Presentation by Ertharin Cousin to the Development Committee of the European Parliament, Brussels

Delivered on: 16 September 2013

An Update on WFP’s Approach to the Changing Aid Environment                  

Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament, citizens of the European Union, I am honored to participate in this exchange of views with the Committee on Development.  Allow me to begin by recognizing the important work that this body, this development committee, has performed to keep food and nutrition security at the top of—not only the EU’s agenda—but also atop the global agenda. For that, the hungry poor people around the world thank you! Why?  Because it is your political will that enables investment in food assistance that this changing world requires.

As many of you already know, last year, WFP helped almost 100 million women, children and men in 80 countries to meet their food and nutrition needs. WFP aims to address both immediate and long-term needs. We do this by providing food assistance, strengthening communities and building national food systems.  Of course, WFP does not perform this work alone.  We work with our beneficiaries to identify how to meet their needs.  We also partner with NGOs and other UN agencies to implement comprehensive programs.  We are committed to performing that work but we also engage the private sector to provide the services to the international community.  Most importantly, we team up with governments to help them achieve food security for their citizens.  We are able to perform this work in this way, because of generosity and support like yours.

WFP and the EU share many areas of mutual cooperation.  As members of the Development Committee, you may find WFP’s humanitarian work intellectually interesting, particularly now as we perform one of our most complex responses in the organization’s history in Syria. We feed 3 million internally displaced people inside Syria and another 1.2 million Syrians who have sought refuge in the five neighboring countries.  I will, however, focus my remarks today on some of the more development aspects of WFP’s mandate. Specifically, I will focus on the continuing need to vigilantly support and perform the work that will provide better resilience for the world’s most vulnerable; because this is the only way that we can create the global, durable food and nutrition security situation necessary if we are to truly to meet the Zero Hunger Challenge. Today, we will explore how organizations like WFP must build the resilience of the hungry poor so that they might ultimately feed themselves while strengthening the capacity of national government institutions, enabling their ability to provide the necessary safety net support.  We will also spend a bit of time exploring how WFP maximizes every contribution, through both program innovations as well as through efficiency gains.  And finally, in our limited time together, I ask you to also consider the particular impact that shrinking humanitarian access has on our ability to meet life-saving needs during a crisis response. The Syria crisis provides a real-time example of this, all too often, recurring challenge.

During last year’s Rio Summit, the UN Secretary-General issued a Zero Hunger Challenge.  The Zero Hunger Challenge recognizes that together we have an unprecedented opportunity to end hunger in our lifetime.  In my conversation earlier today with President Schulz he supported the draft declaration put forward by MEP Taylor and others which calls on Parliament to support the Zero Hunger Challenge. Indeed, since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, there has been much progress in addressing hunger.  I ask you to please work with us to maintain a standalone goal. We need a stand-alone goal.  We cannot let the progress that we made fall behind.  President Schulz asked me to ask you to continue to support food and nutrition security.

Some major steps forward have been taken to improve food and nutrition security.  International efforts, such as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, have motivated alliances between governments and civil society.  I know that the UN Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, Dr. David Nabarro, also came before you.  It is vital that you help us address the issue of chronic malnutrition, an issue that affects some 165 million children around the world. I would also like to highlight that the new International Food Assistance Convention, which was adopted thanks to the strong support of the European Union, has allowed for an improved number of responses to be deployed.  Science and technology have provided a better understanding of the problem and give us new tools. Put all of these together, and you can see our potential. Our potential to build the resilience of the most vulnerable and to change lives. Yet, hunger and undernutrition still haunt us.  
Yemen is a good example of the challenges that countries face today. Last week, I traveled across Yemen from Sana’a to the border of Saudi Arabia. Today, 10 million Yemenis suffer from food insecurity.   In our 2012 Food Security Survey WFP found 4.3 million severely food insecure and 5.7 million moderately food insecure.  In addition, more than 50 percent of the children in Yemen suffer from chronic malnutrition.  WFP recognizes that despite our best efforts these numbers will not change if we continue using the same tools that we always use.  Yes, we must of course respond to the immediate food assistance needs of this population but we must also work with the other members of the UN Country team, the government and the people themselves to build the resilience of this population.  And ultimately their opportunities to again feed themselves.  The WFP team is now exploring with FAO and Yemen’s department of agriculture programs that will build upon the agricultural value chain for us specifically taking the lessons learned from PSNP MERET program in Ethiopia to potentially replicate the terracing programs in Yemen.  That’s not where we stop.  We are also working with UNICEF, WHO and the Ministry of Health to develop a community outreach, mother and child nutrition education program.  If we just provide the supplementary foods, we won’t change the cultural influences that lead to undernutrition.  Part of the challenge for WFP, is to source a nutritious supplemental feeding tool that mothers can use and that can change the dietary outcomes for children.

We know these are the right answers because where there is hunger, there is insecurity; where there is undernutrition, there is underdevelopment.  And, where there is hunger and undernutrition, we often find that there is political instability and unrest, as the situation in Yemen attests.  Failure to progress food and nutrition security undermines all development.  To move from commitment to action, we must respond with activities that have both immediate and long-term impacts.  The resilience approach allows us to do this.  The EU’s strategy on resilience is well-defined, and demonstrates the EU’s, this committee’s global leadership role.  It speaks of the importance of tackling the root causes of a crisis, rather than just the consequences.

The reality is that we all agree upon the method but resilience requires financial investment.  We talk about the need but often the euros don’t flow from donors including the European Union. WFP’s own work and thinking is well-aligned with the twin-track strategy.  But too often we don’t receive support for resilience work.  WFP reaffirms its readiness to collaborate with the EU in both national and regional initiatives.  Each year, WFP works more closely with national governments, partners and the private sector to develop resilient communities.  We are simply asking for the continued support and investment of the EU.

We have great examples of where your investment has paid off.  Take the example of our work with the Turkana in Kenya.  In 2011, communities were better able to manage the impact of the drought thanks to a WFP Food Assistance for Assets program.  They were prepared with excavated water-ponds and the rehabilitation of once degraded farming land.  They protected their livestock, they weren’t forced to use detrimental coping strategies and crops during the drought.  They are now less reliant on external aid.  I can speak of many examples like Turkana.  Last year, some 1,400 wells were built or repaired and over 300,000 hectares of land were protected or improved.  That is the progress that WFP is helping make across the world.

Across the global community, we also supported national governments by training 65,000 government staff in resilience and establishing or improving some 59 early-warning and food-security systems out of the 80 countries where we are working.  This has long-term impact.  Just as a commercial announcement, you can see some more examples at our joint photo exhibition here in the Parliament of what this committee has invested in.

To support all of these efforts, we have an expanded toolkit in WFP.  We are not just the food delivery people. We are taking advantage of recent progress in science and technology to maximize the nutritional impact of the food we provide.  We are improving the quality of our fortified foods.  As a global community, we recognize that getting food to people is not enough.  Providing access to more nutritious foods is the ultimate goal.  In too many places, food is available but people don’t have the resources to access food.

We are making headway, last year 12.6 million children received support to treat or prevent acute malnutrition, stunting and micronutrient deficiency.  We are also reaching their mothers.  We need to reach mothers in the child’s first 1,000 days to prevent stunting.  Last year, were reached almost 4 million pregnant and lactating women with nutritional assistance.  This support is essential for the first 1,000 days of development and to prevent detrimental impacts on the physical and mental growth of a child.  To end undernutrition we cannot stop there.  We must also ensure that these vital investments are maintained as children get older.  Proven interventions, like WFP’s school feeding activities and our girl’s take home ration programs, provide both short- and long-term benefits, nurturing the next generation and beginning to address the intergenerational cycle.

Moreover, we must go beyond simply providing direct support.  Our goal is to ensure that families can access the food required for their needs through their own means.  To achieve this, we ultimately recognize that the solution requires both improved agricultural productivity as well as the necessary nutrition interventions.  To improve agriculture, we must work to develop durable agricultural value chains that benefit smallholder farmers.  So, by the end of 2013, WFP’s Purchase for Progress (or P4P) program will link a half-million low-income, smallholder farmers to the market.  Half of these farmers are women.  As we discussed earlier, when you help a woman and increase her earning capacity you are helping not just that woman and her family but the entire community.  For this, we are leveraging the capacity of local farmers to grow food for our assistance programs.  This program goes well beyond increasing the quality and quantity of smallholder farmer’s yields; it also allows smallholders to access a very reliable buyer WFP.  Although in reality, what they need is a commercial market buyer not just WFP.  In the meantime, WFP is working to take that risk out, and changing the agricultural chain, providing the opportunity to access development.

Last year, WFP purchased 1.1 billion US dollars’ worth of food from developing countries.  In 2014, our aim is to purchase a minimum of 10 percent of these foods from smallholder farmers.  And that’s when we begin to make the long-term difference.  In the long-term, building sustainable agriculture value chains will require reliable access—beyond buyers like WFP—to commercial market buyers.  In the meantime, this WFP commodity purchase program is useful to these farmers.

P4P is just one example of how we are working to meet the Zero Hunger Challenge and helping the hungry poor to ultimately feed themselves.  This challenge also requires WFP to ensure that our program not only meets the food assistance needs of the hungry poor but that it also adapts to the places circumstances where we work.  No two programs can ever be alike; they must be built from the bottom up.  They must be community driven.

Too often, our target population cannot access food, even though food is available on the market.  In these cases, using food as a response tool often exacerbates the problem. To avoid this problem, where capable and viable markets exist, we engage them by providing cash and voucher-based transfers.  By August this year, over 80 projects in 49 countries used cash or vouchers with an approved budget for of over 800 million US dollars.

We get this work done because of your support. I must thank you. EU support, through ECHO and other channels, has been crucial in all of these innovative areas and others.  Last year, 2012, saw the highest ever contribution from the European Commission, totaling over 300 million Euro.  I know that you have strongly defended the humanitarian and development aid budget.  Thank You.

I know that your commitment to food and nutrition security comes at a cost and that the European Commission must demonstrate value to its citizens and member states.  As stewards of nearly 4 billion US dollars in annual contributions, rest-assured that WFP is fully mindful of its responsibilities to not only use your contributions efficiently and effectively.  The public want to know that we are delivering value for the money in their invested taxes.  We work to maintain the trust of your taxpayers in our work.  In addition to programmatic innovations, we also think in WFP about business innovation and about how we can do our job better.

Meeting the needs of those we serve is important, not just because of our mandate.  WFP also holds itself fully accountable to the people we serve as well as to our contributors.  I am proud to state that WFP is at the forefront of the UN in terms of effective accountability and transparency.  When you invest in WFP, we work to not only deliver outcomes but also to provide the monitoring, evaluation and reporting that is necessary to justify and support the value received for your investment.  Because it’s only through this working together that we will maintain your confidence in our abilities.

Finally as promised, I would like to spend a moment on the challenges of humanitarian access particularly relevant in our ongoing Syria response.  With each passing day, the humanitarian crisis in Syria is of greater concern to all of us.  Thanks to the efforts of our entire team on the ground and all our partners, particularly the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the 24 local NGOs that we are working with in Syria.  In fact in July, inside Syria we provided food to just shy of 3 million people.  We delivered and continue to deliver on both sides of the frontlines.  We are working in regime-controlled areas, opposition-controlled areas, but we have challenges in those areas where there is active conflict. Bullets do not recognize the logos of the UN.  We will continue to perform the work, but we need that space to perform.  Yet, WFP and other organizations need more space.  We ask global political leaders, like you in this room to demand that humanitarian space is provided to ensure women, children and the elderly—trapped in the nightmare of this escalating crisis—do not perish.

WFP has the tools and the talent to work with you and the entire global community to achieve our shared goal of ending hunger.  WFP remains ready, able and willing to improve resilience, food security and to address undernutrition.  No single organization, no single government can act alone can to achieve the goal of ending hunger and global malnutrition.  Working together, we have the ability to establish powerful partnerships that change the global landscape, from one of hunger to one of hope, country-by-country, community-by-community, family-by-family and child-by-child; until no one goes hungry.

I will now stop to open this conversation with all of you.  Thank you. I welcome your questions.