Media Center



July 29, 2008 - Washington, DC

Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for your hospitality and the warm welcome I have received today at OAS.  I am honored to join you, and Ambassadors Mendez and Alvarez and this distinguished group for the twenty-ninth lecture in the “Lecture Series of the Americas”.

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
No region in the world better tells the story of progress made against hunger than the Americas.

Today, when we look across the ethnically diverse, economically dynamic and culturally rich nations of the Americas, we see how years of innovative leadership have helped stem the tide of hunger and poverty. 

We look to countries like Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Ecuador and others as examples of developing nations who are leading the world toward achieving the first Millennium Development goal to halve the proportion of people living in extreme hunger and poverty by 2015. In the 1980s - just 2 decades ago - I spent much time in Central America, when the region was wracked with violence, retribution, failing economies and human desperation. Today, nations like El Salvador, stand as a beacon of hope of the power of reconciliation, democracy and leadership to heal a nation.

We look at innovative programs like Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” initiative which sets a bold and achievable goal of eradicating hunger.  President Lula has said, “where there is hunger there is no hope.”  Through the initiative’s Bolsa Familia – the Family Grant Program – young mothers from among the most vulnerable populations in Brazil receive cash for food for their families.  This program – thanks to President Lula’s vision and commitment – is providing hope to children and families across Brazil.

We see countries like Mexico who were once recipients of food aid, and are now donors, helping other nations in time of need.

And we see countries like the United States and Canada as models for the types of domestic safety net programs needed to fight hunger and secure nutrition among their citizens.  They are also providing important leadership in helping defeat hunger in the region.

There is also progress on the economic front. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, we see a fourth straight year of economic growth above 5 percent.  And throughout the region, we see countries with booming agricultural industries exporting food products worth some US$55 billion in 2006.

And we see democracy flourishing throughout the region. Amartya Sen has said: "No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy." And many nations are leading the way to ensure that democracy is not just about the political elite, and a chance to fill out a ballot, but is about hope and opportunity for each and every citizen, regardless of class, race or ethnic background. This and this alone will ensure that democracy takes full root in the minds and souls of our citizens and fulfills it promise as a bulwark against human suffering.

Where there was challenge, there is opportunity and now there is hope where there was none. These success stories are an inspiration for all that still can and must be achieved.

Today I would like to first address the global food crisis and its impact on the Americas, and then discuss why this crisis can be an opportunity for this hemisphere.

 And I will set forth the proposition that now is not the time to retreat, but the time for a bold commitment to eradicate hunger from the human experience. This is not only a moral and humanitarian cause, but a political and economic one as well. We now know irrefutably that undernutrition cripples not only individuals for life, but the GDP of nations. We must act now before the global food crisis creates a lost generation.

Today we find ourselves at a critical crossroads, with hunger again knocking on the door of the Americas.  Soaring food prices threaten to exacerbate the circumstances of the already vulnerable, and to turn back the clock on the progress made by those individuals and families who have achieved food security.

The impact of the global food crisis can perhaps best be understood in the story of this cup.  A simple, humble red cup. This one belonged to a school girl in Rwanda named Lillian. For many children like Lillian, this cup is their most precious possession. Each day in school, children like Lillian receive just one cup of porridge a day.  It is not enough, but for many it is the dividing line between desperation and hope. It is all they have. Here in the America's there are many Lillians.

Starting in June of 2007, something terrible started to happen to this red cup. Food prices began to rise - aggressively, unrelentingly. Between June of 2007, and July of 2007 this cup lost about 10 percent of its food, simply due to soaring prices. The next month another 10 percent. Then another. Then another. By January of 2008 - in just 6 short months up to half of the food in this cup had disappeared.

What were Lillian - and the more than one billion other citizens of the world living on less than $1 a day - to do?

Welcome to the global food crisis.

In a natural disaster, something hits - a hurricane, a tsunami, a mudslide, an earthquake - and hopes and dreams are wiped out in an instant.

This is a silent tsunami, traveling quietly around the globe hitting those who are most vulnerable hardest. It knows no borders. It has created perhaps the first globalized humanitarian crisis, adding an additional 130 million people to the ranks of the urgently hungry who were not there just 1 year ago.

The problem is that most do not know what has hit them. People are stunned, confused - and angry.

Without unified global action, the world’s bottom billion could become the world’s bottom two billion, as their purchasing power is cut in half from soaring food and fuel prices.

It is true that high global food prices do present an unprecedented opportunity for some populations and countries in the Americas.  In places where agriculture exports are high and food production is booming, farmers are benefiting from higher food prices. But for millions of poor, urban and rural populations, increased food prices are spelling disaster.

For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization has identified Haiti as the nation hit hardest in the world. For Haiti, prices have soared 80 percent, emptying this cup even more. Throughout the region, these price increases are  expected to push an additional 15 million into vulnerability and below the poverty line.

Last February, the US Department of Agriculture considered in a study that Latin America could bear the brunt of a food price shock. The food gap (the amount of food needed to raise consumption of all income groups to the recognized minimum) could rise 24 percent by 2016, compared to 8.7 percent in Asia and 6 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Beyond predictions, the effects are already being felt among the poor. A recent survey conducted by WFP in Central America showed that due to increased food prices, 4 out of 5 of the most vulnerable persons are reducing the quality, quantity and frequency of their food consumption - some living on half the nutrition of a year ago.

WFP estimates that in Guatemala and El Salvador, more than one million people have fallen into poverty and became food insecure due to this crisis. The President of El Salvador has called this a perfect storm for his nation.

Last year, tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City to protest the rising price of tortillas which had increased by more than 400 percent.

Even in the United States and Canada, food prices are soaring and food safety net programs such as food stamps and school feeding, face mushrooming demand and budgets.

This crisis knows no borders.

Of course, we are all consumers when it comes to food. Food is so basic to human survival that its denial is a denial of life itself. Some say there are only seven meals between civilization and anarchy – at the seventh meal lost, all begins to fall apart as people are reduced to fending for survival. Ensuring access to adequate, affordable food and nutrition is certainly one of the fundamental roles of government, and, indeed, of civilization itself.
The global food supply system is groaning under the strain of sky-rocketing demand, soaring cost of inputs, depleted stocks, crop loss due to drought, floods and severe weather, and increasing demand on the use of food for energy and other supplies.

News reports and images from deadly riots in Haiti, triggering the collapse of the government, and elsewhere throughout the globe, are stark reminders that food insecurity threatens not only the hungry but peace and stability itself.

I believe we may be entering a third phase of this crisis for the world’s most vulnerable nations.  During phase one, which started about four years ago, prices began a steady climb and national food and cash reserves were drawn down to all time lows.  Phase two began last June, when prices of food and fuel began the most aggressive global increases ever exhausted. For many nations and household, phase 2 has drained all cash and food reserves. We are now in phase three, facing what the World Bank predicts will be sustained high prices until 2012. In this phase, many nations and populations will need  external assistance to avoid wide-scale human suffering and ensure adequate and affordable access to food.

During this phase, WFP assessments show the most vulnerable populations are running out of coping strategies.  For those people living on less than US$2 a day, they have cut out health and education expenditures, and sold or eaten their livestock.  For those living on less than US$1 a day, they have cut out protein and vegetables from their diet. For those living on less than 50 cents a day, they have cut out who meals, and sometimes go days without meals. Phase three is characterized by a nutritional crisis, which requires critical action for groups such as children under two years old who will suffer the effects of deprivation for life.

Chronic undernutrition, resulting from poor fetal growth and stunting in the first two years of life, is a life sentence for 178 million children worldwide, because it causes irreversible damage.

Beyond the obvious humanitarian costs to child undernutrition there are economic and social costs as well.  Last year, together with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, WFP calculated the costs of undernutrition on health, education and productivity in Central America and the Dominican Republic. We found that in 2004 alone, hunger cost those economies $6.7 billion – or 6.4 percent of the region’s entire Gross Domestic Product. In Guatemala the cost is closer to 12 percent of GDP. Also in Guatemala, studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute – recently published in The Lancet series on maternal and child undernutrition – have found that children who get regular nutrition supplements under the age of two have twice the earning potential as adults, compared with those who receive no nutrition supplementation in those early formative years.

It is critical that we have a global, regional, national and provincial plans of action so we do not loose ground. 

I would like to first address WFP's role and then how we can act together.


The World Food Programme was created by the nations of the world as the world's urgent hunger institution.  When all else fails, you turn to us to prevent life-threatening food and nutrition vulnerability.

What you see here, are some slides of photos from our work throughout Latin America and the Caribbean during the past several decades in Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia and many other nations.

Today, WFP manages a global lifeline that can reach any corner of the world in 48 hours – as we did during the war in Lebanon, and after cyclones hit in Bangladesh and also in Myanmar, and following the earthquake in Peru –  and also now in response to the drought in the Horn of Africa. WFP uses thousands of planes, ships, helicopters, barges and, if needed, donkeys, camels and elephants. Our motto is: nothing comes between WFP and a hungry child. And we deliver not only food, but an array of life-saving goods for dozens of partners, including medicines for WHO, from our global network of Humanitarian Response Depots around the world. Our Humanitarian Air Service brings 400,000 humanitarian and development workers in and out of disaster zones each year – including 10,000 in and out of Darfur each month.

We are a model of efficiency and effectiveness, using only 7 percent of each dollar you provide us with for administrative overhead. WFP is in fact 100 percent voluntarily funded; receiving no core or assessed funds from any source. We are unique in the UN system in this.

WFP has been undergoing a transformation in how it does business; this is not your grandmother’s food aid.  When WFP was founded back in the early 1960s, it was a surplus food program with nations sharing their extra bounty with the world's hungry. Since then, we have seen a revolution in food aid.  Times have changed; there are no surpluses available globally and there is virtually no more dumping of surplus food that can distort local markets.

Now, more than half of our budget is based on cash, allowing us to purchase food from local farmers throughout the developing world. Last year, 80 percent of our cash for food was spent in 69 different developing nations like Colombia, Honduras and Nicaragua, helping break the cycle of hunger at its root.  Last year, for our programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, we purchased 92 percent of our food needs locally or regionally.  In Ecuador alone, we purchased more than US$51 million worth of food – placing it third globally among the nations where we purchased food.

I have mentioned the importance of fortified foods, and importantly, we use our local purchase programme to not only increase the quantity but the quality of food through fortification of locally purchased food with essential vitamins and minerals to help tackle micronutrient malnutrition. 

For example, in Guatemala, WFP is developing with the Government, FAO and small farmers, a certified local maize program to serve the national supplementary feeding program for children. The resulting fortified blended food (maize/soya) named VITACEREAL increasingly uses certified maize purchased from small farmers by the local industry. This is a sustainable model that can be replicated, improving the technical capacity, employment creation and income of small farmers, while strengthening the links between those and the industrial producers.

The food we buy locally is used for emergency interventions as well as for safety net programs, such as school feeding.  In fact, school feeding is a key component in the Secretary General's joint UN plan of action to deal with the impact of the food crisis on the most vulnerable populations.

Cash contributions enable us to purchase food locally from smallholder farmers, who are among the most food insecure and who are most often women, helping them to help themselves as well as hungry kids in local schools – this is a win-win situation. The Howard Buffett Foundation  has provided more than US$3.5 million to launch innovative local purchase programs in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  Just a few months ago Canada - one of the top donors to WFP - announced it was immediately untying all its aid, so WFP could purchase the food from developing world farmers. The U.S. administration had valiantly pushed for up to 25 percent of U.S. food assistance to be cash - and while falling short of that goal, has received authority from Congress for a major local purchase pilot.

In all of our operations, WFP asks how we can use food assistance to not only meet critical emergency needs, but, whenever possible, to ensure urgent hunger interventions are targeted to help strengthen local food security and local markets and solutions on a more lasting basis. We have transformed WFP’s toolbox of hunger responses in order to be more nuanced in protecting local markets while addressing urgent hunger and nutrition needs.

These responses range from bringing in commodities when necessary – such as in Darfur – and where there is not enough extra local food to purchase; to local purchase like in the DRC where there was no food on the shelves but food on the farms and WFP helped get the food to the people through our local purchases; to targeted food vouchers as we have done in Pakistan; or cash as we did in Sri Lanka following the tsunami.

We also respond with food for work and assets, which can help build local capacity in food security systems and infrastructure. In exchange for life-saving food, WFP has helped train local populations and, over the past four decades, we have planted more than five billion trees in the developing world, helping stabilize ground soil together with experts from FAO; have de-mined and built tens of thousands of kilometers of vital feeder roads, including over the past few years reopening more than 10,000 kilometers of roads in DRC, Angola and Southern Sudan.

And we have upgraded our needs assessments and vulnerability analysis – which we conduct for the global system – to include local market conditions.

This is all part of what I call WFP’s 80-80-80 solution: today 80 percent of WFP's cash for food, and also for land transport, is spent locally and 80 percent of WFP's staff is locally hired. This helps build enduring local capacity and knowledge about food security. We are deep into the rural economies, helping improve desperately needed local infrastructure.

This year, WFP will assist some 90 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in some 80 countries. In Latin America and the Caribbean region, we will provide critical assistance to some 5.5 million people. Our goal is sustainable solutions, and all sustainable solutions require meaningful and deep partnerships between government, civil society and the private sector.

WFP works in partnership with governments to build early warning and food safety nets systems that move the region from the emergency zone to sustainable solutions. In addition, we also partner with  community organizations and private sector partners to deliver life-saving assistance.

In both 2006 and 2007, WFP partnered in Latin America with more than 1,000 NGOs (34 international and 1,036 community based ). In Colombia alone, we partnered with just more than 800 NGOs. World Vision International, Accion Contra el Hambre, and Plan International are among our biggest NGO partners in the region. 

 We are proud to count on local partners such as Supermercados Exito in Colombia and Antamina in Peru, helping use reach vulnerable people in these countries. For six straight years, our staff in Honduras have worked with the Government and local companies to air a non-stop 12 hour broadcasted telethon that last year generated more than US$500,000 to support local school feeding programs.

And our global humanitarian partners like YUM Brands, TNT and Unilever are helping us in Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia; and promising partners such as SAP have also started committing resources to the region.

We want to continue building on these core partnerships and would like to strengthen our links and collaboration with organizations such as the OAS to better prepare and respond to emergencies in the region.

In fact, an important part of WFP’s regional work is responding to recurrent natural disasters. It is estimated that a total of 6.7 million people, most of them poor, were affected by natural disasters in 2007 in the region alone. 

In 2007, WFP provided food to some 1.2 million people affected by natural disaster in the region.  In Nicaragua and Dominican Republic, for instance, WFP is helping 120,000 people recover from hurricanes of last year.  We also quickly mobilized to address the emergencies resulting from tropical storms Noel and Olga that struck the Dominican Republic.

Two years ago, WFP fostered the creation of the Latin American and Caribbean Emergency Response Network (LACERN) to assist the governments with immediate and cost-effective delivery of pre-positioned emergency ready-to-eat rations and emergency equipment from three different hubs in the region. This network was used following the massive floods in the Mexican State of Tabasco.

We are also working closely with governments to help them assess the increasing needs and vulnerability at the local and household level while helping them to build capacity to respond to crises.

Our Vulnerability Analysis & Mapping Unit has developed a set of tools to help governments to target specific geographical areas and populations based on the available nutritional information in the region.

In addition to our critical work on disaster relief, preparedness and mitigation, our safety net programs like school feeding provide an important platform to reach hungry children and families. 

Each year, WFP provides school meals for 20 million children throughout the developing world – 5.2 million of whom are in the Latin American region. 

 Have you ever tried to concentrate on a task while your stomach is growling? A meal during the school day gives them the nutrition, energy and concentration to learn and to grow. Food also attracts children to school and encourages parents to send them there.  This year Brazil became a world wide donor to WFP's effort to identify best practices in school feeding.

School feeding is the most powerful and affordable human rights programs for girls I know of. Globally, half of the schoolchildren we feed are girls, many of whom also get a take-home ration as an incentive to attend school.  If a school meal or take-home ration is provided, it means parents who would never allow their girls to go to school, do.  In WFP assisted schools, absolute enrolment increased by 28 percent for girls and by 22 percent for boys in the first year of assistance.

School feeding also helps improve health and nutrition of students by providing needed micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – to allow students to learn, function and develop to their potential. 

In the U.S. – school feeding has been a flagship child nutrition program for more than half a century. Vital safety net programs like school feeding are flourishing in countries throughout the region including in Chile where school feeding has been mandatory for targeted recipients since the 1950s. Today, Chile’s national school feeding program feeds 1.2 million students each day with meals provided by local food companies.

Within the past four decades, 28 countries have graduated from WFP school feeding programmes, and most are now providing the programme on their own. In 2004, the Latin American School Feeding Network (LARAE) was founded – and is an important WFP partner – to serve as the regional network to expand and improve school feeding in Latin America and the Caribbean – helping build local capacity for this important program.

How does the world turn this crisis into an opportunity? How do we eradicate hunger from the human experience once and for all?
As Brazilian President Lula da Silva said at the United Nations General Assembly 5 years ago: "The eradication of hunger in the world is a moral and political imperative. And we all know that it is possible. What is truly required is political will."
As the U.N. Secretary General has said, our first priority must be to feed the hungry, and then to grow food for tomorrow.
Food security does not come automatically, even with robust economic growth. It requires specific strategies, tailor made for each country's vulnerabilities. For example, I estimate that up to half of global hunger is an infrastructure and market breakdown problem. Village A has produced food, but has no way to effectively reach markets. Village B does not have enough food. WFP has worked with nations like El Salvador to ensure such gaps are covered.
In addition, most nations find that food safety nets are a critical part of a successful economy. Even a rich, food abundant country like the United States has found it necessary to enact school feeding programs and targeted food vouchers for the poor. The key here is systems to carefully target the most vulnerable and to ensure effective and efficient delivery of the food. Here also WFP is partnering with some nations in the region to ensure cost effective results.
On the medium and long term, we must help farmers in the region not only grow enough food for their families, but to  take advantage of high prices and global demand to break the cycle of poverty and hunger once and for all. This can be a powerful step forward: up to half of WFP's recipients are poor farmers who simply cannot raise enough food for their own families. The world knows what to do to boost production - and organizations from FAO to the IADB under the fantastic leadership of Louis Alberto Moreno and  ECLAC stand ready to help. The food crisis of the early 1970's was a trigger for the massive investment in and development of Brazil and Argentina's potential. The world needs to produce twice as much food by 2050. Which nations are poised to seize the opportunity present in this food crisis?
In addition, we must make our interventions smarter on the nutrition front. Science and technology now allow us to produce power packed food at an affordable cost, such as this date bar for school feeding in Egypt, or this sweet paste we developed in India for small children. This paste developed by a French company - Plumpy Nut - is being used in Haiti and elsewhere by UNICEF the help children who have slipped into life-threatening malnutrition. What a products can be developed here, like VITA-MIX, that will revolutionize the nutritional base of the Americas?
All these practical steps are within our collective reach. How reachable? I asked WFP to calculate one portion: what would it cost for the world to say "no child on earth goes to school hungry." Under our cost structures it would take $3 billion - out of a global economy of 40 trillion - to eradicate hunger among school children. This is the cost of less than a week at war.
We can do this. We have the know how. The partnerships. Even the long term market demand. and with climate change confronting us, we have the need to prepare a more food secure planet.
We are only confronted with President Lula's challenge: do we have the political will. We owe it to our children to do so.

For WFP, as we move forward in responding to increasing needs from the global food crisis and new emergencies – both in the region and throughout the world – we need robust and rapid engagement from countries and donors on five crucial fronts:
First, we need your help in meeting the immediate hunger needs and avoid breaks in the life-saving humanitarian pipelines, to enable WFP and partners to help governments and vulnerable populations cope with the food crisis now and to bring about calm and stability.

WFP now has half of what we need to meet our voluntary funded programme of work for 2008; a further US$3 billion is needed for the rest of the year. I am calling on all nations to double your commitments to WFP to help us urgently respond to the expanding crisis as an additional 130 million people are joining the ranks of the hungry. 

In Latin America alone, some further US$60 million in voluntary funding is needed to fully fund our current programmes in the region this year.

Second, we must work with governments to scale-up safety net programmes, such as school feeding, mother-child health and nutrition programmes and food-for-work activities.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the establishment of social safety nets has been a key catalyst for the economic growth of recent years. These same networks contain the fundamental pillars that today may become the first line of defense to protect the most vulnerable against the rising cost of food and its negative impact on child nutrition.

Despite the fact that the region produces sufficient food to feed its population, some 9 million children under five (16 percent) suffer from chronic undernutrition – a figure that increases to more than 70 percent among some indigenous populations. The sad reality is made even more dramatic by the fact that a child in Latin America dies from hunger related causes every 91 seconds.

Anaemia affects up to two thirds of children under five in the region; more than 80 percent of children under two in some high burdened countries such as Bolivia and Haiti are seriously affected.
In the region – and globally – priority must be given to food security focusing on nutritional interventions aimed to protect poor pregnant and lactating women and young children, especially those aged 0 to 24 months.

In Peru we are working with the Government and the NGO Alternativa – we use targeted nutritional interventions that have helped reduce undernutrition by half, from 10.2 percent to 5.7 percent in the two years since the project’s launch. The prevalence of anaemia has also dropped from 60 percent to 18.4 percent.

Third, we need nations’ help in securing predictable and sufficient access to emergency food assistance, and help to follow up the G8 call for countries with surpluses to make available humanitarian food in times of need. 

Fourth, we call on all governments let us purchase food for humanitarian purposes, exempt these food purchases from export restrictions and extraordinary export taxes, and permit unhindered and safe movement of humanitarian food within and across borders.

Finally, in an effort to address the medium to long-term responses, the world must invest in agriculture, including small-holder agriculture, today so we have enough food tomorrow. This crisis is showing us that there are also opportunities for poor farmers in Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

At the United Nations Millennium Summit of world leaders in 2000, the international community committed in the first Millennium Development Goal to cut the proportion of hungry in the world in half by 2015. A number of nations are on track to reach that goal such as Ghana, Malawi and others. Until the food crisis hit however, this was the forgotten MDG. We must not forget.

I believe that increased demand should create opportunities. This “perfect storm” has dramatically raised awareness that food cannot and must not be taken for granted. The world has also awakened to the fact that the food supply chain – from imports, to planting, to harvesting, to processing, to storage and delivery, and all the supporting market structures, from access to credit, risk mitigation, commodity exchanges, crop surveys, and water access – are all vital to world stability and prosperity. 
If national governments and the international community act now in support of targeted interventions, Latin America and the Caribbean could be the first region not only to avoid the current crisis, but also to achieve the hunger target of the first Millennium Development Goal by 2015.
Defeating hunger is achievable. Lets make true the words of the poet Gabriela Mistral when she said “El hambre es el ayer” (Hunger is yesterday).
I thank you for working with us to do so.
WFP is working with partners such as GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition), DSM (one of the largest producers of vitamins and minerals), WHO, UNICEF, and MSF to develop and gain experience with the use of new commodities that provide specific nutrients to targeted groups.

This includes the use of ready-to-use foods for young children, particularly those aged 6 to 17 months, to supply much needed vitamins, minerals as well as essential amino and fatty acids.

Working with our partners, WFP is expanding local fortification of foods such as flours, oil and salt as well as home-fortification, using micronutrient powder or Sprinkles, of food for specific target groups.
Beyond the challenges of ensuring the nutritional quality of food, for import-dependent nations the challenge is quantity, and being able to provide enough affordable food for their citizens.  The challenge is even more dramatic when soaring food and fuel prices combine with an additional shock such as drought as we are now seeing in the Horn of Africa region, or severe weather in Bangladesh or Myanmar, or the floods and destruction left in Central America due to heavy rains and hurricanes.

For the World Food Programme, the dramatic escalation in global food and fuel prices has added urgency to our efforts to deliver life-saving assistance to tens of millions of the world’s most vulnerable.