Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan at 37th FAO Conference

Mr. Chairman, Director-General, distinguished colleagues:

It is an honor and a pleasure to join my colleagues from all over the world at this 37th Conference of the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I am pleased to join others in welcoming the Director General-elect José Graziano da Silva. The United States looks forward to working with the Director General-elect in continuing to ensure that the FAO remains an important partner in combating world hunger. We are confident that Dr. Graziano da Silva will complete the ongoing reform process and continue to focus on the important normative work of FAO to ensure that FAO is a strong, vibrant organization.

I would also like to say a few words about Director General Jacques Diouf, who helped usher in a process of renewal and reform that is transforming the UN’s largest specialized agency into a more dynamic, responsive and accountable organization. The United States thanks Dr. Diouf for his hard work and dedication during his 18 years as Director General. The reforms he helped begin are now more important than ever as global food prices continue to rise and the FAO itself is faced with a leaner budget environment.

Finally, I want to thank departing Deputy Director General He for his dedicated service to FAO and wish him the best in the future. Many years ago, Mr. He helped guide me during an expert consultancy here at FAO, and I shall never forget his kindness and wisdom.

The 2010-11 State of Food and Agriculture report, titled “Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development,” touches on issues of great importance to the United States. Distinguished colleagues – it may interest you to know that young women represent one of the fastest growing demographics in U.S. agriculture. Women play a critical role throughout the food chain, from farming to marketing to planning nutritious meals for their families.

Across the globe, closing the gender gap in agriculture would greatly benefit not only the agriculture sector, but society as a whole. If women had the same access to knowledge and resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by as much as 30 percent. Production gains of this magnitude could reduce hunger for as many as 150 million people and lower malnourishment by up to 17 percent. Women play a key role in reducing hunger and poverty and we applaud the global community’s efforts to close the gender gap in agriculture.

As the State of Food and Agriculture report points out, if we are to succeed in empowering women in agriculture, we must deepen our understanding about the impact of gender, particularly through data collection and analysis.

As part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, we are measuring the impact our programs have in correcting gender inequities. We are investing in statistical institutions in partner nations to build local capacity in data and research, and facilitate the collection of sex-disaggregated data to increase our understanding of gender disparities and to measure our progress. We are also developing the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, which will measure how successful we are at improving women’s access to credit, land and their access to leadership roles. This Index is one critical piece that helps us develop a robust learning agenda, share knowledge, and use a new tool to create transformational change. Yesterday, we joined with Minister Agnes Kalibata, Minister Gloria Abraham Peralta, Deputy Director General Tutwiler and others at a side event to highlight such programs and their impacts. The United States looks forward to working with countries and other partners to ensure that gender-sensitive indicators and results are the norm, rather than the exception.

Several days ago, at the G20 Summit of Agricultural Ministers, Secretary Vilsack discussed the importance of continued innovation from our scientists and farmers to confront the combined challenges of feeding a growing global population, mitigating the effects of climate change, and meeting increasing energy demands. Secretary Vilsack also addressed the importance of maintaining open, transparent markets for trading food and agricultural goods. A stable, predictable, distortion free and transparent system for trade allows the unrestricted flow of food and agricultural commodities. Access to correct and transparent market and pricing information reduces volatility and price spikes and improves food security. As the foremost technical organization in agriculture, the FAO is a critical partner in this effort.

The United States recognizes the critical role of international organizations in the global effort to address food security. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the FAO. We continue to make additional, substantial voluntary contributions for various projects in addition to our assessed contributions. However, like many other nations, we are facing serious budget pressures at home and will be making difficult choices in the coming months.

That is why the United States continues to urge maximum discipline and transparency in United Nations programs and budgets. As a member state, it is our responsibility to ensure that FAO funds are spent in a manner that produces the greatest level of global food security. We, the member states and the Secretariat, must renew our commitment to work cooperatively under the new results-based operating paradigm to achieve our collective vision of a world free from hunger and malnutrition. These difficult economic times do not make reaching this goal any easier for us. But reminding ourselves that we are all aiming for the same goal should allow us to address program and budgets issues to find the most successful way forward.

We urge FAO, the Director General-elect, and the talented staff at the FAO to conclude the IPA (Immediate Plan of Action) implementation within the next two years, as agreed by this membership. We hope that a dynamic spirit of renewal will remain a permanent fixture at FAO.

Just as the United States remains committed to the reform process, we also remain committed to cooperating with FAO at the technical level. It is important that FAO leverage its resources in order to maximize the impact of its activities. Setting priorities is essential, and we encourage management and members to focus on areas where FAO’s comparative advantages are greatest. FAO must refocus on its core mission — seeking to produce demonstrable results such as the eradication of Rinderpest.

This is a pivotal time in FAO’s history, one that presents FAO stakeholders with a unique opportunity to truly make a difference. We, the United States delegation, urge you to join with us in recommitting ourselves to the important work done by FAO, and to our efforts to ensure that the FAO performs in a manner that earns global respect, and, most importantly, achieves our goal of reducing hunger and fostering sustainability and food security for all people the world over.