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Ambassador Cindy McCain’s Remarks at the SDG16 Conference in Rome
April 21, 2022

The Conference was hosted by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) the International Development Law Organization,(IDLO) and the Government of Italy.

Rome, April 21

First of all, thank you to the Government of Italy, the International Development Law Organization, and the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs for inviting me to join this extremely impressive group of panelists.

President Biden has defined 2022 as a Year of Action for democracy, for combatting corruption, and for promoting respect for human rights.  This SDG16 Conference has an important contribution to make to our collective aspirations.

Today, if I can leave you with one message, it’s this:

Food security is fundamental to peace and prosperity, and the rule of law is key — in many different ways — to food security.

Food security means that all people, at all times, have access to enough food for a healthy, productive life.

Unfortunately, food insecurity is a daily challenge for hundreds of millions of people around the world.  Food insecurity undermines economic development, undermines educational outcomes, and undermines political stability.

In the extreme, food insecurity can lead to mass migration, conflict, and radicalism.

COVID-19, conflict, and climate change all put enormous strains on global food systems.  Now, Russia’s unprovoked and unjust aggression against Ukraine is making things much, much worse:

  • Food prices spiked to record highs in March, according to the FAO.
  • And prices could very well stay high for years. The FAO predicts that the next five growing seasons in Ukraine – a major exporter of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil – are already in grave danger.

My colleague, the Somalia Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, is better placed to share what skyrocketing food prices mean for his national budget, for social protection schemes, for individual families that already spend a large percentage of household income on food.

What I can say is that, on a global scale, the increased costs are causing World Food Program to be extremely worried about having to reduce operations, even as the needs are greater than ever.

And let’s not forget the 500 million small-scale producers around the world who face rapidly rising input costs.  They produce 30% of the world’s food, and up to 80% of the food in sub-Saharan Africa.  The world depends on these farmers, but they’re facing challenges that make it difficult to stay in business.

And so, first and foremost:  the ripple effects of Russia’s senseless war are far-reaching and catastrophic.  Only Russia can put an end to the suffering it continues to cause.

But as this crisis shines a light on global food security, we also have an important opportunity here to remind the world how strong food systems are at the heart of any thriving community.  Agriculture generates jobs, livelihoods, and prosperity. Successful agricultural communities are resilient.  They attract and sustain youth.  They inspire entrepreneurs.

I recently traveled to Kenya and Madagascar to see how the UN food agencies are working with host governments to make sure rural communities have the tools to not only survive, but thrive.

Those tools include access to markets, technology, and finance.  And here’s where IDLO and SDG16 come in — the rule of law and access to justice are both fundamental to success.  This means property rights and intellectual rights are secured.  This means equal access to public resources is granted. This means corruption is kept in check. And this means that there is accountability when things go wrong.

My Mission works directly with the UN food security agencies, to ensure the right processes are in place to promote transparency and inclusion.  We count on you to keep working with national and local authorities, to make sure they too have the right policies in place, plus the capacity to effectively implement those policies. 

 I’d like to end with a call for greater investment in the rule of law and access to justice.  That’s why we’re all here.  We know the eventual payoff dwarfs the initial costs.  And yet with COVID-19, and climate change, and now Russia’s unjustified aggression in Ukraine, competition for public resources is going to be stiff.

I look forward to the hearing from the remaining panelists, and welcome any questions or comments on food security, resilience, and peace.