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Public Statements

2012 World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you. Thank you, all. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. And this is an occasion that we look forward to every year because of the importance of the work that is done to merit such a distinguished prize. And I want to thank you, Jonathan, for leading our efforts here at the State Department, and Ambassador Quinn for your continued leadership on behalf of this very pressing issue.

And it's a wonderful honor to have with us former presidents. Thank you so much, President Kufuor, for your leadership on this incredibly significant issue. And thank you very much, President Chissano, for your leadership as well. We are proud to be partnering with both Ghana and Mozambique. I also want to add my word of welcome to former Congressman Jim Leach, and my friend and colleague Congressman Leonard Boswell. It's not an accident that they're from Iowa. (Laughter.) And I'm pleased that we could have with us the representation of the Israeli Embassy. I thank you very much, Charge -- Ambassador Binah for being with us. And I want to recognize in absentia John and Janis Ruan, the generous sponsors of the World Food Prize, who were unable to join us here today.

Our newest laureate, as Ambassador Quinn just revealed, is a master of applying new thinking to old problems. In that sense, he truly is following in the footsteps of the founder of the World Food Prize, Dr. Norman Borlaug. And I love Jonathan's "I love Norman" button. You are here because you already know that Dr. Borlaug launched the Green Revolution by examining the chain of events that starts with a farmer planting a seed and ends with a family sitting down to dinner. He looked for ways to improve each step, starting with the seed itself. And Dr. Daniel Hillel turned his attention to another essential link in the agricultural chain: water.

And water has been a very big topic of concern here in the State Department. Our Assistant Secretary Kerri-Ann Jones is a leader in the area of science and technology and water in particular. And we have tried to focus our government's attention and the world's attention on the importance of getting ahead of what will be a devastating water crisis if we are not smarter and more purposeful in addressing the problems now.

So it's especially fitting, Ambassador Quinn, that we honor today someone who has made such contributions because he understood the critical role that water plays in agriculture and the importance of getting every last drop used efficiently.

We use more water for agriculture than for any other human pursuit -- more than cooking, cleaning, or manufacturing. It takes roughly a liter of water to produce just one calorie of food -- another reason for us all to watch our calories, I guess. (Laughter.) There's also -- you wonder why you're standing. The latest research shows you burn more calories when you stand. So -- (laughter) -- we're doing our part. (Laughter.) But in many regions of the world that so many of you are from or you work in, you know that water is either too scarce or too unpredictable to sustain what we think of as regular agriculture.

For 40 years, Dr. Hillel has worked to solve this problem by bringing his micro-irrigation techniques to the driest and least hospitable growing climates on earth, from Israel to Pakistan to Sudan. Today, farmers using micro-irrigation produce high-yield, nutritious crops on more than 6 million hectares worldwide. Dr. Hillel's work will become even more important as we grapple with how to feed the world's growing population. We know the facts: Nearly a billion people already go to bed hungry every night. By the year 2050, the global population is estimated to reach 9 billion. And according to the latest FAO estimates, the world will need to produce 60 percent more food than we do today to feed everyone. In that same time, the demand for water to grow food will rise by almost 20 percent. But our water supply is finite. So if we're going to strengthen food security, we have to get more out of each drop.

Now of course, making sure people get enough nutritious food is fundamentally a human, moral concern. But it does have implications for global health and development. When people are undernourished or malnourished, they are more susceptible to illness and disease. Children in particular suffer if they don't get proper nutrition during the 1,000 days from their mother's pregnancy through age two. It stunts their growth and diminishes their ability to learn. So when they become adults, their ability to earn a living is limited, which in turn limits their country's economic prospects. When you multiply this chain of cause and effect by a billion people suffering from chronic hunger, you can see how undernutrition hobbles global economic advancement.

Food security is also fundamental to human security. Scarce food resources can lead to panic buying, countries disrupting or even stopping their food trades, and spikes in the price of food. That then can lead to public unrest or violent protests. When nations make competing claims for fertile fields or sources of water, it can also undermine regional stability. But when we strengthen food security and enhance cooperation at the local, national, and regional levels, we create a stronger base for our efforts to promote human development, dignity and security worldwide.

And why don't -- can we help right here and maybe get some water? Thanks, Kerri-Ann. Thanks, Jonathan. I'm going to continue, okay, so that -- we'll tend to this. But we will also continue to address why this is so important and why Dr. Hillel is such an appropriate recipient.

As Jonathan has said, we have worked over the past three and a half years to put food security on the top of the global development agenda. And our premiere food security initiative, Feed the Future, is focused on spurring innovation and finding ways to do more with less and deliver results to people in need. We're working with 19 countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia, developing individual plans of action. And we're doing some interesting and innovative work.

For example, Feed the Future on the ground in Senegal is working with master farmers enrolled in a training program developed by USAID and the Peace Corps. So farmers are learning better techniques like how to reduce the amount of water soil loses through evaporation, tripling the yield from their corn crops. And through Feed the Future, we're also making investments in watershed management. We've dedicated over $100 million since 2011 to promote water productivity in agricultural development.

But this work cannot be only the work of scientists and agronomists. It takes political will and leadership at every level. It takes private investors who see the long-term benefits to this. And that's why the President announced the latest partnership, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, around the G-8, where we're working with African leaders to better coordinate our resources and to bring private sector investments into this important work.

And so for me, being able once a year to salute leaders like Dr. Borlaug and the laureate for this year, Dr. Hillel, is the least we can do to recognize those who are truly making a difference. And now it's our responsibility, and I'm delighted to see these interns from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because it's particularly to you that we look to be the leaders of tomorrow here in the United States and across the world to take everything we are learning from science and research, and translate it into results on the ground.

And the Green Revolution saved as many as a billion people from starvation. It is up to us to make sure we save the next billion. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)


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