Remarks by Ertharin Cousin to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development in London

Delivered on: 26 March 2013


Honourable Members, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to participate in this conversation with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.

Please allow me to begin by recognizing the important work this group performs to keep food security and the role of smallholder farmers, especially women, high on the UK political agenda. 

It has been proven time and again that political will provides the energy required to ensure we maintain the global investments necessary to support the food assistance work the world requires today.  Political will also provides the space and resources required to support the new ideas and innovation necessary to ensure the world’s most vulnerable people can feed themselves in the future.

If we remain open to new and innovative ideas, if we reach out and keep this conversation inclusive and vibrant, as you are doing here today, I believe we hold an unprecedented opportunity to achieve the goal of ending hunger in our lifetime. 

These are interesting times here in the United Kingdom.  Just as the public mobilised around an anti-poverty agenda ahead of the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, we are witnessing similar mobilisation in 2013.  With the United Kingdom returning to the presidency of the G8 this year, organisations are once again mobilising around hunger issues and broadening the conversation in new and engaging ways, as witnessed by the recent announcement by UK NGOs of the IF campaign.

The UK of course not only provides support to national NGOs. The UK is also one of WFP’s leading donors.  The UK people through the Department for International Development (DFID) are consistently among WFP’s top five supporters, providing a record contribution of GBP 126 million in 2012.  The impact of this support is measured in people saved and livelihoods rebuilt in hunger hot spots across the world. 


Two weeks ago, I traveled to two of those hunger hot spots: Burkina Faso and Mali.  My trip came one year after the global donor community, WFP and other humanitarian agencies scaled up food and nutrition assistance to the Sahel region in response to another devastating drought.  But our response was different this time; humanitarian assistance flowed earlier and was closely aligned and integrated, where possible with local government-led assessments and response planning.  Better coordination of efforts enabled vital cost- and more importantly life-saving preparedness and mitigation activities.  As a result, today communities in the Sahel are more resilient and better prepared for future shocks.

Timelier and smarter responses to crises such as drought in the Sahel require knowledge and better analysis of factors affecting food insecurity, driven too often primarily because the poor and vulnerable lack access to food. 

In the evidence paper we have submitted to the International Development Committee, WFP details current trends affecting access to food.  These trends, including conflict, climate change, urbanization and high food prices, are reshaping our approaches in serving the needs of the hungry poor. 

In light of these trends, WFP is working with national governments and other partners to make smarter and more cost-effective investments in access to food that offer powerful, innovative tools and hopeful paths to a better future for the world’s hungry poor.

These investments include:

·       First, direct food assistance, nutrition programmes, and safety nets that facilitate direct access to food for the most vulnerable. WFP employs direct food assistance including electronic cash and voucher transfers redeemable at local markets.  And WFP-supported school feeding programmes serve as safety nets that attract children to classes, particularly girls. We are working with partners to reach 26 million children in 60 countries;

·       A second investment includes catalysing inclusive food and nutrition access systems through resilience building, livelihoods support, and market development activities.  For example, WFP-provided food assistance in exchange for work on the long-term resilience-building community assets project.  This project helped build a bridge in Chad that linked a community to markets and health services throughout the rainy season. Through a similar project, WFP also helped complete a dune fixation project in Niger, protecting agricultural land from desertification;

·       The third investment ensures more durable access to food by strengthening the local enabling environment. Integrating capacity building and knowledge management across all areas of the supply chain, ensuring that hunger and nutrition solutions become more sustainable.  For example, through our Purchase for Progress initiative we have contracted 300,000 metric tons of food from smallholder farmers since 2008 while working with partners to help boost smallholder farmer’s skills and agricultural production quality; and

·       Fourth, and finally, working with the private sector and scientific community we are harnessing the health-giving properties of bio-fortified crops and micronutrient-fortified foods.

We will always have sudden onset emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, droughts or conflict that demand immediate action.  In these contexts, food assistance delivered quickly and intelligently saves lives.  WFP is committed to getting that core job done and with your continuing support, we will deliver.

But at the same time, we are assessing how working in partnership, with our sister agencies in Rome – the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development – and with other UN agencies, with national governments, the private sector, civil society groups, multi-stakeholder groups like the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, and most importantly, the hungry poor we serve – the international community can sharpen our lines of attack on the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition by investing in the activities that will ensure their durable and sustainable access to food.

Working together, we have the ability to build powerful tools and partnerships that change the global landscape, country-by-country, from one of hunger, to one of hope.

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