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CDA Rodney Hunter’s Introductory Remarks at World Soil Day Celebration: “Soil and Water: A Source of Life” 
December 5, 2023

CDA Rodney Hunter’s As Delivered Introductory Remarks to

World Soil Day Celebration: “Soil and Water: A Source of Life”

FAO – Sheikh Zayed Centre

Tuesday, December 5, 2023 

Thank you, DDG Semedo. Thank you, Director General Qu, for inviting me today to celebrate World Soil Day 2023 and to speak, it’s always an honor to share the stage with you. 

I was so pleased, I was watching on the screen there as we were getting started, and people from it seems literally every country in the world are participating today. And it is so exciting to see such interest in something that is this important.

Everyone in this room is, I am sure, keenly aware of the challenges that are facing us, as we look to the future need to feed a rapidly growing population.  

We will have to increase global food production by 50 percent between now and 2050, and we will have to do so in the face of limited resources, prolonged droughts, wildfires, and catastrophic storms caused by climate change, all of which we know could reduce crop yields by as much as 30 percent while we need to be increasing them.   

It is clear to us that the application of science, technology, and innovation is what will allow us to feed everyone in the future. That is the DG reminded us just a few minutes ago, doesn’t it all start with soil and water?  Soil is our life support system.  Healthy soils are essential for healthy plants, good human nutrition, and water filtration.  Soil helps regulate climate.  Soil stores more carbon than all our forests. 

Water filtering down through soils is what both plants and soil organisms need to survive. Soil water contains the nutrients that plants need to thrive.  The theme of today’s celebration puts this into plain language – “Soil and Water: A Source of Life.”   

Sustainable soil and water management have always been a core part of our international agricultural development programs under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.  Feed the Future, as most of you know, works with partner countries to develop their agricultural sectors to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. 

With hunger on the rise, due in large part to climate change and armed conflict, we are increasing our already significant efforts to stop hunger and alleviate poverty – with a special focus on the importance of soil to the global food supply. 

The U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security, Dr. Cary Fowler has, in fact, made soil – as well as climate-resilient crops – the focus of his mandate as Special Envoy through the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or VACS Program. 

As part of the Feed the Future initiative, VACS was launched in February as a joint project of the United States, the African Union, and FAO.  

In July 2023, the United States committed 100 million dollars to VACS: 30 million dollars to adapt crops, and 70 million dollars to enhance the health of soil, through USAID crop and soil initiatives.  We have undertaken a public-private partnership to develop an initial research agenda focused on African food crops. Working through the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) we have also established a new multi-donor funding platform to help finance those better seeds and soils.   

And I am excited to let you know that on December 1, at COP 28, just a few days ago, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced a further U.S. contribution to VACS of 50 million dollars to the VACS pillar under IFAD’s Rural Resilience Program.  

At the same time, we’re investing below ground: mapping, conserving, building healthy soils – because as we know, poor soils do not produce rich harvests.  

In 2022 the U.S. Congress approved two packages of supplemental funding to alleviate the strain placed on global food systems by Russia’s war against Ukraine.           

20 million dollars of this funding was awarded to FAO for targeted soil mapping work in Guatemala, Honduras, and Zambia through FAO’s SoilFER project.   

At a time when prices are soaring, fertilizer is an input that farmers cannot afford to waste.  The SoilFER project addresses this challenge by focusing on soil mapping, which will provide farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to make informed decisions about fertilizer use and soil management.

Soil mapping helps farmers identify nutrient deficiencies in their soil, allowing for more efficient use of fertilizer, water, and other resources. And at the side event of the Global Soils Partnership in July here at FAO, I was pleased to hear from focal points from Guatemala, Honduras and Zambia about the initial results of their prospective missions to identify the needs they must address to improve soil management in their countries. So far, it’s been a success.  

So, I am very excited to announce today for the first time that an additional 10 million dollars of funding for FAO SoilFER soil mapping fertility projects will be going to Ghana and Kenya.  We expect this funding to strengthen smallholder agricultural practices by enhancing soil fertility, providing technical assistance for farmers, supporting climate-smart agricultural practices, fertilizer use efficiency, soil health and use of resilient crops. Everything we have been talking about.

We are so thrilled to be collaborating with FAO on what we see as the game-changing possibilities of the VACS initiative, and the possibilities offered by SoilFER.  

We can face the challenges ahead by working together, leveraging our respective strengths and expertise to create healthier and more productive soils, and as a consequence, more productive, sustainable, and resilient agri-food systems. 

Better soil and water management will prepare us for the long run and allow for more abundant and sustainable production of the nutritious food we all need to feed a world where no person will go hungry.  

Thank you.