DR. CARY FOWLER: Good morning. I’m quite sure I can’t live up to that introduction. Thank you, Ambassador McCain. I’m, I’m honored to share the stage with you. Honored to have you as a colleague and, and truly honored to, to have you as a friend. I appreciate that. And thank you, Dr. Hamre. Where we are you? Can’t find you in the audience, but and Caitlin for hosting us here at CSIS, this is a privilege.
It’s my pleasure today to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing commitment to strengthen global food security. As part of this effort, I’m particularly focused on the urgent need to develop crops that are prepared to withstand the effects of climate change and the agricultural productivity demands of a growing population. To this end, my team and I at the State Department are partnering with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, FAO, and the African Union to develop a vision for adapted crops and soils.
FAO, as you probably know, is the oldest of the UN specialized agencies. Founded in 1945 with the Latin motto, fiat panis, let there be bread. It has 195 member states. And is has long been a positive force in advancing the cause of food security and nutrition. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Union, with its 55 member states, is the leading African voice on matters concerning food security on that continent. The State Department is working closely with other departments and agencies in the U.S. Government, particularly the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and is honored to be partnering with FAO and the African Union.
This effort to help address the medium and long-term agricultural needs globally aligns with the pillars and work being done by the Feed the Future program, the U.S. Government’s hallmark food security program which I have the distinct honor of serving as the Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy. Crops adapted to climate, pest, diseases, and the needs of the marketplace are a prerequisite for food security. Poor soils don’t produce rich harvests. Our work on crops and soils is a key element that will help build resilient food systems. Yes, it’s true. A robust, productive, sustainable food system requires more than soil health. But simply put, there is no such thing as food security or good nutrition without these two fundamental elements: healthy soils and healthy crops.
At a time when Africa is experiencing historic weather extremes and as population growth is increasing. We see a real opportunity on promoting soil health and climate resistant crops in Africa. By the end of the century, as you probably know, Africa will be the world’s most populated continent, yet already there are 300 million people who are food insecure on the continent. Along with FAO and the African Union, we’re going to collaborate at various stages with many other countries and organizations. I’ll just mention the Rockefeller Foundation, the Columbia Climate School, the CGIAR, the African Orphan Crops Consortium, among others.
Our work to ensure the adaptation of crops will be undertaken in three stages. First, we will convene experts in nutrition and crops to identify those crops that are most important today and tomorrow for nutrition in all of Africa’s five sub regions. We’ll then assess how those crops will be affected by the climate extremes that we’re already seeing, experiencing, and expect to see more of by 2050. Knowing which crops are and can potentially be most important to nutrition and understanding how production will be affected by climate change are prerequisites for making good decisions in public policy and for planning purposes. It will tell us where we can grow which crops most productively.
Historically, most crop adaptation efforts have focused on a handful of crops, principally maize, rice, wheat. Other crops, such as grains, such as sorghum, and millet, and teff. Many of the legumes, almost all of the root and tuber crops, and the hundreds of traditional and indigenous African fruits and vegetables, have received much less attention. Not surprisingly, their yields
are low and their potential has been unrealized. For many of these crops, there has never been a single scientifically trained plant breeder working on them in all of agricultural history. Many of these crops, however, are rich in vitamins and micronutrients, and they’re inordinately important to lactating women and children, particularly in their first thousand days. Indeed, many of these crops are raised by women in home gardens throughout Africa, both urban and rural. So, this push will seek to highlight these crops and aim to help them adapt both to climate change, to farmers’ needs, and to the demands of the marketplace. It will lead, we hope, we expect to increased research, investment, and productivity and provide options for better nutrition and food security. It will also allow us to make other important decisions. It will inform our investments in infrastructure and trade.
We’re currently exploring financial mechanisms and financing for this third phase, the crop adaptation phase. Though I’ll note that scientific efforts are already underway, for instance by some of our land grant colleges and other institutions, and by the CGIAR, both supported by USAID.
As I’ve mentioned, soils are also critical to our effort. Improving the health and productivity of African soils will begin with a renewed push to map soils and assemble the data necessary for determining which crops can be grown where sustainably and what interventions, crop rotations, composting, biochar, manures, liming, fertilizers, which of these are needed and where, and in what amounts.
Fertilizer use efficiency is notoriously low in Africa. This effectively prices fertilizers beyond the capacity of many smallholder farmers. Increasing the soil organic matter is a key to soil health, and it’s also a key to having an agricultural system that’s sustainable. Again, we’re going to be building on the good work that’s being done by FAO, the African Union, USAID, and others. This is a fast-moving train. We don’t have a lot of time. To the many like-minded organizations concerned about food security in Africa, please hop aboard. Please join us on this transformational journey. We don’t have any time to waste.
As someone told me recently in Malawi, nothing changes if nothing changes. So, I would like again to thank CIS, CSIS for hosting this event. Caitlin, for your generous support. You are an alum of the Office of Global Food Security at the State Department and in fact with my new staff, I can almost say that you’ve spent more time in this office than all of our staff combined. We value that experience and appreciate the visit you made to us a couple of weeks ago and to give us the history of our own office. Ambassador McCain, thank you again for your very kind introduction. It’s, you and I have had great collaboration from the very beginning of your tenure and mine. I value that personally, professionally. And finally, before we go to the question-and-answer session, let me just thank Secretary Blinken for his strong personal support of this work and his commitment to global food security and the work that all of us here today are so passionate about. And one final word which is most of the staff of the Global Office of Global Food Security, are here today. My life would not be worth living without them. They are here and I deeply appreciate their support. So, thank you very much.