I’m in Bangladesh today to participate in the Food Security Investment Forum. What a crowd! The Prime Minister, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, who has shown a strong commitment to food security, spoke this morning, as well as luminaries such as Dr. David Nabarro, Dr. Shenggen Fan, and Dr. John Mellor.
We’ve all come together in Bangladesh because this country represents a situation that we need to address now. The rising population, decreasing availability of land for agricultural production, and the growing adverse consequences due to climate change means we need to think dramatically differently about what it takes to feed the future generations in this country.
And it’s not just the quantity of food that matters, it’s the quality. Rice constitutes more than 70% of the caloric intake of an average Bangladeshi suggesting a real need to push for a more diversified diet that includes vegetables and animal protein if we are to address the significant under-nutrition problem that plagues the country.
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama pledged that the United States would work alongside people in developing nations to help their farms flourish. He followed up that pledge with a promise to commit at least $3.5 billion to food security assistance. With new funding and commitment from the highest levels of our government, we are now better equipped to help countries like Bangladesh in promoting new technologies and better practices for greater production of food, supporting value chains in order to connect farmers to markets, and making the important connection between producing food and eating well.
This forum marks the technical review of several papers and draft investment plan that together will form the basis of a national strategy and detailed investment plan for food security in Bangladesh. The government has been working with the NGO community, donors, private sector and rural communities to develop these priorities and the hard work shows. What’s exciting is to see how the government can lead this effort so that donors like USAID can align our programs against their priorities. There’s been a lot of talk about donor harmonization and alignment in the past, but this is real proof of that happening and an example of the new way USAID is doing business.
Still, we have a long way to go. Bangladesh and other countries have to develop actionable agriculture plans; the governments have to make real commitment to food security, which includes increasing domestic funding but also making tough policy decisions; and donors have to be willing to work together in a new way that we haven’t often done before. But when those things happen, I believe our collective efforts can lead to finding solutions to pressing problems like food insecurity.
This year marks the first time in human history where over 1 billion people on the planet suffer from chronic hunger. This is an urgent issue that Bangladesh is taking very seriously. I hope the global community and other nations will do so too.