Remarks by David J. Lane U.S. Ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Organizations in Rome, Press Conference, Blantyre, Malawi

Thank you all for joining Ambassador Jeanine Jackson, World Food Programme Deputy Director Baton Osmani, and USAID Mission Director Douglass Arbuckle and me today.  As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you.  In my position, I am one of President Obama’s representatives promoting food security and agricultural development throughout the world. This is the last day of my three-day visit to Malawi to meet with smallholder farmers in rural communities and observe how the U.S. Government, the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies and the Government of Malawi are working together to improve food security and promote agricultural development in your country.

It’s an exciting time to be focused on food security and an exciting time to be in Malawi, because both President Banda and U.S. President Obama have made food security a top priority.  I am pleased that Malawi is a partner in the U.S. Government’s key food security initiative, Feed the Future.  And I believe this is the perfect time to make progress, as we know more about what works in agriculture than we ever have.

Some of the most important themes that have arisen throughout the visit include the critical role of leadership of the government of  Malawi in supporting on-going agricultural development and emergency response.  Just as important is that the local communities take the lead in determining what will work in their own communities, and in taking ownership of the processes.  We have also seen that the best projects are those in which the goals of the government of Malawi , the U.S. government, and the international community are in alignment.

Over the past three days, we have visited a variety of sites sponsored by the United States Government through our Feed the Future Initiative; the United States Agency for International Development, commonly known as USAID; the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); the World Food Programme (WFP); and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

This trip has been particularly important, because I have been accompanied by nine journalists.  Two are from Europe—one from France and one from Italy, three are from Malawi, with the other four representing Ghana, Niger, Tanzania and Uganda. The U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, Jeanine Jackson, Baton Osmani, Deputy Director of the World Food Programme, and USAID Mission Director Douglass Arbuckle also accompanied me, and shared their insights into both the challenges that Malawi faces and the progress that Malawi is making toward achieving food security.

Some of the programs that we viewed in Malawi are designed to assist people who are suffering from the drought that the country has recently experienced.  It is clear that many people, particularly here in the south, need assistance, but the response is encouraging. In addition to providing technical support, USAID is contributing 20 million dollars in assistance, while the World Food Program with the Government of Malawi is on target to serve the nearly 2 million who are currently vulnerable.

We viewed one example of  the work of the Government of Malawi with WFP, USAID,  and UNICEF support at Mangochi Hospital.  Medical personnel at this site identify children who are suffering from malnutrition and assist them through a variety of interventions, such as providing special fortified foods.  In the drought impacted south, we also witnessed a food distribution consisting of Government of Malawi provided cereals, US fortified vegetable oil and beans that were purchased locally with US contributions.

The Government of Malawi is also very involved in responding to the challenges caused by adverse weather conditions. It authorized the release of 75,000 Metric Tons of cereals from its strategic reserves to be used in the drought response. The government tackled this food insecurity crisis early, swiftly, collaboratively and honestly.

Even more importantly, past and ongoing development and humanitarian programs have prepared people to better respond to the current drought and have built the foundation for increased resilience, both in terms of government leadership and community capacity.

As an example, Participants in Milumbe Village’s Wellness Agriculture for Life Advancement project, which is sponsored by USAID, showed off new planting techniques and a truly impressive irrigation system that they have developed under the USAID’s Food for Peace program.  The original hope was to produce two crops per year, which matches a national goal of president Banda, but they have surpassed that goal, and are now harvesting three crops per year.  Walking through the village, the prosperity that they have achieved was clear, even in this difficult year of drought.

Each of these programs also highlights the value of innovation.  And we saw even more examples of innovative approaches being used by both the international community and local farmers to achieve food security with promising results.  An inspiring example was Tidi Village whose smallholder farmers are members of the National Association of Small Holder Farmers  (NAFSAM) which was founded 15 years ago by USAID.  Members now make 4 times the annual income of an average farmer. This has been accomplished through increased access to markets, crop diversification, training on agricultural practices and increased economies of scale. As the head farmer showed us her successful small dairy farm, NAFSAM Policy Director, Beatrice Makwende said,  “The future belongs to the organized.”  I must agree with that wise and accurate statement.

Another example was  the Ching’omba Home Grown School Meals Program that we visited.  It feeds children in need, but takes the effort one step further by building the capacity of the community to feed itself in the future. By guaranteeing that the school meals are nutritionally balanced and buying the foods from nearby farmers’ organizations, WFP and the FAO support the local farmers’ efforts to diversify their crops and develop marketing skills.

And not only individuals and communities are accepting responsibility for agricultural development.  The Government of Malawi is showing increasing leadership and ownership of development and humanitarian assistance programs including greater alignment of donor and UN initiatives with government strategies.

Yet, it is apparent that increasing crop yields is important but by itself will not bring sustained prosperity for farmers.  Innovation is needed in all steps of the farm to market process.  The KASO Farmers’ Association decided that their success was limited by their inability to store their crops safely until they were ready to sell them. With the help of  FAO, they have built a better grain warehouse and overcome this challenge.

Another requirement for prosperity is that farmers receive fair prices for their crops when they do sell them. At the USAID-supported Agricultural Commodity Exchange in Karengo, farmer cooperative members receive food prices on their cell phones, and with that information are able to drive better bargains when they sell their products.

These are just a few of the exciting and innovative programs we have seen that give me confidence in the future of Malawi’s agricultural development.

I’d like to close by saying that donor investment, government commitment and the hard work of farmers and communities are showing results.  I saw communities and households who have higher incomes and better food security, and are better prepared to deal with droughts and other crises.   The next challenge will be to share these great examples and ideas, so that the innovations can be taken to a larger scale, and Malawi and its smallholder farmers can achieve food security and a higher standard of living.