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DR. CARY FOWLER: Hello, my name is Cary Fowler, and I am the Special Envoy for Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State.

It’s tempting to think of last year’s global food crisis as being, well, last year’s problem. On occasion, maybe even frequently, we all engage in some wishful thinking and then problem avoidance. This would not be the occasion, however, to ignore the obvious. And I think we all realize that last year’s food crisis is now this year’s food crisis.

The numbers of food insecure have risen. The number of people, who truly don’t know where the next meal is coming from now, exceeds 200,000,000. It’s an incomprehensibly large number and a human tragedy.

Most of the major causes and catalyst of last year food crisis, are unfortunately still with us.

Climate change continues to be a major concern, with more weather extremes and more variability. Last month was the 530th consecutive month in which the global monthly temperature exceeded the 20th century average for that month.

Excessive heat, as you probably know, affects all plant parts at all stages of the plant’s life. It reduces yield, and it even reduces the nutritional content of what’s left. It magnifies water stresses.

Climate change is also causing changes in the natural ranges of thousands of species, including agricultural pests and diseases. Throwing together new and unique combination of species in farmers fields, there will be surprises, not all good.

Extreme weather events such as the record setting drought in the Horn of Africa are causing immense human suffering. They also challenge our ability, and honestly, our willingness to help.

Conflict is both the cause and effect of food insecurity. Most of the food insecure people in the world are caught in this whirlwind of a cycle of conflict and food insecurity. We must come to realize that food security is a national security issue for everyone, for them, and for us.

Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and its people is an example that’s really close to home. As a consequence of this war, French farmers have experienced challenges acquiring inputs such as fertilizers at an affordable price. Your consumers have experienced food price inflation, and your people have been called upon to help Ukraine defend itself and remain democratic. France has been a leader on this issue, and we thank you for answering that call.

We share common values with you, and our two governments have taken concrete action together in the name of addressing the crisis. But the fact is, that to one degree or another, everyone has paid a price — certainly the people of Ukraine — but also, and most poignantly, all of the people in Africa, at a moment in which they needed more help, not more burdens.

COVID disrupted supply chains, impeded production and distribution of food, and pushed many into extreme poverty and hunger. It remains a risk factor.

To this list of causes and catalysts, climate, conflict, COVID, I would add context. Grain stockpiles, which buffer price spikes and provide some insurance in lean years, are now at historically low levels. There’s little room for error going forward.

The world’s aquifers that supply much water for agriculture are being depleted much faster than they’re being replenished, and the same can be said of the world’s soils. Soil erosion is occurring at a rate 10 to 100 times greater than soil replenishment, and not surprisingly, are most pronounced in some of the areas that are most food insecure.

And finally, we’re heading into an El Niño year, which typically means drier growing seasons in southern Africa, large swaths in East Asia, and Australia, for example. We’re facing another difficult situation for global food security.

The United States dramatically increased its contributions to the Nobel Peace Prize winning World Food Program last year, and also increased development aid. Looking forward, we are particularly interested in addressing the two core pillars of food security, crops and soils. Plainly stated, we will never achieve food security without fertile soils and adapted and productive crops. Poor soils and poorly adapted crops produce poor harvest, poor people, and poor prospects. We all know this. So, what more can we do?

Earlier this year, we announced an initiative we call A Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, focused on Africa. This effort, co-sponsored by the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, seeks to identify the most highly nutritious, traditional, indigenous crops in Africa; assess how climate change is likely to affect them; and then marshal substantial and sustained investments necessary to ensure that these crops can fulfill their potential in providing good nutrition to all. Most of these crops are grown by smallholders, predominantly women, and are vital to addressing nutritional deficiencies, childhood wasting, and stunting.

The Agricultural Innovation Mission for climate is another important initiative we are both backing. As its name implies, it seeks innovative breakthroughs and climate adaptation for agriculture, and then crowdsources funding to support them.

Recently, France and the United States joined together with allies to fashion a powerful statement on food security at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan. Looking forward, we have the UN Food Summit follow-up session in Rome next month; the UN General Assembly in September; the African Union’s Fertilizer and Soil Health Summit; and of course, COP 28. Each offers opportunities for us to educate, advocate, and coordinate. It would be wishful thinking in the extreme to think that we can make progress towards a food secure world without doing so.

Indeed, the United States and France intend through these fora and others, to continue working together to respond to regional and global food security challenges, including by promoting and safeguarding an open and transparent agricultural market, investing in resilient food systems, and refraining from imposing any unnecessary trade obstacles.

Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today. We are truly grateful for the collaboration we’ve had with the government and the people of France on this important topic. And we look forward to strengthening our partnership with you in the future.

U.S. Department of State

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