Buffett, Gates Honoured For Supporting Small Farmers

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, Bill Gates, Howard Buffett and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department in Washington for the 2011 George McGovern Leadership Award presentation. Buffett and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been key financial supporters of WFP's P4P initiative to help small farmers.

(Copyright: US State Dept/Michael Gross)

Public and private sector leaders from the field of food security gathered at the U.S. Department of State on Monday to recognize this year’s WFPUSA George McGovern Leadership Award recipients, Bill Gates and Howard G. Buffett for their innovative vision and personal commitment to developing new solutions in the fight against hunger, particularly their work on WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P).

The global hunger conference included a keynote address from Vice President Joseph Biden, an award presentation by last year’s winner Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and discussions with this year’s award recipients, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran,  USAID Administrator Raj Shah, among others.

“Ending global hunger is not just possible. It’s a moral and strategic imperative,” Clinton said as she presented the award. “The focus that they (Gates and Buffett) have brought to individual smallholder farmers has really been a change agent in the world of fighting hunger and improving food security.” Read remarks

Buffett and Gates both recognized that strengthening the rural economy demands forging a new conversation on hunger solutions that brings together the public and private sector. 

In describing the recipients numerous contributions, Sheeran said, “They represent the transformative power of new alliances to tackle age-old challenges.”

The two entrepreneurs urged that in addition to a moral imperative to empowering small-scale farmers in developing solutions to hunger, there are clear economic advantages to cross-sector support.

Setting a standard

Indeed, Biden emphasized in his keynote address that efforts on P4P are setting “a standard for public and private partnership for years to come.”
Looking to the great inequities of the world, the Gates Foundation found agriculture and health at the top of the list – and got involved with P4P as a tangible solution. Buffett articulated as well that P4P is a long-term strategy for agricultural development that transforms farmers’ lives.

“P4P brought millions of farmers into the marketplace,” Buffett said. “The endgame isn’t farmers selling to WFP. It’s farmers saying, ‘I can now deliver quality.’”

Gates recognized there is the opportunity to address the gap in productivity between Africa and the US as the world looks to feed a growing population. “I’m quite optimistic that we can raise productivity and have pretty dramatic effects,” he said.

During a panel discussion on private sector partnerships, Cargill CEO Greg Page agreed with the vision that connecting small-scale farmers to markets changes how we solve hunger.

“To grow the world’s calories without supporting rural sociology is only winning half the battle,” Page said.

"Problem or opportunity”

The ongoing food and security crisis in the Horn of Africa underscores the need for innovators like Gates and Buffett to build a community of activists fighting hunger.

“It is unconscionable for a famine of this magnitude to be happening in 2011. The world has the knowledge, tools, and resources to help the world’s poorest overcome hunger and extreme poverty,” Gates said.

The backdrop of the U.S. Department of State showcased the U.S. Government’s recognition of food security as part of its long-term vision of international security.
Biden’s powerful introduction that “food security is international security” highlighted that the efforts of the award winners won’t just contribute to hunger solutions, but to global economic development and international stability.
Clinton said that forging solutions to hunger was a strategic imperative. “Hungry people and hungry countries lead to all sorts of problems – both within and without a country,” she said.

Shah also emphasized that programs like P4P are key for economic development and create a “pathway to pursue inclusive growth.”

He pointed to public sector investment in Taiwan  – former food aid recipient and now one of the chief importers of U.S. food -- to show how getting serious about food security makes economic sense.

Relying on P4P as an example of best practice, Shah continued in saying that there’s “a need to make small, targeted investments now to save us money in the long-run.”

For full transcripts and videos of the event, visit http://www.state.gov