Last night, together with USDA, we hosted our 10th annual Iftar—a tradition also reflected in the field as Missions host dinners in recognition of this important time. As President Obama has said, Ramadan is a chance to honor a faith known for its diversity and commitment to the dignity of all human beings. A faith deeply rooted in its commitment to caring for the less fortunate and reaching out to those in greatest need.
These are values that are reflected in the founding of our own nation, the vibrancy of our diverse national community, and in the work USAID does every day across the world.
Around this time last year, we were working together to respond to devastating drought in the Horn of Africa and address the urgent needs of 13.3 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. Although the worst of this particular crisis is over, we know that 1 billion people still go to bed hungry every night across the world. And we know that there are steps we can take right now to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and lay the foundation for a safer, more prosperous future.
That is the vision of Feed the Future, President Obama’s global food security initiative that brings together the expertise of a range of U.S. agencies. Today, we are:
- Bridging our long-standing commitment to humanitarian assistance and food aid with increased investment in agriculture, nutrition, and governance;
- Harnessing the power of science and technology to deliver transformational agricultural research, like drought and disease-resistant tolerant seeds;
- Supporting safety nets and innovative insurance programs that are the backbone of farming in the United States.
We are also working to dramatically increase private sector investment in agriculture—bringing companies, local smallholder farmers, and partner governments together to lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty and hunger in a decade. So far, more than 45 global and local companies have committed more than $4 billion—to expand seed production and distribution, establish small-scale irrigation systems, and source for food for global supply chains.
Our focus on strengthening food security isn’t just limited to Africa. In the Middle East, we’re working closely with smallholder famers to improve the efficiency of water and land use. This effort is especially critical in a region already classified as water scarce—which possesses less than one percent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources. At the same time, population growth rates in the region are averaging over 2 percent, increasing pressure and competition for resources.
Launched in 2010, the Middle East Water and Livelihoods Initiative works across eight countries to connect American universities and their local counterparts with the smallholder farmers who need that information the most, spurring joint research on important issues like desalination, irrigation, and energy with the ultimate goal of helping farmers grow more food with less water.
Challenges like water conservation and food security are immense, but we know that we are more than equal to the task if we harness the ingenuity, passion, and commitment across the world.
That’s the idea behind open source development. Development that doesn’t dictate answers, but paves the way by bringing the creativity of the entire global development community to bear on today’s problems.
By doing so, we not only overcome the greatest challenges of our time, we continue to lift up the values that are celebrated during the month of Ramadan—and that we carry with us every day in our work.