Food Security Indicators: Diversity of Perspectives?  Different Needs?

Berlin, January 22, 2014
Ambassador John Emerson

Meine Frau Kimberly und ich haben schon sehr viel über die Grüne Woche gehört.

It is a fantastic celebration of global agricultural and food industries.  It is one of the largest trade fairs of its kind; and although we are still relative newcomers to Berlin, we have already heard that this is an event that Berliners look forward to every year.  It’s a chance for both trade visitors and the general public to test and taste the newest trends, as well as tried and true regional specialties.  And as “foodies,” who come from America’s largest agriculture producing state, California, Kimberly and I are especially excited to be here.

Es stimmt, was die Organisatoren sagen: Es ist wirklich ein Festival der Sinne.

And here at the Grüne Woche, there is no question about the quality; and with well over 1,500 exhibitors from over 70 different countries, quantity is also a given.

But as all of us know, quality and quantity are not givens in many countries around the world.  And this fair is not only a global display of the achievements and capabilities of agriculture and the food industry, it also provides a forum for discussion of the very real challenges we face.

Despite all the world’s technological advances, today nearly 870 million people, or one-eighth of the world’s population, suffer from chronic hunger.  This is tragic.  The struggle for food is, in the end, a struggle for life itself.  It is also a trap that prevents people from realizing their full potential.  It places both people and communities at risk; and this exacerbates the challenges that we face in terms of creating stability on this planet.

And so, the stakes are high.  And the challenge is even greater than what we face at this moment in time.  The global population is projected to grow to over 9 billion people by 2050.  Strong economic growth in developing countries is expanding middle classes – and the demand for a wider variety of agricultural products.  By 2050, we will have to increase food production by 70 percent to feed this larger, more demanding global population.

Given these realities, it is essential that we explore ways to keep pace with the increasing demand for quality, nutritious food.

The United States is committed to improving global food security across a broad range of programs and initiatives.  One that is well-known is Feed the Future, a Presidential initiative led by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which aims to help raise productivity and incomes of small farmers in 20 countries.  It brings together the capabilities of multiple parts of the U.S. Government, multilateral partners, and private and non-governmental sectors, to build local capacity to sustainably increase global agriculture productivity, improve nutrition, and also foster regional trade.

So far, in just under three years, Feed the Future has reached over 7 million farmers.  As a result, we’ve seen small holder farmer incomes increase.  Instead of giving out food, through this initiative, people learn the skills they need to produce food and improve their lives.  We have also been able to help over 12 million children through nutrition programs that have reduced anemia, supported dietary diversity, and helped prevent malnutrition.

Feed the Future is, however, but one option.  Without a doubt, another path to improving global food security lies in agricultural innovation.  Our planet is increasingly strained by climate change.  According to the Audubon Society, there are whole regions of America where things that used to grow no longer grow, or species that used to exist no longer appear.  This obviously also applies to other parts of the world, as well.  To limit the demands of greater agricultural production on scarce land, water and other resources, we must increase agricultural productivity.

Sustainable agricultural productivity gains can be generated from a range of innovations, including resource use efficiency, genetic improvement, integrated pest management, reduced post-harvest losses, risk management strategies, and reduced marketing costs. We must also improve access to new technologies – again, particularly for smallholder farmers.

Innovative technologies like agricultural biotechnology intersect matters of food security, development, health, and trade.  That’s why it is a priority at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well the State Department and USAID, to promote open markets and science-based regulatory frameworks in an effort to pave the way for future uses of these technologies.  For example, innovative genetic research has provided us with a better understanding of the genetic basis of high-yielding and stress resistant crops. To confront heat, pests, soil salinity, toxicity, and new diseases, we are using discoveries about genetic information to better predict and accelerate the results of conventional breeding.  In the past few years, USDA research has helped reveal the genetic blueprints of a host of plants and animals.  This sort of work allows us to bypass generations of selective breeding and to develop disease-control methods to rapidly bring more abundant, nutritious food to tables around the world.  This is no more “Franken Food” than it was when ancient Egyptians experimented with cross-breeding to increase wheat production.

This recent work has already had an impact on one of the world’s most threatening agricultural challenges – the wheat stem rust known as Ug-99.  Thanks to genetics, we are moving closer towards eradicating or reducing the spread of this devastating fungus across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  Working with researchers in Kenya, we are reducing the threat to crops that feed one billion people.

The point is that food security is too large a challenge to be resolved by any one government, industry, or one group of stakeholders.  Achieving the sustainable intensification of agricultural production that will be necessary to achieve food security will require the collaboration of a cross-section of global community – in government, business and civil society.

But food security is a complex topic.  In order to work together effectively, we need to have a common understanding of both the challenges and the opportunities.  We need to be able to set clear goals that make it possible to make local decisions that are based on analysis and facts and figures, not just perceptions and unfounded fears.

Put another way, in order to really improve food security, we first have to be able to measure it.  For this reason I’m happy to be here to today to kick off this presentation of an important tool – the Global Food Security Index.  It, too, is an excellent example of collaboration.  I would like to commend both the Economists Intelligence Unit and Dupont for their great work on this important tool.  I would also like to thank the  ördergemeinschaft Nachhaltige Landwirtschaft for helping to organize this event.