a cornerstone of our efforts to boost crop yields, end malnutrition, and strengthen resilience. Key to our efforts will be an emphasis on prioritizing gender equality. Our data show that Feed the Future programs must do more to facilitate women’s access to finance, for instance, so they invest in their own productivity and help transform food systems in the process.
Finally, we must do exactly what this Summit has done: build a wide and ambitious coalition to tackle this problem, with an emphasis on drawing in civil society, private sector partners, and researchers from all over the globe.
The U.S. is preparing a strong set of commitments to unveil at September’s UN Food Systems Summit, taking all of these considerations to heart.
And we look forward to working with partners throughout the world, across all sectors, to empower millions more people to feed themselves, strengthen their communities, and finally end hunger and malnutrition once and for all.