Transcript of Remarks by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer at the 2008 Borlaug Dialogue and World Food Prize Presentation Des Moines, Iowa . October 17, 2008 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0274.08
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Transcript of Remarks by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer at the 2008 Borlaug Dialogue and World Food Prize Presentation

Des Moines, Iowa - October 17, 2008

SEC. ED SCHAFER: I'm excited to be here. It was a magnificent presentation last night. I was just so proud to be a part of it. Thank you for the invitation to be with you for the evening—that was wonderful to honor two great humanitarians: Senator Dole, Senator McGovern, who are well-deserved in the World Food Prize. It is important that we recognize them, not for their lifetime service but for the impact that they've had on people. Senator McGovern, thank you for joining us today. It's an honor to be at your table. We appreciate you being here.

I also want to thank the past laureates for being with us. We appreciate you staying active with the organization. Because of the work that you do didn't stopped the delivery of the prize. Importantly you have made a commitment to continue your efforts to help feed people. And we appreciate that so much.

I really have enjoyed the young folks that are here today. Thank you for joining us. The Borlaug Fellows that are here, as well as the Youth Institute, I am excited to see. I have some friends here from the Chicago High School for Agriculture and Science. All the young folks here are the future of agriculture. They're in the room, and they're learning from all of us who go before about how to make the commitment to agriculture, which I believe is the language of the world.

I am truly honored to be here in Des Moines to give the breakfast remarks at the 2008 Borlaug dialog World Food Prize. By the way, if you are still eating, please do so. I know some of you got a late start, but enjoy your meals, toast your glasses, clank your silverware. As a former governor, I'm used to speaking to the Legislature.

[Laughter]

I was really impressed last night with the recipients of the award: Senator McGovern and Senator Dole. These leaders share a common vision of what American agriculture and the American people can do to relieve hunger here at home and certainly around the world. And they clearly saw the link of the bounty that the American farmers consistently produce, and how that can influence the world. They saw how we can fill the needs of hungry children.

In the 1970s, they did groundbreaking work to reform the federal Food Stamp program, to reform and expand the domestic School Lunch Program, they established the supplemental food program for Women Infants and Children—called WIC today. Knowing that school lunch (unclear) second graders. And the teachers that were there talked about how those students in a poor area had a warm breakfast and a warm lunch, how they are more attentive in class, how they are more prepared to learn, how important it was for their education to have often the only two meals that some of those kids had—in school—and the important work that was done here to help our people in United States of America learn, grow and be educated, this really important commitment.

In the 1990s they looked far beyond our borders. They looked at the plight of some 300 million poor children around the world. And they sought to reach them with a global school feeding program, modeled on the steps of the School Lunch program here in the U.S. That effort began seven years ago as the Global Food for Education Initiative and it quickly took off and now became the McGovern-Dole Feeding Program. That evolved into the program that supports education and child development and school security in low income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education.

You know, there are more important things that come out of that School Lunch Program as well. Not too long ago I was in California I was having a school lunch with some fourth graders. One of the boys that sat across the table looked at me and he said, "Is it true that if you find a strawberry or two strawberries that have grown together that if you hand it to a girl she'll fall in love with you?"

[Laughter]

I said, "Of course."

[Laughter]

So the language of agriculture is important. Today the McGovern-Dole program has provided meals to more than 22 million children in 41 countries. It boosted school attendance by 14 percent, and if you just calculate the women that we focused on last night as to how important it is to them to get educated, it increased their participation in school by 17 percent. Just the last few years the program has fed 6 million people using nearly 190,000 tons of commodities.

You know, these are top line numbers, but let me give you a sense about how the program really works on the ground, how it touches people's lives.

Zobeyda Perez Garcia was a third grader in La Libertad School Managua, Nicaragua in 2005. Her school was participating in the McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program. She wrote a letter to the Food for the Poor. Food for the Poor is a private, voluntary organization working to implement the program for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She said, "I'd like to thank you for the milk that you send to our school. There are eight of us in my family. My dad is a gate guard, and my mom sells tortillas. I drink milk that you send us every day in my school. It's delicious. I feel better in class after I drink that milk. Thanks to each and every one of you."

We know there are millions of children around the world who are able to focus on their studies instead of their hunger because of this program. And we and certainly they are fortunate that George McGovern and Bob Dole both made agriculture-focused humanitarian causes part of their life's work.

And now the challenge falls to us. It falls to me and it falls to you to find new ways to help those who are still hungry every day out there in the world. We need to find that same compassion and dedication that these men displayed throughout their careers and move it forward.

We must have the vision and the commitment to ensure long-term global food security for the world's poor and the world's hungry. We face a reality of the world population growing by 50 million people every year; and of course we're not adding any new land in the world, so we need to figure out ways to feed these new mouths as we grow.

And I believe the answer once again lies with building on the success of the American farmer. But rather than just the surplus commodities that we produce and we can ship around the world, our focus should be on sharing our technology, on sharing equipment and know-how and processes and procedures that made these surpluses possible.

We must find ways to help farmers all over the world boost their productivity of their own land. We must help them do what the American farmer has been doing successfully for decades here.

Just in the last 15 years, our corn yields have increased from an average of 100 bushels per acre to 150 bushels per acre, a 50 percent increase in yield in 15 years. With last year's corn crop and this year's forecast the United States will have developed the two largest corn crops in history. And gains of this kind have allowed United States producers to meet the rising demands of food and feed and fuel while maintaining record level exports and strong food aid donations.

These gains are possible because of new crop varieties that the biotechnology revolution has given us, but other techniques like precision farming and good fertilizer regimes, improved irrigation systems and better water management have also played a strong part in this growth of productivity.

In June I had the privilege of leading the United States delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization High Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome. The aim of this conference was to help countries find sustainable solutions to rising food prices and to new challenges of climate change and energy security. The aim of the conference was to help countries find sustainable solutions to rising food prices and new challenges as weather patterns change and also to find energy security.

The aim of the conference was presented by the United States in a three part strategy to address these issues. And with the current food aid as the first part of the strategy that we are presenting to the world, our commitment over the next two years is how we will continue to send the dollars to the food abroad. But importantly the third part, we also committed to helping other countries to increase their crop yields so they will have food and fiber and the fuel supplies that their growing populations demand.

There are many barriers to overcome: there are poor roads, lack of refrigeration, lack of storage capabilities, rising fertilizer costs, limited knowledge of good farming techniques, resistance to biotechnology and other newer technologies, just to name a few. Longstanding issues of alleviating bottlenecks and promoting market-based principles in agriculture trade must also be addressed.

To help countries move past these barriers the United States committed $5 billion dollars over the next two years to help countries develop their agriculture. Our effort is to work toward doubling the production of trade and supply of staple foods such as corn and wheat and casaba and sorghum and millet in five West African countries. To be effective, however, development assistance must focus not only on the immediate results but on the medium- and the long-term challenges of building capabilities for local crop production for post-harvest management and for trade in those food products.

Now we know that new technologies and basic infrastructure improvements can make agriculture more resistant to climatic variability and to weather pattern change—that it can improve the farm economy.

I chaired a panel in Rome at the FAO about sustainability of agriculture. And especially the sub-Saharan African countries came to the microphone one at a time and talked about missing the Green Revolution. They couldn't take advantage of what Dr. Norman Borlaug created in this country because they didn't have the infrastructure to do it.

They said, "Now as we look at expanding food supply in the world, we need help. We don't want to miss it again. We need to make sure that infrastructure goes forward. We need to address the science and research institutions and we need to address the market information systems and distribution networks and storage facilities. We must improve water management and irrigation. We must provide access to rural credit and livelihood programs for farm families. And we must work together to widen the use of existing and new technologies with the potential to significantly boost yields for commodity products."

In some countries this might mean just enacting the most recent Green Revolution availability -- the technologies that are available such as hybrid varieties that again Dr. Norman Borlaug pioneered.

In other countries with greater challenges of environment and climate issues, new biotechnology-based solutions should be considered. Today we know that biotechnology is one of the most powerful tools that we have for boosting agriculture productivity and for building prosperity among the rural poor.

And there are encouraging signs that others see the same possibilities that we do. Some countries are empowering their farmers to produce biotechnology crops.

Last year the amount of land around the world devoted to biotech crops grew by 12 percent to over 280 million acres. Biotech crops were grown by more than 12 million farmers in 23 countries. About 10 million of those farmers were small and resource-poor. They were in developing countries. For the 2008 crop year, the United States has already exported $2.5 billion in coarse grains and oil seeds that were biotechnology-driven to the European Union.

I would encourage other countries to follow the lead of Burkina Faso in Africa which recently decided to commercialize biotech corn, and Egypt which has commercialized the biotech varieties of corn. And they are both working on biotech cotton as well. Two other African nations have initiated biotech field trials for our food crops, South Africa for sorghum and Uganda for bananas.

Food crops like these can improve human nutrition and also increase economic activities and farmers' income. Biotechnology also offers tools that can accelerate breeding and more accurately diagnose crop and livestock disease. This is especially helpful for economically important tropical crops which traditionally have seen breeding be a prohibitively slow process. We've had positive experiences here in the United States with the use of biotech fields to boost yields and cut the use of herbicides and insecticides. They use less water; they work with different climate issues.

And now we are the largest government donor supporting the development of biotechnology crops. But the United States just can't do this job alone. We need greater public investment by more diverse donors to provide equitable access to this technology. The United Nations agencies, the G-8, the World Bank, the other international partners are critical resources to move these technologies forward and into everyday use—into helping people in need.

In a developing country more equitable access starts with establishing science-based regulations that can support the development of these technologies. Farmers also need to open markets for the crops that are produced using these technologies. Toward that end, we believe that countries should adopt enabling regulations that give the private sector incentives to develop these new technologies. They should also honor the WTO, World Trade Organization obligations to facilitate the free flow of trade, the flow of goods and services and food across borders to where people need them. They should support the business with international agencies like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. That encourages development of new technologies and protects biodiversity and it really encourages agriculture trade; it opens it up.

The success of the long-term strategy to decrease hunger and malnutrition demands the free flow of food and technologies that produce it, and biotechnology is an important part of that.

A sobering fact is that in 2007 an additional 75 million people were undernourished according to the Food and Agriculture Organization in the UN. This brings the number of people hungry worldwide to 925 million folks. His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, has said, "Food production needs to double by the year 2050."

The citizens of the United States are very proud to provide more than one-half of all food disaster relief around the country. We're proud of our record of leadership. We have a moral and ethical obligation to share our agriculture bounty with those who are less fortunate. We can't do it alone.

We need to develop crops and yields to charge economic prosperity in rural areas for the poor and for the hungry. At the same time we must fix the underlying problems that focus on a long-term solution rather than just responding to the immediate needs of sending food. Hunger and malnutrition affect every aspect of an individual's life from health and education and their ability to work and produce and take care of their family. Without food security economics suffer, incomes remain low, and people fail to reach their potential of full and productive lives.

Our goal can be nothing less than eliminating the specter of hunger once and for all. Ladies and gentlemen, we follow powerful world-changing precedents. The work of Dr. Borlaug is just amazing. Senators Dole and McGovern, we follow you as well. We must continue to realize your visions, to honor the legacy by finding new ways to harness our agriculture productivity to feed a hungry world. And toward that end in just a few minutes here I'll be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Ambassador Quinn.

With this MOU we're formalizing not only the relationship between the World Food Prize Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture, but our shared commitment to science and research that provide a nutritious and sustainable food supply for the people the world over.

We're going to sign this document and there are words on the paper, and we'll ink them and put our signatures on there. But you know, it's a document, it's words. It doesn't matter unless we put it into action. And that's our goal today. I'm reminded as I think about the call to action—how important agriculture is in this arena.

I recently was visiting with the United States Department of Agriculture employees in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have provincial reconstruction teams there working in the agriculture arena in two very different countries: in Iraq, a country that was led by a despotic regime, and the agriculture infrastructure was neglected for 20 years; and in Afghanistan where the agriculture infrastructure was never developed. Our teams are there and they are helping people develop that infrastructure. They are working on the water systems, roads, providing reliable sources of electricity for refrigeration and storage capacity for after-harvest programs.

I was recently visiting with these teams in Iraq through video and I was talking to them about, "What's your relationship with the people while you're out there developing agriculture?" And they talked about how they were working on processing facilities, storage facilities, and how they were getting the productive capacity of the land in place. And I said, "Well, what about the people—you're there among them?"

And they talked about working shoulder-to-shoulder with the people in the agriculture arena. They talked about being hand-in-hand in trying to help people grow food for their families and for their neighborhoods and for their regions and how important that work is. And I said, "Okay, but what about the personal relationships?" And they said, "You know, we're invited into their homes. We sit with them at their meals; we play with their children. We go to their weddings and their funerals. And they have become our friends."

And that is the language of agriculture. It is the friendship, the hand of friendship that we can spread throughout this world. And I have no doubt that when you have peace in the home with people who are well-fed, warm, and comfortable; when you have peace in the home you have peace in the neighborhood, and peace in the neighborhood makes peace in the city. Peace in the city certainly gives you peace in the country. And if we have peace in the countries through agriculture in this world today, I know that that language of agriculture will bring peace to the world.

So thank you for all that you do. I really appreciate your efforts. We have a lot of work to do, and we're ready to go. So join with me to deliver agriculture and the food of promise to the people of the world.

Thank you.

[Applause]