ASSISTANT SECRETARY SINGH: Good morning and welcome. Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Quinn, Administrator Green, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you to the 33rd World Food Prize Laureate Announcement. We are delighted to have you join us here in this historic room. We are especially honored to have with us today Secretary Pompeo, who has been a champion of American farmers and global food security.
For over 30 years, the World Food Prize has recognized and celebrated individuals who have advanced the cause of food security and nutrition around the world. In our home here at the State Department, it is our honor to host this ceremony for the 14th year. Here at State we are committed to continuing the visionary work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, whose granddaughter Julie is here with us today. Julie, thanks for coming. (Applause.)
We celebrate the individual laureates who have devoted their lives to agriculture and to food security. They’ve made a difference for millions of people around the globe. From agricultural scientists to founders of nonprofits to members of Congress and world leaders, the laureates have made a remarkable and enduring contribution to the world of those in need.
At the Department of State and particularly in the Economic Bureau, we are committed to promoting American farmers and agriculture not only to improve food security, but also to build inclusive economic prosperity for whole societies. We want to shape a world which focuses on food security for all of the global population and we rely on you, our laureates, to develop the ideas that will feed the world.
I now want to recognize Ambassador Quinn, who will announce the recipient of the 2019 World Food Prize. I especially want to thank him for his distinguished 32 years of service as a U.S. diplomat and as a former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia. Among his many achievements, Ambassador Quinn received the State Department award for heroism and valor for his duty in protecting American citizens. Ambassador Quinn, you remain a part of the State Department family.
Thank you again for your attention today, and now I will turn the podium over to Ambassador Quinn. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR QUINN: Thank you. That was so nice. Hello. Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Singh, for your extremely kind introduction. Knowing that your father studied under Dr. Norman Borlaug in India, it adds particular meaning to this event.
Secretary Pompeo, on behalf of my wife Le Son, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, the chair of our laureate selection committee, his wife Senait, I want to express our great appreciation to you for hosting our ceremony here in the Benjamin Franklin room – same room where I began my Foreign Service career 52 years ago.
To my fellow ambassadors who are here, as well as members of the Diplomatic Corps, we’re so greatly honored by your presence. And I particularly want to recognize former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. He’s a Kansas guy, right? (Laughter.) That’s – as well as our World Food Prize USDA Wallace-Carver fellows. Where are the Wallace-Carver fellows here? Yeah, stand up. (Applause.) So Under Secretary McKinney, please thank Secretary Sunny Perdue for the special partnership we have inspiring these exceptional college-age students.
So Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug created the World Food Prize in 1986 with the goal that it would come to be seen as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. And over the past 33 years, 48 individuals from 18 countries have been named recipients of our annual $250,000 award. The 2019 World Food Prize Laureate will go to an individual from a 19th country, the Netherlands, and in a new category: vegetable seeds.
Now, our new laureate, a sixth-generation seedsman, had observed that many challenges facing small, older farmers in Southeast Asia – they struggled to grow a good vegetable crop with low quality, poorly adapted seeds. This resulted in low yields, which translated into poverty and malnutrition. So our recipient saw a way to break through this vicious cycle through diversification into high-value vegetable crops. And so in 1982, at age 47, he left a position in a Dutch-based seed company and moved to the Philippines. There, our laureate discovered a partner, the late Benito Domingo, and together they established East-West Seed. And our laureate began developing new vegetable varieties with enhanced disease resistance and significantly higher yields. And as the use of these seeds spread through the Philippines, to Thailand, Indonesia, across Southeast Asia, farmers’ daily lives were uplifted and consumers benefitted from greater access to more nutritious vegetables. And over the next four decades, our laureate led the development of the modern high-quality vegetable seed industry.
His company now reaches into 60 countries around the world, a stunningly impactful global network of seed producers who are transforming the lives of 20 million farmers every year, and improving the well-being of millions and millions of consumers.
I’m so pleased that the deputy chief of mission of the Dutch embassy, Your Excellency Heleen Bakker, is present, and as this brochure that you’ll receive on your way out will indicate, that mister – our laureate will receive the World Food Prize at a ceremony in Des Moines – (laughter) – on October 17th. And I invite all of you to join us there for our Borlaug Dialogue Symposium.
So it’s my great pleasure to announce that the 2019 World Food Prize laureate, the person who led this extraordinary global transformational achievement, this vegetable seed revolution, is Mr. Simon N. Groot. (Applause.)
Now, in introducing the Secretary of State, I want to note that I had the great opportunity to work directly with three exceptional secretaries: George Shultz, Jim Baker, and John Kerry, all of whom shared one important trait. They were all military officers who cared about their troops here at the State Department. So even though we had never met, when Secretary Pompeo – a former Army officer – was nominated last year, I published an op-ed in The Hill with the headline, “Mike Pompeo has skills to bring American diplomacy back to life.” And as a Foreign Service officer, it’s always nice to see when your predictions come true.
Ladies and gentlemen, the man who’s returned the swagger to the State Department, the Secretary of State, the Honorable Mike Pompeo. (Applause.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ambassador Quinn, for that kind introduction. It’s most often the case your predictions don’t come true, so – (laughter) – not you, but all of us are challenged to predict how things will go in the world, and that’s why today is so special, why innovation and creativity matter, that risk-taking form the heart of how it is that we think about making sure we can feed that next billion people. It takes risk takers, people prepared to make predictions, those who are willing to accept those risks.
Welcome, all, to the State Department.
We’re gathered here today to honor Mr. Simon Groot, who joins a incredibly distinguished list of entrepreneurs, scientists, and others who have pioneered these innovations that continue to feed the world.
It’s not an exaggeration, by any stretch. All of these men and women walk in the giant footsteps of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the founder of this prize.
He was an Iowan – but as a Kansan, I’ll give him a free pass for missing by just a couple hundred miles to the north. (Laughter.) He dedicated his life to breeding disease-resistant species of wheat and rice. Some estimate that he saved more than a billion lives. That’s with a “b,” “billion.” There’s no prize big enough to recognize this amazing work.
The work of agricultural innovators is, unfortunately, only growing more important today.
More than 820 million people, as we sit here in this beautiful space, suffer from chronic hunger. There isn’t a single cause, but we know the majority live in conflict zones or fragile states.
In Venezuela, for example, more than 60 percent of the country goes to bed hungry each and every night, and many have resorted to rummaging through garbage bins to feed themselves and their children. Malnourishment is so widespread that Venezuelans refer to it as the “Maduro diet.”
We all have an obligation to work each of these problems. It isn’t just a human tragedy when we see hunger. When it takes hold of a country, it can perpetuate a destructive cycle of crime and violence and instability.
We’ve taken on this challenge here at the State Department. It’s why we are so honored to host this today.
Our diplomats work with local leaders, local governments to respond to food crises all across the world. And recipients of U.S. food assistance include the war-weary people of Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen. We’ve stationed aid in Colombia for the Venezuelan people. We’re ready to do more in each of these locations.
But those of you who have worked on this issue for so long know that food assistance is in some sense a Band-Aid – a necessary one. But we need a cure.
Bright minds in the public and private sectors are working on this mission. But if I had to bet, the solution probably won’t come from government.
Which leads me to Simon Groot.
As Ambassador Quinn described, a “sixth generation Dutch seedsman.” He spent much of his life running the East-West Seed Company.
The remarkable improvements he made to these tropical vegetable seeds helped small farmers in developing nations produce more food and, importantly, get more income for themselves and their families, curbing hunger and stimulating economic growth wherever these seeds went.
The company provides free information on the best cultivation methods to farmers, which in turn helps customers and increases demand for its seeds. A truly virtuous cycle.
Coincidentally, I just left Mr. Groot’s home country of The Netherlands last week. I was there for something called the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. It was a great crowd, a wonderful gathering of creative risk-taking people, most of them young, looking to make that next great information. And I talked there about the power of private-sector entrepreneurship and the risk takers to solve all sorts of the world’s problems.
Unlike government, innovators don’t view problems as obstacles, they view them as opportunities.
We all know – you all know this better than I do – the solutions to quelling hunger and malnutrition are incredibly complex. But one thing they have in common is innovation – like those – innovations like those devised by Dr. Borlaug, and now we recognize the great work of Mr. Groot.
Already, the recipients of the World Food Prize have fed billions of people.
And yet the crisis persists. Don’t get discouraged. That’s just the opposite of the message today. It’s a reason to keep on fighting, keep up this good work, continue this effort that we’re in today.
I’m confident with the continued efforts of Simon Groot and many of you in this room, we can solve the crisis the way it needs to be solved: for good.
Congratulations again to Mr. Groot, and thank you all for being here today. (Applause.)