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USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Remarks at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security

Read the full press release on the USDA website

USDA Secretary Vilsack addresses the audience at the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agricultureand Food Security. Secretary Vilsack stresses the importance of food security and continues USDA’s commitment to work closely with USAID on the Feed the Future initiative.

Keynote Address at the Chicago Council 
Secretary Tom Vilsack 
May 24, 2011 
Remarks as prepared for delivery

We are here today because we recognize the inter‐related challenges of global food security (almost 1 billion hungry, 3.4 million die each year, growing population and middle class), increasing sustainability in the face of climate change, and water, land and nutrient constraints, and energy consumption (global demand for energy should increase by about 50 percent by 2035). In each challenge, agricultural development plays a critical role:

  •  Agricultural development is important to hungry people around the world ‐ not only so they don’t go without ‐ but to increase incomes and combat poverty.
  • Agriculture and working land use must play a critical role in combating global climate change and helping meet energy demands. 
  • Agricultural development is also important to our national interests: It drives income growth that creates new middle class consumers and trading partners; and with the potential for 365 million new middle class families in the next 10 years, agricultural exports will remain important to American economic prosperity.
  • Agricultural development is also important to our national security and new agriculture innovations decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. For example, with 80 percent of the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan deriving their income from agriculture, these issues are critical to stability in the region.
  • In an increasingly interconnected world, American farmers, ranchers, and research institutions play a critical role in Feeding the Future, and themselves benefit from global collaboration on diseases, new technologies, and solutions to issues like salinity and water scarcity 

The American farmer is the most innovative in the world, and under the guidance of Administrator Shah and President Obama, the Feed the Future Initiative lays out a vision for how our country – our farmers, our scientists, our technical experts—can continue to lead the world in meeting the challenge of global food security.

Today, I want to talk to you about the partnerships that will enable us to deliver real results for hungry people around the world. First, the successful partnership between USAID and the Department of Agriculture. Second, the collaborative partnerships between the United States and the world – in research, in the global trading system, and in sound agriculture policies.

USAID and USDA have long enjoyed a strong partnership. Our technical experts in areas like extension, youth development, statistics, trade, regulatory systems, nutrition, natural resource management, science – regularly support the development strategies laid out by USAID Missions around the world. (NOTE: You could say that sometimes, we even take credit for finding the USAID Administrator)

Our Departments are also working closely together on the implementation of our food aid programs. This spring, USDA and USAID staff jointly traveled to Guatemala and Haiti to assess the most effective ways to design and coordinate programs with each other, and with Feed the Future. Similar conversations are occurring in other countries where we operate jointly.

The close friendship I share with Administrator Shah means that we have personally sought, particularly with regards to Feed the Future, to strengthen the partnership of our departments even further.

Accordingly, we have laid out three areas of core USDA capacity, that constitute our value added in Feed the Future. These three areas are: o Research o Data, market information, and statistics; and o In‐country capacity building, in areas such as sanitary and phytosanitary, trade, Ministry‐to‐ Ministry technical assistance, natural resource management,and extension

Let me give you some examples of our collaboration—with both USAID and global partners and Feed the Future nations‐ and capabilities in action in each of these areas. Research:

USDA funds both internal and extramural research that is delivering real results for people around the globe. Emerging technologies holds the promise of improving agricultural productivity by creating crops that better tolerate drought, toxicity, disease, pests and salinity. We are studying pre‐ and post‐harvest technologies to reduce crop losses. And we are looking to understand factors that go into nutrition to ensure that we are helping folks get the most out of their calories and are using all available tools to raise a healthy generation of children.

  • Testing Bean Germplasm for Heat/Drought Tolerance and Disease Resistance. ARS plant geneticists are partnering with Cornell University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Puerto Rico, and researchers in Angola to look for heat and drought tolerance in beans including red, pinto, navy, kidney and black. They are in the process of releasing two new kidney bean varieties with heat tolerance. Also in the works is new black bean germplasm with heat and drought tolerance and resistance to common bacterial blight. The beans they are testing have broad adaptation and are doing well in both the short days common to Puerto Rico and the long days found in Nebraska. In Angola, the project is looking at traits of resistance to locally common bacteria and viruses. Another bean project ‐ funded by NIFA and conduced by researches in 10 states and Puerto Rico ‐ is looking to breed stress‐resistant beans that will stand up to viruses in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
  • Combating Stem Rust in Partnership with The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. USDA ‐ through ARS ‐ has been playing a key role in the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative to systematically reduce the world’s vulnerability to stem, yellow, and leaf rusts of wheat. For Ug99 ‐ the most virulent race of the stem 2 rust fungus yet to emerge ‐ we have provided more than 12,000 lines of wheat to be screened for resistance at plots at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. We have also begun to pre‐screen lines of wheat before sending them to Kenya for further testing based on their responses to fungal disease. This has increased the frequency with which Kenyan researchers are finding rust‐ resistance in our wheat and moving us closer towards developing new Ug‐99 resistant cultivars.
  • Stress Resistant Sorghum. NIFA provided support to Purdue University to conduct a study titled “Sorghum Breeding and Genetics” which, as a primary goal, seeks to develop sorghum germplasm with improved nutritional properties and biotic and abiotic stress resistance. They researchers are evaluating their success in cooperation with National Agricultural Research Services in several African countries including Tanzania. • Improving Cacao in West Africa. NIFA is supporting a Pennsylvania State University project which is exploring fundamental mechanisms of various traits important to the growth and cultivation Cocoa ‐ or chocolate. Chocolate is the major export commodity of several countries in West Africa ‐ which accounts for more than two‐thirds of the world’s total production.
  • Addressing Post‐Harvest Availability of Key Crops in Ghana. ARS is partnered with the Food Research Institute in Accra, Ghana to increase the usability of plantain and cowpeas ‐ carbohydrate and protein staples in Ghana and many Sub‐Sahara African countries. Currently, due to lack of processing technology and poor storage conditions, they are only available at harvest time. The project is looking at methods to convert these crops to dried products that can be stored at ambient conditions for at least 12 months in Ghana.
  • Nutrition Research. UDSA is involved in a host of research projects to improve nutritional outcomes and lead to better public health through agriculture. Some 40million children are afflicted with xerophthalmia, an eye disease that can cause blindness, and 250 million people suffer health problems because of a lack of dietary vitamin A. We are supporting efforts to understand and increase consumption of beta‐carotene in corn and rice which the body converts to vitamin A. Other studies are looking to better understand the linkages of food quality, quantity and cognitive development in children.

Data/Statistics/Market Information: With funding from USAID, staff from ERS and NASS have been supporting improved food‐security related data collection and analysis in a number of Feed the Future countries. The primary goal of this undertaking is to bolster national systems and institutions to enable counties to carry out their own food security assessment, monitoring and analysis functions in the long term. The ERS/NASS activity is meeting Feed the Future goals by developing high quality, sustainable, statistical and analytical systems. Ongoing collaboration between USDA and USAID means that ERS and NASS will be able to extend this program into other Feed the Future countries in the months to come.

NASS and Nigerian partners initiated a pilot project for improved sampling methodologies and data collection techniques. Following an assessment in Nigeria and a study tour for Nigerian statisticians in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina, Nigerian officials are now on road to designing and implementing their own agricultural census pilot, expected to run through 2011. This is part of a larger effort funded by USAID.

In‐Country Capacity Building:

  • Ghana – Reducing Post Harvest Losses Through Capacity Building Ghana’s grain supply suffers from estimated post harvest losses of 30‐40 percent because of inadequate commercial and on‐ farm commodity storage and handling facilities. US commodities exported to these countries face a similar fate when placed in these inadequate storage facilities. USDA, in collaboration with several Land‐Grant University specialists developed, and is delivering, a series of training and capacity building programs in Ghana to improve large scale, bagged, and on‐ farm storage systems. Just a few months ago USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service staff in Ghana, along with three U.S. university grain storage experts met with 40 Ghanaian stakeholders to explain flaws in their current methods moisture‐testing grain (hand‐rubbing, biting, etc.) and to train the Ghanaian participants to use equipment to gauge moisture content in order to minimize moisture losses. This training has the potential to dramatically reduce post harvest losses.
  • West Africa – Sanitary and Phyto‐Sanitary (SPS) Capacity Building to Reduce Trans‐boundary Animal Diseases. As part of SPS capacity building efforts in West Africa, USAID and USDA/APHIS have worked collaboratively to organize a cross‐border meeting on River Valley Fever ‐ a viral disease that is also transmitted to humans. To strengthen communication between Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal and to discuss reactivating the monitoring networks for the disease in these countries. In 2010, outbreaks Mauritania killed both humans and animals ‐ and it is hoped that this improved communication will help prevent outbreaks in neighboring Senegal and Mali where herds from Mauritania go some seasons for pasture. USDA and USAID helped Mauritania secure funding from FAO to initiate their surveillance efforts for 2011.
  • Kenya – Capacity Building for Plant and Animal Health Through the USDA Cochran Fellowship Program. Over the last few years, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service has adopted the USDA APHIS inspection system structure at ports of entry as a result of their exposure to U.S. Regulatory systems through Cochran Training Programs. This is providing direct benefits to the Kenyan economy as they are now exporting three fresh vegetable commodities to the United States ‐ but it has the potential to make a big difference in the region. Kenya’s plant regulatory body is the model to which other African nations aspire. And what’s more, Kenyan staff who have been trained through the Cochran Program to prepare pest risk assessments lend their skills to other nations staff at workshops and intergovernmental meetings. This partnership has also provided the foundation for development of an East Africa pest database.

Collaboration with / Role of other global partners: But while our Feed the Future Program and the partnerships it has clarified, streamlined and inspired is delivering real results, we also recognize the critical role the international community must play in sustaining and enabling progress and innovation in agriculture. This commitment is already moving forward.

  • At the G‐8/L’Aquila summit, we saw pledges to invest $20 billion in agriculture. The United States pledged $3.5 billion and we are on track for that goal. And support is beginning to flow to the World Bank Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (NOTE: Lael Brainard will have spoken about this earlier at the event).
  • As UN climate change negotiations progress, we are supporting efforts to focus on the role that agriculture must play.
  • And G20 partners must also play a key role. I am pleased to announce that I will travel next month to Paris for an meeting of G20 agriculture ministers where I hope to focus attention on issues of food security and helping promote sustainable agricultural economies in developing nations. 5 Biofuels: • The U.S., like many countries, looks to biofuels as one tool in our efforts to confront the triple challenges of assuring food security, adequate energy supplies, and mitigation of the impacts of climate change. But ‐ particularly in the international community ‐ a number of myths pervade discussions of our biofuels policy. I’d like to address a few of them today:

With respect to food prices, corn‐based ethanol does not deserve the scapegoat reputation that folks often attempt to assign it. During the great run‐up in food and commodity prices in 2007 and 2008, biofuel production played only a minor role – accounting for about 10 percent of the total increase in global prices. o In fact, America’s farmers only receive 16 cents for every dollar a consumer spends on food. That is because a wide range of factors influence food prices – from fertilizer and energy costs, to weather, political instability, and the host of actors who touch food as it goes from farms to mouths.

It is also important to remember that corn used for biofuels contributes to the food supply as well. About a third of the grains that go into ethanol production come out as DDGs and are used to feed livestock. And new technologies are looking at capturing other outputs of the corn ethanol process ‐ heat and carbon dioxide ‐ for production of algae.

Another concern ‐ that U.S. biofuels production is causing changes to international land use ‐ has also recently been shown false. A new study released by Michigan State University, shows that biofuel production in the United States through 2007, “probably has not induced any indirect land use change.” So acres used in the production of feedstocks for biofuels in the U.S. are not resulting in new acres coming into food or feed production somewhere else in the world.

It is important to note that the U.S. agricultural community has increased production of corn dramatically so that U.S. biofuel production has not significantly changed U.S. corn exports to the rest of the world or global corn supply. The United States remains the world’s primary corn supplier.

At the same time, we are promoting the future development of non‐food feedstock (i.e., cellulosic, dedicated energy crops) which, when fully commercialized, will decrease the demand for food commodities. The U.S. government has placed a heavy emphasis on research and development of advanced biofuels so as to help with this need to make this transition to feedstocks that do not compete with food and new technologies. Private capital has also been flowing into this effort for cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

And in the long run biofuels ‐ and the processes for producing biofuels that are being developed here in the United States ‐ will have an incredible impact on improving economies at home and across the globe. And they will play an ever‐increasing role in our fight against global warming.

Dealing with Food / Commodity Prices: At the same time as we work to put the fundamentals in place to feed a rapidly growing population, it is no secret that global commodity prices have prompted concerns recently. And we are working with other governments ‐ and through multilateral institutions ‐ to help populations vulnerable to spikes in food prices. And we and encouraging all nations to pursue policies that limit the volatility of food prices.

In the short term the US is urging nations to embrace transparency and the free movement of food supplies. Rather than impose export bans, or begin massive purchases or hoarding – nations should embrace trade, which allows the flow of food from places withsurplus to populations in need. They should share information on stocks and production and put in place targeted safety nets for populations at risk of hunger.

These measures will get food to the people that need it most, help to smooth price spikes, and encourage farmers and ranchers around the world to increase production. Higher prices act as a catalyst for increased production; however, this can only happen if producers around the world receive the price signals from the global marketplace.

For the medium and long term, sustainable agricultural growth, agricultural research, the use of new technologies, and improved access to local, regional, and global markets will make the global food system more productive and efficient, as well as reduce vulnerability to price shocks. Through our Feed the Future programs, we urge governments to increase agriculture investment and to embrace proven technologies such as biotechnology, conservation tillage, drip irrigation, and multiple cropping practices. Our programs are designed to helping farmers have access to these valuable tools.

Conclusion: U.S. agriculture innovation has and can continue to catalyze innovation around the world. USDA and USAID have worked hard over the past two years to align our efforts on global agricultural development. We have renewed our commitment to supporting country‐led plans and high impact development to help nations develop agriculture sectors that will help achieve sustainable food security.

We are pursuing innovative research with the potential to improve crops and food usage, nutrition and markets across the globe. And we are doing it in partnership with host countries and in conjunction with efforts by other developed nations and the international community.

The challenges of food security, energy, and sustainability are great. But I am optimistic about the United States continuing to play a leading role in global efforts to help us meet them.



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