Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

President Obama: 'Food Security is a Moral Imperative'

'U.S. President Obama at Intel's Fab 42' photo (c) 2012, Nick Knupffer - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Below is an excerpt from President Obama's speech today at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security: Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Click here to read his full speech.

... As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to partner with others.  So we take pride in the fact that because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. 

But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we still got a lot of work to do.  It's unacceptable.  It's an outrage.  It's an affront to who we are. 

So food security is a moral imperative, but it's also an economic imperative.  History teaches us that one of the most effective ways to pull people and entire nations out of poverty is to invest in their agriculture.  And as we've seen from Latin America to Africa to Asia, a growing middle class also means growing markets, including more customers for American exports that support American jobs.  So we have a self-interest in this.        

It's a moral imperative, it's an economic imperative, and it is a security imperative, for we've seen how spikes in food prices can plunge millions into poverty, which in turn can spark riots that cost lives and can lead to instability.

And this danger will only grow if a surging global population isn't matched by surging food production.  So reducing malnutrition around the world advances international peace and security, and that includes the national security of the United States.  

Perhaps nowhere do we see this link more vividly than in Africa. On the one hand, we see Africa as an emerging market.  African economies are some of the fastest-growing in the world.  We see a surge in foreign investment.  We see a growing middle class, hundreds of millions of people connected by mobile phones, more young Africans online than ever before.  There's -- there's hope and some optimism. And all of this has yielded impressive progress:  for the first time ever, a decline in extreme poverty in Africa; an increase in crop yields; a dramatic drop in child deaths.  That's the good news.  And in part, it's due to some of the work of the people in this room.   

On the other hand, we see an Africa that still faces huge hurdles -- stark inequalities, most Africans still living on less than $2 a day, climate change that increases the risk of drought and famine -- all of which perpetuates stubborn barriers in agriculture, in the agricultural sector, from bottlenecks in infrastructure that prevent food from getting to market to the lack of credit, especially for small farmers, most of whom are women.        

I've spoken before about relatives I have in Kenya who live in villages where hunger is sometimes a reality. 

Despite the fact that African farmers can be some of the hardest- working people on earth, most of the world's unused arable land is in Africa.  Fifty years ago Africa was an exporter of food.  There is no reason why Africa should not be feeding itself and exporting food again.  There is no reason for that.  (Applause.) 

So that's why we're here.  In Africa and around the world, progress isn't coming fast enough.  And economic growth can't just be for the lucky few at the top; it's got to be broadbased for everybody.  And a good place to start is in the agricultural sector. 

So even as the world responds with food aid in a crisis, as we've done in the Horn of Africa, communities can't go back just to the way things were, vulnerable as before, waiting for the next crisis to happen.  Development has to be sustainable, and as an international community, we have to do better. 

So here at the G-8, we're going to build on the progress we've made so far.  Today I can announce a new global effort.  We're calling a new alliance for food security and nutrition.  And to get the job done, we're bringing together all the key players around a shared commitment.  Let me describe it. 

Governments, like those in Africa, that are committed to agricultural development and food security -- they agree to take the lead, building on their own plans by making tough reforms and attracting investment. 

Donor countries, including G-8 members and international organizations, agree to more closely align our assistance with these country plans.  And the private sector, from large multinationals to small African cooperatives, your NGOs and civil society groups, agree to make concrete and continuing commitments as well, so that there's an alignment between all these sectors.   

And I know some have asked, in a time of austerity, whether this new alliance is just a way for governments to shift the burden onto somebody else.  I want to be clear:  The answer is no.  As president, I can assure you that the United States will continue to meet our responsibilities so that even in these tough fiscal times, we will continue to make historic investments in development.   

[Read President Obama's full speech here.]

+Plus: Bread for the World responds to President Obama's speech.


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I agree that food security is an important issue at all levels. So, as a small farmer, I'd like to know: why are the U.S. and Canadian governments making raids on so many small organic farms, when these farmers are doing their utmost to provide safe, healthy, affordable food to their local communities? If we aim to "be the change we wish to see in the world," shouldn't our government be supporting small-scale local food production at home, as well as abroad? https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1221/images/Saving%20Seeds%20Winter%202012%20Web.pdf

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