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Capitol Hill Hearing - Transcript

Location: Washington, DC




SEN. McCONNELL: Thank you, Senator Leahy.

Senator DeWine.

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: (R-OH): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Administrator, thank you very much for being with us. I have two questions. There're obviously related but they're separate. One is I want to congratulate you and congratulate the administration for putting emphasis once again on agriculture development. Very, very important.

If you look at where your numbers are in '02 and '03. Very positive. Congratulate also this subcommittee. I wasn't on this subcommittee then. So I can say that I guess in the money that was appropriated. Our numbers that you are proposing in '04 are down just a little bit but it's still pretty good numbers. I'd like for you to address your vision for agricultural development and where that fits in our whole overall foreign aid program.

Second, I am concerned about what is the reports and what is going on in Africa in regard to the famine. And I'm pleased to see that the administration has requested money for the emergency famine fund but I wonder if this is going to be enough and I wonder if you can tell us where you think we're going there and what the rest of the international community is doing?

MR. NATSIOS: With respect to agriculture, Senator, I do appreciate you bringing it up because this is one of my and the president's and Secretary Powell's initiatives. The president has announced this. We announced it, one, at the world food summit in June of last year and the president has made subsequent announcements at the G8 on agricultural development to end hunger. And we need to understand there is a relationship between economic growth in most of these countries and food and security and poverty. The poorest in the world live in rural areas and they're farmers or herders.

If you don't deal with agriculture, you can't deal with poverty. Why is it that the Asia giants, like Taiwan and South Korea and Thailand, have much -- the best, in fact, distribution of wealth in the world? Why does Latin America have the worst distribution of wealth in the world?

The reason is because of the green revolution in Asia which AID in the mid-80s -- mid-60s, excuse me, with the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation orchestrated with improved seed varieties and new technologies in agriculture and invested in the rural areas. In Latin America, they did not invest in the rural areas and as a result of that, there is a gross imbalance between the rural areas in Latin America and the cities. Like two different countries. That is not true in Asia.

So it's not just -- it's equity, it's stable and widespread economic growth which we see in Asia. It's the best in the world in terms of those trends. I just want to also point out that since 1980, we've calculated in the developing world where most of the productivity improvements have come. Fifty percent of the improvement in productivity in agriculture in the Third World since 1980 is a result of improved seed technology. Our research scientists have produced improved seed that has dramatically revolutionized agriculture in many Third World countries.

We believe that investing heavily in these seed technologies can mean not the end to our problems because you have to connect production to markets. You know, if you grow more food and the prices are wrong, farmers aren't going to grow more food in the future. One of the causes of the famine that we're experiencing in Ethiopia is bad economic policies in the region. There are restrictions on trade. Farmers grew more food two years ago. Prices collapsed. They couldn't sell their food and as a result, many of them were in deep financial trouble because they borrowed money to buy seed and fertilizer.

They said, "We're not doing this again. We are going to only grow enough food to survive. We're not growing any surpluses." And that's when we had the crop failures. It was not just because there was drought. It was also because of economic policies and lack of free trade in East Africa.

So we believe investing in these technologies can make a huge difference and we do appreciate the support of the committee between '02 and '03. There were constraints on us for '04 but agriculture is very, very important. I might also add that there is a perception that it is only the large lumber companies that are destroying the rainforests, the Congo rainforest, for example or the Amazon. The big companies. That is not the case.

Slash and burn agriculture is widely used in the developing world by farmers who have completely exhausted the nutrients in the soil because they have no fertilizer, no improved seeds. They are so poor they simply burn down more forests to grow food. It is a direct connection between sustainable agriculture development and sustainable environmental programs. They are connected to each other and if you get peasants to be more prosperous and their incomes go up and you do the program right, you can do a lot of protection of environmental diversity in the developing world.

With respect to famine in Africa, we are facing a catastrophic situation in Zimbabwe that is entirely man made. It is made by Robert Mugabe who leads a predatory, tyrannical and corrupt government which is wreaking havoc on Zimbabwean society. That is a man made event. There was a drought but in fact, even with the drought, there did not have to be any food insecurity at all because half of the agricultural system was irrigated.

It was large farms. It was irrigated and the irrigation reservoirs were full but because he confiscated the land and did not have anybody competent to run the farms, the farms simply didn't produce any food. They would have produced it even in a drought because of the irrigation systems. So it's through gross mismanagement and now, the abuses are getting so horrendous that society is beginning to break down and there is hyperinflation on top of the developing.

The other place we face an emergency is in Ethiopia.

The United States government began last September in stepping up to the plate to what was a fast onset famine, which normally do not take place. Usually we have advance warning. The Ethiopian government didn't get it and we didn't get it and the international agencies didn't.

Why is that? Because we didn't realize to what degree the Ethiopian people were vulnerable from the last drought and famine in 1999. They did not recover from it. They were impoverished by it and as a result, they were right on the edge of catastrophe when this latest crop failure took place because of a drought in the eastern part of the country.

We've pledged now 808,000 metric tons of food to Ethiopia. Walter Kansteiner was with Prime Minister Meles yesterday and he said there would be millions dead now except for the intervention of the United States. Fifty five percent of all the food that went in this calendar year came from the U.S. government, 55 percent. I don't want to go into the other donors. The British have been extremely generous. Between the British and the United States, we're leading the response. And it's not just food because in a family, you also have to immunize the kids because a lot of kids get malnourished and they die of measles.

Measles epidemics are one of the most severe challenges we face in famines because when the human body becomes malnourished, the immune system breaks down and you die of things like measles that most kids would not die from. So we've got to do immunization campaigns. Water has deteriorated because of the drought and so there's a set of non-food interventions that we are now undertaking. There was a disaster assistance response team in the country right now. They will return next week and we will continue to step up the response.

I want to add, Senator, if it were not for you and other members of the Senate adding food into the budget, we would not have the resources we need now. And I want to thank the Senate for exactly at the right time giving us the resources we need to increase our pledges to Ethiopia. I promised Prime Minister Meles when I was there in January we would not abandon the country, and we have not done that. We have been the leaders and I think there are comments in Europe about this now, about the fact the United States is there and continental Europe is not, by European's by the way not by -- we're not saying those things, the Europeans are.

SEN. DeWINE: Thank you.

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