Facilitating Trade and Investment, Advancing Food Security

Ambassador David Carden speaks at the 3rd ASEAN Food Security Conference.
Ambassador David Carden speaks at the 3rd ASEAN Food Security Conference.

Remarks by Ambassador David Carden at the 3rd ASEAN Food Security Conference, Jakarta, October 3, 2011.

(As prepared for delivery)

The honorable Minister of Agriculture from Indonesia, Dr. Suswono; Deputy Secretary-General for the ASEAN Economic Community, Mr. Sundram Pushpanathan; friends from business and civil society; development partners, colleagues;

On behalf of the U.S. government and our Mission to ASEAN, I am delighted to join Mr. Pushpanathan this evening to welcome you to this important event.

I have some prepared remarks which I am about to deliver – or at least some of them. But I am going to end by going off road to discuss what I see to be the need for us to think of the food security issue more broadly.

Evolution of Food Security Challenges

Ensuring that people have enough food, the right foods, and access to foods at affordable and stable prices is one of the most basic responsibilities of our societies. How we are organized to do that, however, has changed markedly over the last several decades, and perhaps nowhere more notably than here in Southeast Asia.

As our populations and economies grow, our agricultural sectors become more important. Where once families grew sufficient food to feed themselves, many now earn their livelihoods elsewhere and purchase their food. In addition, while people continue to buy food from traditional markets, we are all becoming connected to international markets – even in towns and provinces distant from capital cities.

What people grow and what people eat is changing too. While rice has long been a fundamental staple, the food economy is increasingly becoming focused on satisfying consumers’ ever-increasing demands for meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and convenience foods.

Global Food Security and U.S. Initiatives

Food security has been an issue of renewed global focus in recent years. For twenty years the world was lulled into complacency as the inflation-adjusted prices of key food commodities – corn, wheat, and rice – remained essentially flat. Without changes in price to signal scarcity or surpluses, investments in food and agriculture slowly fell off.

In 2008, that complacency was shattered as the price of food skyrocketed. In some countries, people rioted. In others, governments banned exports. International markets, especially for rice, no longer were reliable. With greater uncertainty, prices increased again. Regional cooperation – one of the most important elements of stability in this area – was threatened.

The search for new technologies and reliable ways for organizing food markets continues. But no longer is it possible for us to assume that the advance of the Green Revolution over the last half-century will continue. The limits on our ability to increase the amount of food per hectare may well have been reached. Urbanization has diminished the land under cultivation. And if we have reached the limits of production, the conversion of virgin land and forest for agricultural use almost certainly will follow with undesirable consequences. We may be at a crossroads. Which way do we go from here?

In her August 2011 speech at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, Secretary Clinton pointed the way forward. She said, “A hunger crisis is a complex problem of infrastructure, governance, markets, and education. These are things we can shape and strengthen… if we have the will.”

Following Secretary Clinton’s example, the United States is continuing to support countries and regions in their food security strategies through two programs.

Firstly, President Obama announced the Feed the Future initiative at the 2009 G-8 Summit in Italy. There, global leaders committed to working toward sustaining global food security. The Feed the Future initiative includes a $3.5 billion commitment to be spent across twenty targeted countries and regions worldwide.

Secondly, we have also led the establishment of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, being overseen by the World Bank.

U.S. Support for ASEAN’s Strategic Plan of Action for Food Security

Our global efforts to fight hunger include a focus on Southeast Asia. Currently, the U.S. government is supporting the ASEAN region through USAID’s national programs, for example Cambodia’s HARVEST project.

We also have been pleased to be a part of ASEAN’s impressive outreach to the private sector over the last year or so, from the important conferences in Singapore, Bangkok, and most recently, Manila.

Role of the Private Sector

While the U.S. government has been active in promoting regional food security, our private sector colleagues have been equally active. As structural transformation has unfolded, it is increasingly private enterprise, not state-run organizations, that are helping to ensure food security through markets.

I’m pleased to see such strong private sector presence here tonight. I’d like to mention specifically U.S. firms who are here and throughout ASEAN: Anova, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, DuPont, the International Life Sciences Institute, Mars Symbioscience, Monsanto, Phillips Foods, and Procuro. I apologize if I have left anyone out. And I’m sure that the private sector companies in other countries are here to help as well.

The private sector has contributed innovative ideas to reduce hunger and ensure food security. Here are a few examples:

  • General Mills has partnered with USAID and the African Alliance for Improved Food Processing to increase the availability of nutritious and safe processed foods on the African continent.
  • In Central America, Wal-Mart is working with USAID to integrate small farmers into food supply chains.
  • In Ethiopia, Pepsi is helping to raise chickpea productivity.
  • In Indonesia, Cargill has cooperated with 40,000 small holders on risk management and crop planning, and have created important and effective microfinance projects with cassava farmers. The company has also educated local palm growers about earning certification as responsible, ecological growers from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. They have also founded two production plants that run on manure.

Harmonization of Rules

But for private firms to function here and make their maximum contribution, they need a predictable and harmonized set of rules of the game.

Such a harmonization of economic, trade, and investment policies across ASEAN member-states offers the best opportunity for the private sector to make their maximum contribution to food security throughout the region and help feed the region’s growing population.

This week, you’ve come together to identify priority actions to ensure this harmonization takes place. Your goal here is to create a set of key recommendations, which will be submitted to the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry for consideration. You will hear local, regional and international companies talk about the specific challenges they face when trying to ship everything from modern seeds and plant protection chemicals; to grains, oils, and high-value foods across borders.

The Conference

I encourage you to learn from each other. ASEAN can share about progress being made under its Strategic Plan of Action for Food Security. We look forward to hearing from agrifood companies and associations about the various ways in which they can contribute to making the region more food secure.

The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development are pleased to support this regional dialogue between the private agri food sector and the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry. We are pleased to work with ASEAN to help assure food security for the 600 million people of Southeast Asia.

Finally, I want to close by drawing everyone’s attention to the larger context for our discussions on food security.

In many respects ASEAN’s portfolio is focused on the health and sustainability of a large number of interrelated systems. Many of these systems are being compromised. Some, like the ocean’s fishing stocks may be on the verge of collapse.

The area of food security affords us the unique opportunity to address a range of related problems.

Climate change, deforestation, environmental degradation, the health of our waterways and oceans, pandemic preparedness, law enforcement, illegal fishing, decisions concerning land use and energy, and the transparency, flexibility and responsiveness of our financial systems, all relate importantly to the topic of food security.

We need to broaden the conversation on this important subject to include other sectors. For example:

  • Financial institutions can and should be working with agribusiness, governments, and local farmers on innovative ways to hedge against price fluctuations.
  • Governments and law enforcement officials should be working to identify and prosecute the illegal fishermen who are depleting the stocks of fish across ASEAN’s seas.
  • Scientists and NGOs need to work with those of us gathered here and with farmers and retailers to help us all develop a deeper understanding of the impact of climate change, including the consequences of deforestation, and how this will affect how and what we eat in the future. They can also help us understand the risks pandemic diseases pose to both crops and populations.
  • Operators of ports and customs officials need to know the impact they can have on food security.
  • The energy sector needs to understand its important role in providing the ability to transport food that requires cold storage.

It is imperative that we be aware of the systems upon which we all rely to safely and adequately feed ourselves and society.

We need to remember that it is upon such systems that the health and well being of our global community depends. We need to act upon what we know – that we are all in this together. The need for your involvement and leadership has never been greater.