Today in Rome, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to a prestigious international audience and reminded them, in no uncertain terms, of the United States' commitment to fighting hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity around the world.
Secretary Clinton, on the kind invitation of the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on behalf of the other UN Food Agencies in Rome, addressed an audience of over 400 people, including the distinguished Permanent Representatives to the FAO from its 191 member states, as well as the leadership of the other UN Food Agencies in Rome and guests from civil society and the private sector.
She renewed the pledge made by President Barack Obama and other world leaders two years ago at the G8 meeting in L'Aquila to fight hunger and rising food prices by investing in sustainable agricultural investment and improved nutrition. But she also acknowledged that the job ahead was not easy.
"Global food prices are once again on the rise," the Secretary said. "The FAO Food Price Index reached an all-time high in February. Yesterday's update showed little decrease. The World Bank estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since just last June because of rising food prices."
But there is a way forward, she said.
"First, we must embrace smart policy responses to protect the most vulnerable among us. Second, we must redouble our commitment to sustainable agriculture and food security. And third, we must improve our coordination within and across all organizations so that everything we do can be more effective, because we learned in 2007 and '08 the importance of our policies in making a difference in ameliorating the consequences of the food shortages and the rising prices."
Nutrition is also key to alleviating hunger in the world, the Secretary noted.
"We are also shining a spotlight on nutrition. We know that all the research has made it absolutely clear: Good nutrition in the critical 1,000-day period from the start of a woman's pregnancy until her child's second birthday has the biggest impact on saving lives and improving lifelong cognitive and physical capacity." Last September, Secretary Clinton and other world leaders launched the 1,000 Days initiative, a partnership that supports this concept.
Secretary Clinton highlighted the crucial role women and girls play in agricultural development. The majority of rural farmers are women.
"We are particularly focused on supporting women and girls who shoulder a considerable amount of the agricultural work in the developing world. They too need access to essential tools like land, title to land, improved seeds, fertilizers, microfinance.""Research obviously shows that income in the hands of women translates into better nutrition and health for their children. When we invest in women producers, we get a double benefit now and in the next generation."
Secretary Clinton emphasied that the United States cannot do this alone, however.
"All of these efforts are dependent on and defined by partnership among countries, private companies, NGOs, foundations, and civil society along with multilateral organizations. And we are very grateful for the partnerships we have here with our hosts today, all of the UN food agencies in Rome.""Two years ago, it was here in Italy at L'Aquila where a community of nations made a promise to stop the cycle of hunger and poverty that has trapped nearly a billion people worldwide. It was a promise to feed the future, and since then, we've actually moved forward well together.""But this is only the beginning. I would like someone in 10 or 15 or 20 years from now to be speaking to an audience like this and to say, 'Back in 2009, '10, and '11, the world made a very important commitment and then we followed through'.""Let's move relentlessly ahead in advancing food security not only for more of the world's people, but a goal of all of the world's people."
Secretary Clinton's heartfelt appeal was received with enthusiasm by the audience of international food and agriculture experts and policy makers, who applauded warmly and rose to their feet in agreement.
It was an honor for me to hear Secretary Clinton speak here today. Her desire to address the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome reflects our conviction that a multilateral effort is essential in the fight to end hunger.
It was an inspiring message. I urge you to read it.