Secretary-General’s remarks at World Food Prize ceremony

By | 19 October 2012

Iowa – It is a pleasure to visit Des Moines, Iowa, the heartland of America. This great city and state figure prominently in the popular imagination – for your role in feeding the world, and for your unique part in the American presidential process. I am glad to see some of this for myself. 

It is an honour to be here for the awarding of the World Food Prize, the world’s top recognition of achievement in the battle against hunger.

The United Nations is glad to join our voice to yours in paying tribute to a remarkable scientist, Dr. Daniel Hillel. His work has transcended boundaries to help millions of farmers grow more crop per drop of water in some of the driest places on earth.

Sadly, this year, Iowans themselves know what it is like to live without rain.

The effects of the drought in the United States are reverberating around the globe.

When corn and soybean yields decline in Iowa…

When shrivelled stalks replace full silos…

The world, too, feels the pain.

Commodity markets churn with volatility.

Prices spike up, and the ability of families to feed their children goes down.

Iowa is that important.  Iowa nourishes the world.

The current crisis, however, is different.  We have learned important lessons.

More countries have put safety nets in place.  There has been less panic buying, and fewer trade restrictions.

Nations are also investing more in agriculture, and strengthening international cooperation.

So many people in this audience tonight are contributing to the response.

Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, in her role as a UN Messenger of Peace, has lobbied hard to end hunger and poverty.

Senators, representatives and other United States officials continue to make the Food for Peace programme a staple of your overseas aid — including as the top contributor to the World Food Programme.

You are being true to the legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who knew that with the right tools even the most marginalized people on earth can escape the curse of extreme hunger and poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week, the three UN food agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development – jointly released the latest “State of Food Insecurity” report.

It found that 870 million people are under-nourished.

Thanks to international efforts and better data, that number is lower than previous estimates.

But it is still unconscionably high.

In our world of plenty, no one should live in hunger.

No child should have his growth stunted by malnutrition.

No child should have her opportunity for a better life curtailed even before she is born, because her mother was undernourished.

On my way here today, I had the pleasure of visiting the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.  The exhibit includes a quote from Dr. Borlaug: “Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world”.

I agree.  This is a matter of fundamental human rights — the right to food.

It is a question of fairness: some of us live in great prosperity, but many more live on the margins. These disparities are growing and they are dangerous.

It is also a question of access: access to the benefits of research and technology, and to land, finance, infrastructure and markets.

There has been important progress toward the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

I thank all those involved with the World Food Prize for generating some of the ideas that fed into the very creation of the MDGs.

As the 2015 deadline approaches, progress in improving food security has slowed or stalled in many regions.  The food and financial crises have taken an especially heavy toll in sub-Saharan Africa.  Nearly one in five children under age five in the developing world is underweight.

Yet we draw hope from contributions like those of this year’s honouree.

Imagine trying to coax crops out of the dry ground of the Middle East.

Imagine knowing that the only sources of water are a seasonal trickle and the occasional downpour.

Imagine knowing that your country’s fate could be reduced to a simple equation: produce or perish.

Some might have sought more fertile ground elsewhere, or gone into an entirely different line of work.

Not Daniel Hillel.  He stared hard at these circumstances.  Instead of waiting for a rainstorm, he had a brainstorm.

His irrigation system made the Negev desert a source of sustenance for Israel.  Today drip irrigation is “making the desert bloom” on six million hectares of arid land in more than 30 countries.

The 52 nominations of Dr. Hillel for the prize included submissions from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

His achievement started as a technical innovation, but it has made a signal contribution to global harmony, stability and peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today the bleak face of hunger is especially visible in the Sahel.

The region is gripped by its third drought in a decade.  Crime, terrorism and conflict are spreading, preying on countries mired in hunger, poverty and poor governance.

There are reports of teenage girls being forced into early marriage by their families, who can no longer afford to feed their children.

These so-called hunger brides offer heartbreaking testimony to the grim choices people make when food, jobs and resources are in short supply.

This is all the more disturbing because girls and women are societies’ best chance to overcome hunger.

Women are the stewards of household food security and health.

Women produce much of the world’s food, yet are often denied access to land, credit, research and education.

This is why the United Nations, on October 15th – the International Day of Rural Women – announced a new joint initiative to work toward the economic empowerment of rural women.

The United Nations is also championing the Movement to Scale Up Nutrition, now active in 30 countries.  Two of its leaders are in the audience tonight:

Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA;

And Ms. Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

They are just some of the remarkable individuals involved in this effort – several of whom are speaking at the Borlaug Dialogue this week.

Earlier this year I launched the “Zero Hunger Challenge”, which is now the focus of our High-Level Task Force on Food Security.  The Challenge requires action on five fronts:

Ensuring access to food.  Ending childhood stunting.

Doubling the productivity and income of smallholder farmers.

Building sustainable food systems that ensure food safety and protect the environment.

And finally, reducing food waste.  Iowans know better than anyone the hard work and sacrifice that go into producing our food.  Waste, be it in field, factory or kitchen, is tragic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These different initiatives share the same objective: ending hunger in our lifetime.

Achieving this goal depends on forging partnerships that make a difference.

It calls for harnessing the creativity of scientists and economists — including World Food Prize laureates.

It requires developing new approaches and technologies to respond to climate change, water scarcity and desertification.

It means strengthening resilience in the face of price and market shocks.

It compels us to inspire new generations to take up the struggle.  I am glad to note that the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute is such an active part of these annual proceedings.

Ending hunger also requires better global governance.  As we gather here, more than 1,000 representatives of governments, civil society, the private sector and scientific community are meeting in Rome to continue strengthening the Committee on World Food Security so that it fulfils its vital task.

The world’s hungry also need political leaders who prioritize access and nutrition.  The World Food Prize recognized this with last year’s award to former Presidents Lula of Brazil and Kufuor of Ghana.

You also did so in 2008 with the award to former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole.  Our thoughts today are with Senator McGovern’s family, as they gather round him in a hospice in South Dakota.  We at the United Nations have tremendous admiration for his contributions to the battle against global hunger.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In more than five years as Secretary-General, I have seen the progress that is possible when leaders take an issue seriously.

And in my own life, I have seen the transformation that can happen with solidarity from abroad and hard work at home.

I grew up hungry and poor, in a country devastated by war.

With the generous assistance of the United Nations, Korea got itself on the path to recovery.

Before long, our bellies were full.  Our bodies were nourished.  We regained our strength and set off on building a better future.  We then started helping others to do the same.

Ending hunger and malnutrition can be done.  It is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, the necessary thing to do.  It is what we must do.

After all, the world has enough food to feed every woman, man and child.

Thank you for your commitment to this cause.  The United Nations looks forward to working even more closely with you to realize this great goal — and banish the demon of hunger from our world.

Category: Uncategorized