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Next Steps to Fighting Global Hunger and Poverty

Ann M. Veneman
USA Agriculture Secretary
Opening Plenary, Science & Technology Ministerial
Sacramento, California • June 23, 2003

(Prepared Remarks)

Thank you, Dr. Penn, for that very kind introduction.

Fellow ministers, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen … it is a great pleasure to welcome you to California and to the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology.

Thank you all for coming. It is a special honor and privilege to be hosting such prominent individuals from around the world. The over 400 delegates participating in this conference are from 120 countries. They include ministers of agriculture science and technology health and the environment.

Welcome also to those who are joining us by webcast. This is a historic conference, one of the largest-ever gatherings of ministers to address the issue of global hunger.

And California is a perfect backdrop. It is agriculturally diverse, and home to top-caliber research institutions. It is a showcase for the adoption of innovative agricultural technologies. This state produces more than 350 different and commodities many of those within a short drive from here. If it were a separate country, California would be the seventh-largest agricultural economy in the world.

But while this gathering takes place on American soil, it is truly an international conference. It is intended for the benefit of people all around the world especially those who are most in need. In recent years, reducing hunger and poverty has truly become a global agenda.

Sacramento is the most recent stop on a road that has taken us through Doha, where developing countries became a major focus of international trade negotiations to Monterrey, Mexico, and the International Conference on Financing for Development to Rome and the 2002 World Food Summit to Johannesburg and the World Summit on Sustainable Development and later this year in Cancun.

One year ago many of us in this room were together in Rome at the World Food Summit to renew our commitment to reduce global hunger by half by the year 2015.

We began by admitting the obvious that progress toward this goal was seriously lagging and that more effort, a stronger resolve, more resources and new approaches were needed. There was broad agreement that we must look to scientific and technological innovations for solutions. That is the focus here in Sacramento.

Reducing global hunger and poverty is also a priority of President Bush. In March of last year, President Bush announced his Millennium Challenge Account a 50 percent increase in our foreign assistance funding over three years and the largest increase in U.S. foreign assistance in 40 years.

At that time, he said: “We cannot leave behind half of humanity as we seek a better future for ourselves. We cannot accept permanent poverty in a world of progress. There are no second class citizens in the human race.”

He has also committed the United States to other important initiatives, including:

  • The new Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which will direct $15 billion over the next five years to battle HIV/AIDS with the focus on Africa and the Caribbean.

  • Another initiative totaling nearly $1 billion will provide clean drinking water to 50 million people in the developing world.

  • At this ministerial, we will look at technology’s role in speeding our progress toward the goals reiterated in Rome how it can help feed the hungry provide nutrition to the malnourished and lift those in need out of poverty.

President Bush mentioned the scope of the challenge we continue to face in his video greeting:

  • More than 800 million of the world’s people nearly one of every seven face chronic hunger.

  • Among children, one in three is undernourished and every five seconds a child is lost to hunger.

  • Half the world’s people live on less than two dollars a day.

Acute poverty and hunger are found in areas where people are trapped in a life of subsistence. About one billion of the world’s poorest people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In many developing countries, 90 percent of the food consumed is locally grown. People who are hungry are less able to feed themselves and to be productive members of society.

A recent analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute suggests that, for Africa, an annual increase in crop and livestock productivity of just three to four percent would triple per capita incomes. And it would reduce the number of malnourished children by 40 percent. When nations increase agricultural productivity, not only is hunger reduced but incomes are increased, and economic growth is generated.

The agenda here this week covers a broad range of technologies and related policy issues. It attempts to identify the most pressing needs encourage partnerships and provide opportunities to exchange ideas and information.

This is a forum about a shared vision and finding ways to achieve results ways to apply science-based solutions to real-world problems how to use available technologies to raise agricultural productivity and extending the benefits of technology all around the globe.

Our success can be judged by the new bonds that are forged, and the new partnerships that are created by the problems that are identified, the potential solutions found, and the commitment made to put those solutions into practice. Ninety-four speakers and panelists from 29 countries will discuss agriculture and food technologies that are making a real difference in all parts of the world.

The program includes leaders and experts from developing and developed countries from international organizations, research institutes and universities and from companies and foundations.

We will hear how countries are using technology to increase food production and finding policy incentives to promote technology. The Technology Expo features a wide array of exhibits from conventional to cutting-edge technologies with applications throughout the entire food chain. Field tours on Wednesday will show firsthand how technologies are being used in the real world.

Technology alone is not a solution. It is merely a tool and without supportive policies and regulations, its benefits will not be fully realized. Policies that promote free markets and good governance produce economic growth.

An open trading system is also vital. It provides greater market access attracts investment stimulates growth and contributes to food security. The growing role of developing countries in the trade policy agenda is a positive sign.

It is no coincidence that the current round of World Trade Organization negotiations is named the Doha Development Agenda. Taken together, technologies with supportive policies and regulations can accelerate agricultural productivity and economic growth to help alleviate hunger and poverty.

Science and technology have contributed to substantial productivity gains in the last century. The Green Revolution of the 1960s provided high-yielding varieties along with the increased use of fertilizer and irrigation, which significantly reduced famine in much of Asia.

We are proud to have the father of the Green Revolution and a Nobel laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug, as our luncheon speaker tomorrow. His contributions to agricultural technology by some estimates have saved as many as a billion lives.

Not all regions benefited equally. Per capita food production in much of sub-Saharan Africa has declined in the last two decades. More attention is needed on African staples such as yams, cassava, cowpeas, and rice.

The need for productivity gains is increasingly urgent. By the year 2020, the world will have 1.2 billion more mouths to feed or the equivalent of another country the size of China. Imagine the strain it will place on limited resources unless we have greater productivity advances.

Water is one of those resources. It plays a vital role in human health, economic growth, the environment, and in some cases, regional stability. Improved water management is emerging as one of the great issues the world will confront in the 21st century.

No one has a greater stake in water than the world’s farmers. Globally, agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of total water usage. Science and technology can help increase crop yields with less water and provide early warnings of drought.

The right answers are not always the latest, biggest, and most expensive technologies. Many conventional technologies already widely used for decades can be adapted to bring significant productivity gains to the world’s poorest countries.

This may include a good system of farmer extension services better nutrient management contour plowing improved seed varieties or simple irrigation. The goal is not technologies that make developing countries more dependent on the developed world. Rather, it is to make them able to better feed themselves.

Today, many technologies are coming from scientists in the developing world for farmers in the developing world. We need to learn from success stories such as these:

  • Small-scale farmers in Uganda increased maize yields 46 percent from 1996 to 2001 through improved conservation practices.

  • In Tunisia, crop losses to the potato tuber moth dropped 16 percent with the use of integrated pest management practices.

  • Research by the World Fish Center in Malaysia has produced a strain of tilapia that grow 60 percent faster and yield three harvests per year.

  • Contour terraces in Peru boosted potato yields 70 percent compared with traditional planting on sloping fields.

  • And in Malawi, farmers are benefiting from a high-yielding, pest-resistant cassava variety.

Recent breakthroughs in molecular biology and information technology are creating even more opportunities to improve productivity. Emerging fields such as nanotechnology, proteomics and bioinformatics may, in some cases, allow countries left far behind to leapfrog ahead.

Our luncheon speaker today, Dr. Rita Colwell, will discuss the revolutionary field of genomics. DNA sequencing holds the key to major agricultural advances and applications in broader areas of research, such as plant and animal health and pest management.

Scientists working around the world have mapped the rice genome and others are cooperatively working to sequence the genetic map of livestock such as pigs and chickens. Our ability to unlock the secrets of the double helix has also made biotechnology possible.

Biotechnology is already helping both small and large-scale farmers around the world by boosting yields, lowering costs, reducing pesticide use and making crops more resistant to disease, pests, and drought.

More and more countries are now growing biotech crops and research promises new ways to improve nutrition, prevent disease, conserve water, and produce crops in harsh climates.

But for technology to be useful, especially to those in developing countries and most in need, it must be accessible. The cost of restricting access to a full range of technologies is borne by those who can least afford it. Technologies must be objectively assessed for benefits and risks, based on science not fear, rumor, or politics.

As men and women have done throughout history, we must harness the power of technology, using it wisely and for the good of all. Many tools are needed to reduce global inequities improve food security stimulate development encourage open economies and free societies and facilitate the shared benefits of trade.

Among the most important tools available to all of us are science and technology. This conference is about empowering people to unleash their fullest agricultural potential to better feed themselves. Technology can help farmers around the globe produce more with less, while protecting the environment for future generations.

It can help feed the hungry, improve nutrition, elevate living standards, and narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots. For developing countries, a more productive agriculture can be a springboard first to greater food security, and then to a far more productive economy.

These are the goals of this conference, the goals we all share. Thank you again for your attendance and participation. I end this morning as I began, by talking about the 800 million chronically hungry people around the world. For them, the stakes are high.

We have come to Sacramento out of a moral imperative not to excuse inaction but to find solutions. Thank you.

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