December 8, 2023

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Roundtable on Food Security and the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Roundtable on Food Security and the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first of all, hello and thank you, thank you, thank you all for being here.  And more important, thank you for what you’re doing every day to quite literally feed the world.

We – and everyone at this table knows this better than anyone – we have a couple of major challenges on our hands that we are determined to make a difference on.  One is we have growing food insecurity around the world.  We have a combination of climate change, COVID in recent years, and now conflict driving that food insecurity, which in turn is driving more conflict, forced migration, stunting growth both physical and economic.  And at the same time, the flip side of the coin is that increasingly we see food being used as a weapon of war.  And so for us it was important to use the presidency that we have this month of the Security Council to try to put more light on that, but not just put a light on it, actually offer some practical solutions.

In the near term, obviously, the – one of the biggest challenges we have with weaponizing food is what’s happening in Ukraine, with what Russia’s doing, and I spoke about that at length today.  I’ll simply say that the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which never should have been necessary in the first place – it was only necessary because Russia invaded Ukraine, then blockaded its ports – but nonetheless, when that initiative was in effect, some 30 million tons of grain got out of Ukraine and into world markets.  Two-thirds of the wheat was going to the developing world, the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread.

And since Russia has decided to tear up that agreement, we’ve seen prices go up for everyone, and at the same time Russia has chosen not only to have torn up the agreement but to actually attack grain silos, production facilities, and threaten ports and sea lanes.  So there’s a clear demand signal from around the world that this get reversed and that Russia restore the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

But what I also and mostly wanted to focus on with all of you is this:  We also know that even as we have urgent challenges in so many parts of the world that we have to respond to – and we are – we also have the medium- and long-term challenge.  If the world’s population is going to hit 10 billion people by 2050 and demand for food is going to go up by 50 percent but yields are actually going down, we have a fundamental problem, a fundamental challenge.  We have been working to try to address that.

One of the things that I’m most excited about – and Cary Fowler, one of the leading experts in the world, known to all of you, happily has been with us now at the State Department for the last couple of years – we have an initiative that I hope can make a real difference that really focuses on crops and soil.  And there, I think as you all know better than anyone, we have the capacity to produce seeds that are both more resilient to all of the different aspects of climate change – whether it’s extreme heat, whether it’s droughts, whether it’s floods – and that could also be more nutritious and respond to what people like to cultivate on a traditional basis.

And at the same time, we now have a greater ability than ever before to map the quality of soil around the world, figure out where it’s productive and where it’s not and then to do something about it.  If you put these things together, if you really put together the seeds and the soil, you can have a dramatic impact, we think, on long-term productive capacity and sustainability that would really address the needs of people around the world.

I say all that speaking to folks who are really among the vanguard of dealing with innovation, who are on the frontlines of food every single day, and we’re really here to listen and learn from them.  So I’m grateful to each and every one of you for being here, and not only to look at what the opportunities may be for building greater food security, building greater resilience, but also how we can partner more effectively with the private sector and what the U.S. Government and other governments can do to have a greater impact going forward.

I’d just conclude by saying about 80 percent of what we consume is plant-based.  So if we can get that right, we can make a huge, huge difference, and part of the reason that we’re engaged in this and I’m engaged in this in this job, which may seem a little unusual to some, is of course because it’s profoundly a question of doing right for humanity.  As President Biden has said, if parents can’t put food on the table for their kids, nothing else really matters.  But it’s also a matter of national security and economic security, because we know the knock-on effects of profound food insecurity.

So all of that said, thank you, each and every one of you, for being here, and I’m really eager to hear from you.  Thanks.

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