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Secretary Clinton's Speech on Food Security at Clinton Global Initiative Closing Plenary, September 2009

Speaker: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Published September 25, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave these remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative Closing Plenary on September 25, 2009, in New York.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so very much, and it is once again a great, great delight, a personal privilege, to be here at CGI and to see how this innovative approach toward changing the future, by investing in people, and using the talents of so many to make the cases for those whose voices will not be heard here, has made such a difference.

What I have found in the last five years with the extraordinary development of CGI is the hunger for people to be part of partnerships and networks that will make a difference. And it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m very proud of my husband, and I think what he has invented and brought to life here is extraordinary. (Applause.)

As Secretary of State, I really, in terms of protocol, should be acknowledging all of the heads of state and heads of government who are here, but there are far too many. And so let me just express my deep appreciation for your involvement and for your presence here, and we look forward to working with you and your governments as we move forward on the new agenda of the Obama Administration.

And this issue that I will talk about briefly today is really a paradigm of what we’re trying to do differently. And I have to acknowledge that much of what we are attempting to do is derived from what I have seen happen here at CGI, the kind of new approach, the marrying of philanthropy and capitalism, the investment in people, and the results that have really been extraordinary.

And so I congratulate all who helped to put on this (inaudible) CGI. I especially thank you for having a separate track on girls and women, which I think was well received for all the obvious reasons. (Applause.) And this is an exceptional gathering of people who have made exceptional commitments to bettering our world. We see it in everything you do. It seems a good opportunity given the talent, the energy, and the passion in this room to talk about an exceptional global challenge – chronic hunger and what we all can do about it.

The short film you just saw narrated by Matt Damon is just a snapshot of what is happening right now. And it does serve as a visual punch to the words that I will share with you today. And I hope that it stays with you. As we roll out our food security initiatives in the Administration, we will be looking to work with the countries represented here and many of the organizations.
But let me begin by asking you with me to consider the daily life of the world’s typical small farmer.

She lives in a rural village in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, or Latin America. She farms a piece of land—land she does not own. She rises before dawn and walks miles to collect water—if there is water to be found. She works all day in a field, sometimes with a baby strapped on her back.
If she’s lucky, drought, blight, or pests don’t destroy her crops, and she raises enough to feed her family—and maybe even has some left over to sell. But there’s no road to the nearest market and no one to buy from her anyway. Everyone else is as poor as she is.

Now let’s consider the life of a young man in a crowded city 100 miles from that farmer. He has no job—or a job that pays pennies. He goes to the market—but the food is rotting, or priced beyond reach. He is hungry, and often angry.

She has extra food to sell, and he wants to buy it. But that simple transaction can’t take place because of complex forces beyond their control.

The scope and scale of this initiative that we will be rolling out over the next days, weeks, and months is really all about this woman farmer and this young man, and one billions others around the world. The daily effort to grow, buy, or sell food is the defining struggle of their lives. Empowering the world’s farmers to sow and harvest plentiful crops, and ensuring that the food they produce reaches people most in need, is a global challenge that lies at the heart of what experts refer to as “food security.”

The Obama Administration has developed an unprecedented initiative aimed at advancing food security worldwide. The scope and scale of this initiative represents an elevation of development as a key element of our foreign policy. And our approach represents a rethinking of development policies and priorities.

Now, those of you who have worked on development projects around the world are aware of the debates going on about whether development really works. And there are reasonable arguments on both sides—examples of success and of failure.

Some things are clear. After years of effort and billions of dollars, we have not achieved the lasting results we desire. But we have learned some very valuable lessons. We know that the most effective strategies emanate from those closest to the problems, not governments or institutions hundreds or thousands of miles away. We know that too often our efforts have been undermined by a lack of coordination, too little transparency, haphazard monitoring and evaluation, an over-reliance on contractors who work with too little oversight, and by relationships with recipient countries based more on patronage than partnership. And we know that development works best when it is based not in aid, but in investment. Indeed, many of these lessons are reflected in the work you do here at CGI.

We also know that development, if done right, is essential to solving the complex problems of an interconnected world. And we are committed to doing it right—starting now.

Some may ask how is food security related to our own future – those of us here in the United States. Well, the answer is that food security is not just about food. But it is all about security – economic security, environmental security, even national security.

Massive hunger poses a threat to the stability of governments, societies, and borders. People who are starving, who have no incomes, who can’t care for their families, are left with feelings of hopelessness and desperation. And so we know that desperation of that magnitude sows seeds of its own—of tension, conflict, and even the violence we saw in the film. Since 2007, there have been riots over food in more than 60 countries.

Agriculture—which encompasses not only crops, but livestock and fish—is critical to economic growth around the world; for more than three-quarters of the world’s poor, farming is their only source of income and avenue to prosperity. Food is linked to energy security: when the price of oil spikes, the cost of transporting food rises, while the increased demand for biofuels also affects prices. And it’s linked to climate security; droughts and floods caused by climate change destroy cropland and send food prices higher.

So food security is not merely a question of getting food to hungry people. And it is not simply a moral imperative. It represents the convergence of complex issues that have a direct bearing on economic growth, energy and environmental factors, and our strategic interests. And as such, it demands a comprehensive response.

If we can build partnerships with countries to help small farmers improve their agricultural output and make it easier to buy and sell their products at local or regional markets, we can set off a domino effect. We can increase the world’s food supply for both the short and the long term; diminish hunger; raise farmers’ incomes; improve health; expand opportunity; and strengthen regional economies.

Now, our initiative is, admittedly, ambitious, because we intend to address the root causes of hunger by investing in technologies and infrastructure that will make farming more productive and profitable in developing countries, while making it easier for food to reach the people who need it. It will enhance nutrition, so children are healthy enough to learn and adults are strong enough to work. And we’ll maintain our deep commitment to emergency food assistance, to answer the urgent cry for help when tragedies and disasters take their toll—as is happening now in the Horn of Africa, where drought, crop failures, and civil war have caused the worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years.

We know that reforming global agriculture is possible. We’ve seen it done before. The Green Revolution in the ‘60s saved hundreds of millions of lives in Latin American and South Asia through investments in agricultural productivity. But as Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, always reminded us, that revolution was never fully won. There are many places it passed by, especially Africa. And in some countries, hunger has resurged. That’s why Dr. Borlaug kept working in his lab and advocating for investments in agriculture right up until he died last week at 95. His life-saving work is still worth fighting for.

In July, President Obama and the leaders of the G-8 pledged $20 billion to a global effort to strengthen agriculture. The United States pledged a minimum of $3.5 billion over the next three years. We’ve called on Congress to fully fund our request for 2010, and we’ll ask for additional funding for agriculture the following year—funding that complements, not supplants, our continuing commitment to emergency humanitarian relief.

And our effort will be guided by five principles.

First, we will work with partner countries to create and implement their plans. Few know better the complex obstacles that hinder a country’s food supply than the people who live and work there. That may sound like a very simplistic statement, but it has not guided policy often enough in the past. We will work closely with countries to map out the particular investments they need to bolster their agricultural sector. Now, in one country, roads may be a top priority; in another, irrigation and water or greater access to credit and markets or drought-resistant feed. Once the plans are in place, we will help countries put them into action.

This partnership entails shared responsibility. We will work with countries prepared to make substantial commitments themselves—not only to agricultural development, but also to strong institutions, good governance, fighting corruption, and maintaining transparency.

The Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program provides a model. All of its member nations have pledged to devote 10 percent of their national budgets to agricultural development. Rwanda has become the first country to complete its agricultural development plan and it’s already showing results. In three years, Rwanda’s investment in agriculture has increased fivefold and agricultural GDP has doubled.

Second, we are addressing the underlying causes of hunger. We will invest in everything from research to develop better feed and seeds, to innovative insurance programs, so small farmers are protected against bearing the entire burden of risk inherent in agriculture. We will link farmers and agribusinesses to markets; invest in storage, refrigeration, and processing facilities; and help pave a path into the global market.

We will also put women at the heart of our efforts. We have seen again and again—in microfinance and other programs—that women are entrepreneurial, accountable, and practical. They invest their earnings directly in their families and communities. And they pay back loans at a higher rate than is the norm. So women are a wise investment. And since the majority of the world’s farmers are women, it’s critical that our investments in agriculture leverage their ambition and perseverance.

Thirdly, we will improve coordination at the country, regional, and global level. Now, when we take on global challenges like hunger and poverty, we often work in separate silos, duplicating some efforts while others fall through the gaps. This is especially true when it comes to working with private business, foundations, universities, and other critical partners, so many of which have deep expertise and valuable local knowledge and relationships. We’ll change that by bringing the players together, and we started that inside the government.

Cheryl Mills, as my Chief of Staff and Counselor, was the person I asked to put together our initiative. And she began holding the first meetings ever of the entire government working on food, people from not only the State Department and USAID, but the Agriculture Department and other government agencies as well. We had to bring all of our own people to the table first, and now we’re going to try to bring everyone to come and join us.

Our fourth principle is leveraging the benefits of multilateral institutions. Global institutions have the reach and resources to do more than any single country can. By leveraging their power, we can encourage more countries to become donors and coordinate financial flows. And we will make the most of their expertise that exists around the world in large infrastructure projects that make global agriculture possible.

In Mali, for example, the World Bank financed the modernization of a system of canals that improved irrigation, and as a result, rice yields and farmers’ incomes increased dramatically. In Ethiopia, the World Bank rebuilt and expanded road networks, which reduced travel time and freight costs by 25 percent.

Fifth, we pledge a long-term commitment and accountability to our efforts. It may take years, even decades, before we reach the finish line, but we’re going to give it all we have in the time that we are able to.

Our patience, however, should not be mistaken for complacence. We will make significant investments in monitoring and evaluation. We’re going to track commitments, just as we do here at CGI, to make sure pledges are fulfilled, and to gather data and publicly track our progress and results. That way, we are all accountable, and we’ll know if we’re falling short and need to change strategies.

Now, I began by talking about the importance of development as a key element of our foreign policy, and it is. Because obviously, what we’re hoping is that, done right, we will enhance social stability and economic progress. So this global hunger initiative is not only an undertaking for development experts. It will also require robust diplomacy.

Our ambassadors do the critical and painstaking work of convincing foreign governments to undertaking reforms, making investments necessary for initiatives like this to take root, reaching out to other countries and partners beyond government. We will work with multilateral institutions to guide global efforts like the G-8 food security commitments, the Millennium Development Goals, the multi-donor trust for farming that the G-20 called for yesterday. All of this requires knowledge, patience, talent, and persuasion and problem solving.

This is difficult work. And to do it right, we need a State Department and a United States Agency for International Development up to the challenge, ready and willing to work closely together, with the right structures, resources, and policies in place. That’s why, earlier this year, I launched the first ever review of both agencies called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the QDDR. The Defense Department has for years done a QDR, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and I thought it was time that diplomacy and development were there as well in the framework of what national security and foreign policy means. Now, we’re looking carefully at how we can best elevate and integrate development and diplomacy, and we are going to have a government-wide review of our strategies and policies. We will ask the hard questions and we will make the tough decisions.

But there’s one last piece of our strategy that can make all the difference to our success: and that is all of you. The people in this room represent an incredible collection of talent, expertise, experience, energy, and heart. We need your ideas and your feedback, and we need your active support, in any and every capacity.

I hope you will visit our website, state.gov, to learn more about our global hunger initiative. And in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be asking for your advice and for your help. We’re looking forward to a vibrant conversation because this will, I can guarantee you, spark enormous debates around the world, and a lot within in our country. Because as Bill said, we didn’t get here by accident. We moved away from investments in agricultural productivity toward emergency food aid and forgot a lot about what we knew made all of it work together. And so we have to begin to really delve into this in a way that hasn’t been done for a long time.

So we hope that you will be part of this vibrant conversation, because in the end, as we strategize in a setting like this or in a government conference room or a lecture hall somewhere in the world, let’s keep sight of what this is really all about: that woman farmer and that unemployed young man, and what their future means, not just for them but for all of us.
Revitalizing global agriculture will not be easy. In fact, this is one of the most ambitious and comprehensive diplomacy and development efforts our country has ever undertaken. But it can and will be done. And it is worth doing. And if we succeed, our future will be more prosperous, more stable, and more peaceful.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)