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Background Briefing on Readout of the G8 New Alliance Event and Preview of the Secretary's Participation in the Feed the Future: Partnering With Civil Society Event

By US Department of State
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WASHINGTON, September 27, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Special Briefing

Senior Administration Official

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

New York City

September 26, 2012

MODERATOR: All right, everybody. Thank you for joining us. This afternoon we have [Senior Administration Official] to first give you a little bit of a readout on the G8 new alliance event this morning, but also to preview on background tomorrow's Feed the Future partnering with civil society event. This will be on background, because we're going to be giving you a sense of tomorrow's events, and he is hereafter Senior Administration Official.

Take it away, [Senior Administration Official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you for the opportunity. I guess I'll start just by taking us back a little bit. As you all know, in 2009, President Obama at his first G8, G20 focused the global attention on the issue of food and security and hunger. That happened right after really an extraordinary moment when the price spike in food in 2008 really for the first time in 40 years pushed 60, 70 million people back into a condition of hunger and reversed a four-decade trend of progress against global hunger and extreme poverty.

Since that time, the United States has continued to be committed to really partnering deeply with, in particular, African governments, but also with partners in Latin America and Asia to help improve food production, specifically for women and small-scale farmers and producers around the world. We do that because we know that particular effort is the single most effective way to reduce poverty and hunger -- extreme poverty and hunger around the world, and we know that when women's incomes rise in particular, they're most likely to invest that in their children and their families' welfare.

In just this past May at the G8 at Camp David, we took this effort even farther by launching the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. That new alliance really represented a small subset of countries, at the time three and today with the additional three that we launched today, six, sub-Saharan African countries that have committed to make really tough and specific reforms to their policies and their regulation in the agriculture space to enable more investment and more productivity. It is -- it included at the time 45 companies, now more than 60 companies, half from Africa and half from all around the world making more than $4 billion in private investment commitments to build business -- seed businesses or fertilizer businesses or small-scale irrigation businesses or food marketing businesses -- in these communities in a manner that would reach small-scale farmers, and it includes the United States and G8 countries committing to increase our investment in a manner that would allow these private sector investments to work.

At the end of the day, this effort is designed to move 50 million people out of poverty and hunger and reduce malnutrition amongst probably more than 15 million children who suffer from chronic stunting. And the three countries that we worked with and announced at Camp David were Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana. Today we were proud working with our G8 partners to announce that joining this new alliance will be Mozambique, Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso.

It's important that we continue to make progress in this area, because as we've seen even this summer with the drought-like conditions here in parts of the United States and other similar concerns around the world, once again, we're facing a period of time where food prices are increasing, and the most vulnerable amongst us are being pushed back under a condition of poverty and hunger because they don't have the ability to support themselves.

What was particularly notable in today's event, aside from launching the three additional cooperative partnerships, was that many of the companies that had made commitments in May reported on their progress today, and that's important that these wonderful international meetings where everybody comes together actually results in something happening in countries. So DuPont, for example, talked about doubling their seed production capacity in just four months in Ethiopia, and that will allow them to reach now 32,000 small-scale farmers with improved seeds that will more than triple their production and productivity. We heard from partners in Tanzania, in Ghana, and in French companies that produce nutrition products for food aid programs, how they're sourcing more from local farmers and how that's having an impact already.

So we're very optimistic about this effort. It really does represent a new way of working. I think for the -- there's never before, certainly at a G8 meeting, been such a focus on private sector participation and investment. And in fact, President Obama invited six corporate CEOs to join the G8 leaders and the African heads of state at Camp David for this nearly 90-minute discussion in that setting. And each of those companies and many of the others that have made commitments have been showcasing the accomplishments they've had since then.

So tomorrow we'll have the opportunity to continue to build on this effort by expanding the participation of civil society organizations, both U.S. and civil society organizations and, just as important, frankly more important, African farmers groups, African civil society organizations that will also be joining this alliance. And I think, as you'll see tomorrow, in the event that Secretary Clinton will be headlining or highlighting, these civil society partners make voluntary contributions and efforts that make a huge difference and I expect, in particular, U.S. NGOs and voluntary organizations to announce some major new commitments on their own behalf to invest in sub-Saharan African agriculture, focus on women and girls, focus on reducing poverty and nutrition, and focus on delivering the kinds of results that will get us to the 50 million people out of poverty and hunger.

So thank you, and I appreciate the chance to be here with you.

MODERATOR: Questions? Jo.

QUESTION: Is the (inaudible) beyond these six countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is absolutely. We have -- we're partnering initially where we can see real progress, and our goal is to eliminate large-scale hunger and extreme poverty that is agricultural-dependent in these countries. So -- and it's important to note that in order to be part of this alliance, countries have to make real commitments. They have to raise their level of domestic expenditure in agriculture and -- to fight hunger considerably. All three of the initial partners have now almost reached the 10 percent of their public budget invested against this cause. They have to agree to put in place some tough policy reforms to improve land titling and access for women and families in particular, but also to restrict export bans of products and to reduce excise -- or eliminate excise taxes on foreign direct investment that comes into this sector, all steps that had previously blocked private investment into the agriculture sector. But now that they're making those reforms in Ghana, Tanzania, and Ethiopia are all, frankly, ahead of their timelines and schedules in implementing these reforms. We're seeing that that is, in fact, unlocking real progress.

MODERATOR: Margaret.

QUESTION: There were record-high food prices last year. What progress has been made, like geographically and in the food chain so to speak to control that? I mean, what kind of pressure are you seeing now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are two things to note. The first is: Traditionally as food prices have spiked, very vulnerable populations have been pushed back into poverty, because they tend to spend 60, 70 percent of their disposable income on food, whereas we spend 11 percent here in the United States, and the Europeans spend about 20 percent. So there, actually in the last three years, has been significant progress in improving the productivity of resource-poor settings in agriculture and making them more resilient to these kinds of shocks.

So, for example, in Bangladesh, in part because of a U.S.-Bangladesh partnership, an entire state – there is all of more than 14 million people – which had a very high rate of chronic hunger, now is food secure. They have more than doubled their total food production in just a few years. They've done it by using some new techniques in terms of how they plant and prepare their food. And so now, when food prices spike internationally, they're, frankly, protected, since – remember, 85 percent of total calories produced are consumed in the country in the area where they're produced. So we're seeing this effort as working at ensuring that when there are fluctuations in food prices, the most vulnerable people don't get pushed into poverty the same way that happened in 2007 and 2008.

QUESTION: Are you seeing that with the risk of crisis at this point, given drought?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. There's always – there's absolutely always a risk. I think we're in a – for the last 40 years, prices kind of were going down, and we had food surplus. For the next 30, at least, we'll probably be in the reverse situation, where demand will outstrip supply unless these efforts succeed, and succeed quickly.

MODERATOR: Anybody else? Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: Can you speak up, please?

QUESTION: Okay. Can you give me some names of the civil society organizations which will participate tomorrow?



SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we'll have a very broad range of civil society organizations. There are African groups like RUFORUM and others, these farmers groups in – that are regional farmers organizations from across Africa. A major partner is InterAction, which represents a group of probably more than a hundred U.S. NGOs and civil society partners. Partners like World Vision are helping to mobilize millions of faith-based community leaders, people of faith in our own country, to be engaged in this effort. They will be a part of tomorrow's announcement. And we also have European civil society partners like Concern International, that works on nutrition – will be there as well.

So we made a commitment when we launched this effort in 2009 that we'd do things in a very inclusive and consultative way. The Secretary talks a lot about engaging civil society in a real partnership. And tomorrow's just one important manifestation of that.

QUESTION: Within these discussions, in terms of land titling and things like that, do you have discussions about international land, sort of people's international – foreign countries buying land in these areas, like in Ethiopia and in Tanzania?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, absolutely. The global community came together in Rome through the Committee on Food Security and established a set of norms they call the Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment. As part of this G-8 initiative, we are encouraging investment, including investment in improving the quality and productivity of land, and large tracks of land. But we are asking that those investments conform to these internationally recognized Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment. And the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome is responsible for reporting on and implementing that. And the Director-General of FAO will be there tomorrow and has been a part of all of these deliberations and assures us that they are making real progress, especially in the six countries that we identified.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more question. Does this impact at all the farm bill and how – the way in which food aid is distributed?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. There are parts of the farm bill that govern how we provide food aid. And as the President and the Secretary have said, food aid is critical, we will provide it when immediate humanitarian needs call for that, but the goal has to be moving people off of food aid so that they can be responsible producers themselves. That costs one-tenth the cost of providing continued food assistance directly. And so this – the success of this initiative is allowing us to be more flexible and more targeted and more efficient in how we use food aid to really hone in on acute emergencies where it saves lives.

QUESTION: Does that put you in contradiction at all with members of Congress that sit on the agricultural committees --


QUESTION: -- want food aid to be --


QUESTION: -- the money for food aid to not necessarily be in local areas?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've spent a lot of time with members in both parties on both sets of committees, Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, and at the end of the day everybody wants to see results and efficiency. And I was in Mississippi State with Thad Cochran, and Clemson University with Lindsey Graham. Both have been strongly, strongly supportive of this effort specifically. In fact, Lindsey Graham said in that setting that the less than one percent of our federal budget we spend on these types of results-oriented development efforts abroad are the highest return on investment we have across the federal government, in his opinion.

So I think these are – it's important to keep generating results, and it's important to show how these are – in the long run, it's far more efficient to ensure there's adequate food security and avoid famine, failed states, food riots, and much costlier consequences.


QUESTION: I just have a question about whether there was ethical considerations from the companies that you're working with, whether there are concerns about --


QUESTION: -- things like a GM seed.


QUESTION: How do you monitor that in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the countries themselves have regulations that govern what technologies they use and what systems they use to assess whether technologies are safe and productive. We heard today about a hybrid seed, which is not a transgenic variety, but how it's in Ethiopia helping farmers triple their yields. We also heard about a program that the International Research Group is doing to help create drought-tolerant or water-efficient seeds in parts of East Africa that are very vulnerable to water stress affecting yields and creating localized hunger problems and even, as we've seen in the past, famine. So we've found that countries have the capacity to govern and use the technology that they want, and they make those judgments based on what's scientifically safe and what are the benefits of different types of technologies.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you. Thanks for the chance.