Opening Remarks To The Executive Board

Delivered on: 03 November 2011


Executive Director Josette Sheeran
Opening Remarks to the Executive Board
14 November 2011
Rome, Italy


J. Sheeran, Executive Director: Thank you Ambassador Sebastiani for those moving remarks by the President of Italy. We are going to begin this morning with a brief video entitled “Building our Future on Fifty Years”.

His Excellency Genády Gatílov, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Dr Michel Chancy, Secretary of State for Agriculture of Haiti, Mr Claus Sorensen, Director-General of ECHO, European Commission, Ms. Elisabetta Belloni, Director-General for International Development of Italy, Ms Leslie Norton, Director-General of International Humanitarian Assistance, Director of CIDA in Canada and the Deputy President of IFAD, Yukiko Imura, Mr Francesco Moza Zapetero, Director-General for the Agency of International Development Cooperation of Spain, distinguished Board Members, members of the World Food Programme and Ladies and Gentlemen, fifty years ago this month and the decades following the wars that left much of Europe and Asia battling the spectre of hunger and starvation, the world united to establish the World Food Programme. From the starvation stalking citizens of a war-torn Europe after World War II to the devastation of the Korean War, nations concluded that hunger was “more destructive than armies” and that bilateral efforts to fight such devastation needed to be led by a multilateral organization capable of action at scale and with the imperator of the United Nations. The understanding had grown that peace could not be built on empty stomachs. Hunger indeed is a formidable foe, even today in a world with enough food to feed everyone. Its challenge to humanity is relentless, its call to our compassion unequalled.

As we gather today perhaps the most challenging time for the world’s hungry in decades, a perfect storm of volatility, extreme weather, climatic changes, financial contraction, rising prices and, in some areas, conflict and instability, continue to challenge our shared hope of ending hunger. If anything is to be learned from the recent uprisings across the world, it is that the needs of people cannot be ignored. Again, the cry to end hunger and malnutrition is loud and clear and the understanding of its importance in unlocking the doors to sustain development, education and economic growth is even clearer. And so today the words of George Marshall are as relevant as ever: “hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace”.

This was the spirit that compelled the world at FAO in November 1961 and at the United Nations General Assembly in December 1961 to give birth to the World Food Programme. WFP represents at its core a determination by the world to stand in solidarity against this ancient foe. There is much we must honour in these fifty years and we must be brutally honest. There are lessons to be learned and much left to be done.

We must also recognize the compelling need to redouble our efforts and ensure we honour the sacred trust placed in us as custodians of this great institution to deploy our mission with the greatest effectiveness and efficiency possible. We must ensure that in saving lives and livelihoods we are empowering those trapped in hunger with a hand up in addition to when needed life-saving handout that can break the cycle of hunger at its roots.

This anniversary is our opportunity to honour the courage and sacrifice of the humanitarian heroes who have saved and changed the lives of billions over these past fifty years. Many are here in this room. Many are listening from around the world and many more thousands are, as we gather, on the frontlines often in danger, usually far from their loved ones. Most importantly, we must honour our slain heroes and the family and friends they have left behind.

WFP’s massive logistics operations nurtured and supported by all of you can deliver life saving assistance at lightning speed, not only for our own operations but often, on behalf of the whole humanitarian community to any corner of the globe. Yes, this involves ships, small boats, trucks, helicopters, airplanes and yaks, buffaloes, elephants, donkeys and camels, too. And WFP must also build and manage, often in flood zones or war zones, humanitarian corridors, bridges, roads, air strips, warehouses to store food and logistical hubs to coordinate delivery and the communications and telecommunications equipment to allow the humanitarian community to operate. But know this, that logistics prowess is just so many pieces of equipment without the dedication and operational brilliance of our team. We honour them and their families today.

And this anniversary is our opportunity to honour the coalition of nations who have offered their treasure and their support for over five decades in this fight against hunger. From the nations here, in Europe and the European Commission to the United States and Canada to Japan and Australia.

And we honour those who have stepped up to join in this noble mission from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, from Brazil to Russia, from India to China and South Africa and when harvests allow, a growing coalition of additional hands to the wheel from Thailand, Cambodia to Zambia and beyond.

And we honour those nations on the frontlines of hunger and also the more than fifty nations WFP has served in during our history and has been able to hand over the keys of WFP’s operations back to those nations, most recently nations such as Cape Verde, Morocco and Jordan.

I understanding that sustaining this life-saving force is even harder work in a time of great financial pressures and other pressing challenges. There is a great temptation for nations to turn inward in troubled times and to bypass the most vulnerable and the voiceless. But as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway said in the aftermath of the atrocities in that nation “we must respond with more humanity.” The fight against poverty for development and humanitarian compassion are what define us.

And we have seen almost all nations sustain and many have even doubled or more their support since WFP’s new Strategic Plan and the 2008 food crisis which set historic levels of hunger with more than 1 billion people unsure how to fill even this humble cup with food each day.

This WFP community is blessed by such powerful humanity – it is what defines our work together. And that is why WFP has not and will not rest on its track record.

As an organization, we recognize we cannot transform the lives of the hungry if we cannot first transform the way we do business. These are not empty words. As we have spent the past few years repositioning this institution to fulfil its mission of saving lives and livelihoods in ways that are better, smarter and measurably more efficient and effective. We have together retooled WFP to fight hunger in a new way.

We have enacted and deployed literally dozens of reforms building best public practices and institutional strength around the humanitarian passion and humanitarian entrepreneurship that have defined WFP’s successes.

I would like to outline three areas of transformation.

First, together through the enactment of the Strategic Plan which focuses our work in five distinct areas as well as through dozens of reforms to WFP’s internal machinery, we have tapped the best learnings of our history and the best practices of public governance to be fit for purpose for the 21st century. While there is much more to be done, we are well on our way.

Second, we have ensured constructive and more coherent collaboration with partners and international organizations to ensure effective and efficient humanitarian and hunger action through the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on Food Security, the Committee on Food Security and partnering with FAO and IFAD to delivering as one and the OCHA cluster system, the High-Level Committee on Management of the United Nations, the SUN movement and more.

Through ensuring coherence also with key initiatives such as the African Union’s comprehensive action plan to end hunger CAADP, NEPAD and other key continental, regional and national initiatives.

And third, WFP’s supporting efforts by the world to ensure food and nutrition security are central to the global leadership agenda, evidenced just ten days ago by the historic decision of world leaders at the G-20 Summit in Cannes, to strengthen humanitarian food supply systems, to remove food export restrictions for WFP’s humanitarian food purchases, a first ever in the world.

First, on our own internal reforms, we have transformed from food aid to food assistance where speed of action is now coupled with deploying “the right tool at the right time” to ensure our responses are context-specific and designed to break, not reinforce cycles of dependency. The Strategic Plan is underpinned by our much strengthened Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping, VAM system, allowing us to further fine tune our analysis and targeting taking into account such vital information as differential rates of inflation for food and household income, the crux to driving up the hunger numbers in 2008. Today VAM serves as a critical core in global vulnerability analysis working hand in glove with the Secretary-General’s recently announced Global Pulse Initiative and with the crop and food supply analysis by FAO with health surveys at WHO and UNICEF and with the World Bank and UNDP’s post-disaster reconstruction assessments.

We are also robustly deploying new tools and so today, when food is available locally or regionally, we seek to purchase that food there as close as possible to the area of need thereby investing in the local economy and helping protect local food markets and jump start recovery. This was true in Haiti in the earthquake and certainly in the floods in Pakistan where the vast majority of the food was bought locally. Today, in fact, about 80 percent of the food WFP purchases today is produced by developing world farmers helping break the cycle of hunger at its root.

There is another face to hunger and that is when local markets are functioning but people can no longer afford food. As Amartya Sen concluded in his Nobel Prize recognized studies of famine, this lack of access to food is what drives many famines. In response to this type of urgent hunger today, WFP can deploy tools such as cash or vouchers supporting fragile local food markets. WFP has scaled up our cash and voucher programmes from the vision of the Strategic Plan, just about 30 months ago, to two dozen small pilots a year ago. Now more than half of our country offices are deploying these tools.

Through the Cash for Change initiative we launched earlier this year under Valerie Guarnieri’s leadership and Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Torben Due’s leadership, we are learning from these “early adopter” country offices and working with NGOs such as Oxfam and the private sector to establish and build the normative systems, controls, processes and capacities to facilitate even greater sustainable deployment of these tools. As laid out in our Management Plan, we expect 30 percent of our food assistance programmes to be delivered through cash or vouchers by 2015.

And finally, when there is food in the fields but no way for it to get to markets due to conflict or the lack of infrastructure, we now have the innovative Purchase for Progress programme. We know up to 40 percent of food in the developing world is lost before it even leaves the farm gate. Since its launch at the end of 2008, P4P has empowered smallholder farmers, particularly women, in 21 countries. Over 100,000 farmers, warehouse operators and traders have received training in conjunction with FAO and other partners in improved production, post-harvest handling and other key food business skills to supply WFP’s lifeline. Already enough food has been purchased through P4P to fill 6,300 trucks loaded with food, a caravan that would stretch from Fiumicino airport to the Coliseum and back.

And it is stunning to think how quickly this programme has begun to make a difference in the world from just an idea presented to Bill Gates and Howard Buffett in conjunction with Belgium. Today it is being cited as an example of the best kind of transformative food assistance from world leaders from Secretary Hillary Clinton to President Kagame to President Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia.

At the same time, we have reformed to address what I call our new burden of knowledge regarding the critical role of micronutrients in the first 1,000 days of life. WFP has long had the responsibility for supplemental nutritious food but we have changed our prioritization and food options for the very young and the pregnant and nursing mothers in the three years since the landmark 2008 Lancet study demonstrated that the damage to children’s brains and bodies is irreversible if denied adequate nutritious food in the first few years of life.

In the last two years this supply system now reaches 2.5 million young children in our programmes, a nearly fifty-fold increase of targeting the “right food at the right time” initiative.

We are also connecting our nutrition focus to support local farmers and markets creating products such as our highly nutrient, now well known to you, chickpea paste Wawa Mum, locally developed in India and Pakistan and now produced in Pakistan and serving in humanitarian frontlines as far away as the Horn of Africa.

And today in Ethiopia we are piloting AchaMum which prevents and treats moderate acute malnutrition. The Government of Ethiopia, WFP, USAID and PepsiCo have launched Enterprise EthioPEA, a two-year totally innovative public/private partnership to ensure an Africa-based supply chain of this type of nutritious food and to provide nutrition for more than 40,000 Ethiopian children, at the same time helping 10,000 farmers in Ethiopia raise their yields of the product’s key ingredient: chickpeas. These are the new types of win win-win solutions.

In Afghanistan, WFP is partnering with the Global Enterprise for Improved Nutrition to produce an almond-based RUSF with half of its ingredients sourced locally and in Sierra Leone we have developed Sierra Supercereal manufactured from the sorghum surplus that local farmers sell after selling their sorghum to beer-brewing companies. And in this very fragile post-conflict environment, this is providing not only nutritious food but opportunities and jobs for the local population.

WFP has also reformed to improve transparency and controls. As we know we became the first United Nations agency to adopt International Public Sector Accounting Standards and an independent Ethics Office in 2008 among the first, to far greater infrastructure on transparency risks under the Copenhagen framework, controls, audits, prioritization under the SRAC and our prioritization seminars, new operational modalities, efficiency measures and outcomes reporting. The soon to be published Joint Inspection Unit report on Accountability Frameworks in the United Nations System commends WFP’s strong internal control framework as one of the best in the business. This report has key benchmarks identifying many of the structures that we together have put in place as best practice including the anti-corruption and anti-fraud policies, providing staff members with recourse to non-formal complaint mechanisms, internal audits and evaluations, performance assessment tools, enterprise risk management and financial regulations and rules.

And we are fully committed to measuring performance in terms of real human outcomes. The Management Plan that is presented to the Board this week is the first to fully integrate WFP’s new performance management framework providing a much clearer link with our efforts to implement the Strategic Plan, performance indicators for all activities and more accurate benchmarking across projects. I want to thank Gina Casar and her entire team, Amir Abdulla and all our deputies, Sheila Sisulu and Manuel Aranda da Silva who have worked to support these efforts. I also want to announce today that based on recent feedback from evaluations and feedback from our Global Meeting, which was just held under the gracious sponsorship of Switzerland in Switzerland, that I will be appointing a Chief Monitoring Officer to head a Monitoring and Evaluation unit within existing resources and within our Operations and Programme Division to assess and strengthen monitoring regimes at the country and local and regional level.

Building upon our work last year, of which 90 percent of the high risk audit recommendations were implemented and closed, we are further improving the implementation of the recommendations of the Internal and External Audit. Furthermore, the new 2012/2016 strategy of the Oversight Office will ensure annual comprehensive audits for all high-risk areas, biennial coverage of all medium-risk areas and low-risk areas will be audited every five years.

These strides to strengthen internal control are being implemented under the COSO framework of internal control and we want to thank you for your backing to implement these comprehensive best standards on internal controls into the WFP system.

Finally, we have transformed to improve our efficiency and effectiveness. In real estate it is said there are only three important words: location, location, location, and WFP’s mantra has been and will be in the coming year, efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. We know this area is critical in an era of hard-pressed resources and growing demands and so that efficiency paper will be discussed and highlights, for example in the last two years being able to reduce our earmarked budget in Sudan from US$869 million to US$572 million and reduce the cost per beneficiary from US$140 a year to US$78 a year through a major repositioning effort at getting more bang for the buck. We will hear more about this but I want to thank Amer Daoudi and his team for their leadership on this comprehensive efficiency and effectiveness transformation.

And at Headquarters, just to mention the WINGS II enterprise system has streamlined the time to prepare financial statements by 75 percent in addition to other benefits with an estimated recurring annual cost saving of US$11.55 million.

Efficiency and effectiveness must be non-negotiable, not only at WFP but in the United Nations system and for us it is not just about saving money but about saving lives.

We want to thank the vision of this Board to support the hard work of implementing these including implementing the forward purchasing facility where over 260,000 metric tons of commodities have already been procured for the Horn of Africa under that system, saving an average of 43 critical days. This new tool is being touted throughout the humanitarian community as a possible model to close that very critical six-week gap.

And our preparedness and response enhancement programme (PREP) for responding quicker to emergencies is in full deployment in conjunction with our Human Resources Department to make sure that we have not only full rosters but the right skill at the right time in the right place.

WFP has taken its responsibility to be a pacesetter in the United Nations system quite seriously and our IPSAS and WINGS II experience is being tapped and in addition, through the High-Level Committee on Management which I have had the privilege to serve as Chair for the past three years, we have been able to offer our experiences as a driving force in support of the Secretary-General’s reform efforts. In the HLCM, there are over 43 agencies that gather but we have been able, for example, to agree on four common principles on results reporting and outcome reporting including shared accountability, transparency, efficient use of resources and effectiveness in results that are now adopted by the Chief Executives Board and the first vendor eligibility project which now allows United Nations agencies to share suspect vendor information across agencies. Of course, this is where the transformation of the critical security system and replacing the old security phasing system took place.

And the final point is how we at WFP and this Board have supported making sure food and nutrition security are at the top of the global agenda. We know that in 2007, after being hit by the silent tsunami of the food crisis, that the Secretary-General put in place a high-level committee on food security but this type of unity of action, I would say doing business in a new way, has spread from each G8, from Japan to Italy to Canada and now the G20s in Korea and France’s leadership this year in a robust food security agenda and now to Mexico for the future.

And this historic agreement by the G20; we hope we will be able to brief you more on this but it had critical pillars of support, very specifically for WFP’s operations that will change the way the world does business in saving lives. 

I also want to underscore, I was just in Brazil with the FAO Director-General elect, José Graziano da Silva, and Brazil’s national and regional leaders to launch the joint Brazil-WFP Centre of Excellence against Hunger to share best practices south to south and more than 18 nations from Mozambique to Timor-Leste are on board to tap this great platform.

We should just also mention in the area of burden-sharing, I just have to thank Nancy Roman and our private sector team. Private sector donors gave US$143 million last year making them our sixth largest donor from when we launched that programme in 2003 with five million dollars in contributions, again an all hands to the wheel approach and burden sharing approach. 

In a world in which losses receive the biggest headlines, the loss of livelihood, the loss of hope, the loss of life, the magnitude of suffering can easily numb us into cynicism and indifference. As tens of thousands of children are facing starvation in southern Somalia we hear people saying that nothing ever changes or here we go again. But make no mistake this is not the failure of aid but the lack of access to aid. In southern Somalia we see what the world looks like without the global coalition represented here having an ability to act; for while we cannot prevent drought we have proven together we can prevent famines. Today I honour this Board and the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda for supporting the shift to productive safety nets and emergency reserves to get ahead of this challenge.

In the Horn of Africa drought WFP alone estimates that 4.5 million people who have shifted to those tools would have been in the emergency ranks and did not join them and were not displaced and did not lose their livelihoods due to these investments and we thank all of you. 

I believe we are at a tipping point in the battle against hunger and malnutrition. I believe the world stands more united than ever and more leaders are saying: not under my watch. This is in the end the most powerful force against hunger. 

I want to end this morning by looking at the future. We have seen images from the past; I have outlined the reforms of the present; but I want to show you the face of the future. This picture of an 18-month old boy named Sadak; I am there with Kevin Rudd, the Foreign Minister of Australia, in southern Somalia, in July, where a window of opportunity had opened to assess the suffering of thousands of people who had gathered, many walking for weeks, many losing their children in the process of trying to get out to reach vital aid. 

Sadak was severely malnourished, entering stage 4 malnutrition and had perhaps days to live; but we were able to begin airlifts from that day and airlifts of products like this and PlumpyNut to support the children trapped in that area. After five weeks, in fact Kevin Rudd asked us to check back in on Sadak and see how he was doing and our staff sent this picture. Let Sadak be a symbol of hope and effective action, a symbol of what can be achieved through innovation, commitment, discipline, accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, political will and leadership. Let it be a symbol of what you have all accomplished.

As former Brazil President Lula said at the World Food Prize last month, hunger is a weapon of mass destruction, the deadliest we know. We need leaders who will tackle hunger and stand with life. Let Sadak be a reminder of the transformational leadership of this Board, of this WFP community and of all of those serving on the frontlines of hunger including our partners here in the United Nations and the NGO partners, many represented here today.

Thank you for standing with us over the past 50 years and thank you for standing with life.