Remarks by Ertharin Cousin at the Purchase for Progress Annual Consultation at FAO

Delivered on: 29 January 2013


I am delighted to meet with you today at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the official opening of this Purchase for Progress (P4P) Annual Consultation, together with FAO and IFAD. 

This will be a robust dialogue.  Many of you will recall that last year P4P met at IFAD.  This rotation of meeting venue is a clear signal that the three Rome-based UN agencies are full partners in the P4P success story.  Our presence with you today bears witness that the benefits of this partnership go beyond P4P, generating essential momentum that drives dialogue on broader policy and strategic issues.

When I speak to people about the opportunity to end hunger in our lifetime – as I have done in conversations across the globe – P4P is always in my opening argument.

I start with P4P because this community cultivates hope.  P4P takes smallholder dreams and aggregates them into big picture realities that are changing the story and creating the opportunity for ending global hunger.

Most of us in the food security community will be familiar with the latest popular concepts in the always evolving lexicon of international development and humanitarian assistance:

1.     Partnership

2.     Resilience

3.     Food assistance

For P4P, these concepts are more than talk.  They are the products of our daily labor; they are the measuring sticks with which we validate success.  And it has been that way for four years now.

Everyone in this room knows that partnership is fundamental.  Partnerships are the only option, because we recognize that no individual, organization or institution can reach for this historic goal of ending hunger by working in isolation.  You are the living proof of it.

Starting from its launch in September 2008, P4P has exemplified and, in significant ways, deepened the meaning of partnership for the wider food assistance community.  P4P partners are supporting 814 farmers’ organizations with a total membership of more than one million people.

And at P4P, success is measurable in weight and in value.  What do I mean by weight?  WFP has contracted 300,000 metric tons from smallholder farmers – commodities valued at US$115 million – while locally provisioning social safety net programmes for the hungry poor.  We know that in addition to what farmers sell to WFP they are also selling to buyers beyond WFP, so total sales are even greater than the 300,000 metric tons.

Look around you.  P4P is a global community; we have participants attending this meeting from over 30 countries. 

P4P is a diverse community, with over 200 on-going partnerships providing technical support for agricultural production, agri-business management, post-harvest handing, financial services, institutional capacity building, monitoring and evaluation, agro-processing and gender. 

And P4P partners are balanced across many different types of organizations, including strong representation from civil society, with two-fifths of partners coming from local and international NGOs.  Donors, UN agencies, banks and finance institutions comprise about one-fifth of the P4P community, another one-fifth of partners represent government agencies, and remaining partners are a mixture of private sector, regional, research and academic organizations.

P4P strengthens cooperation between FAO, IFAD and WFP, yielding greater unity of purpose for the Rome-based UN agencies, as demonstrated by our close collaboration throughout last year’s International Year of Cooperatives, and joint WFP-FAO missions to Rwanda and Tanzania, with joint missions underway or planned for another six P4P countries during the first quarter of 2013.

Half of P4P funding comes from private donors, most notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Howard G. Buffett Foundation.  P4P sets a high watermark for private sector engagement in ending hunger.

The governments of the United States and Canada have contributed generously to P4P, as have European countries, including Belgium, France, Ireland and Luxembourg.  P4P is seeing growing engagement from donor countries in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Brazil, and strong financial support from Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia. 

We are proud of the achievements of all P4P countries, notably Ethiopia, Rwanda, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, countries who have developed and taken government ownership of their own P4P-like programmes inspired through the principles and experience embodied by this community.

In this context, I wish to recognize high level guests from three of the twenty-one P4P pilot countries:  

·        His Excellency Pablo Ochoa, Minister of Agriculture for El Salvador;

·        Mr. Khalid Bomba, Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency; and

·        His Excellency Armando Inroga, Minister of Industry and Trade for Mozambique.

I also extend a warm welcome to Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives who are present from the countries I have so far named and also from other countries.

And I recognize two guests from among the P4P regional partners:

·        Mr. Chungu Mwila, acting Chief Executive Officer of COMESA’s Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA); and

·        Mr. Diego Montenegro, Director of Management and Integration for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

I provided the keynote address at IICA’s 70th Anniversary celebration held in San Jose, Costa Rica in October.  As I said then, IICA has been and remains a beacon of support for innovation and inclusion in agriculture across Latin America.  And we thank you for your partnership.

Farmers’ organizations, governments, NGOs, UN agencies, public and private donors, regional organizations, all of us own P4P because we are the ones building it together. 

It is through our work, experimentation and eager pursuit of collaborative advantage that P4P has established its reputation as a model learning community.  And it will be through our collective effort that P4P continues to move forward.  We will only move forward if we move forward together.

These are your partnership stories that will be told and examined here from every perspective; discussed, praised and critiqued during the next two days of annual consultation, expanding our collective understanding of which approaches can work best for us in the future.

I was in Davos last week attending the World Economic Forum.  As many of you will have noted, the constant theme these days is resilience.  But more importantly, resilience is what every one of you gathered in this room are busy building every day.

Coinciding with Davos, President Kanayo Nwanze of IFAD and I co-authored an article with our colleague José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO. 

Our article – published by the Rockefeller Foundation and The Huffington Post – highlights six core principles for shifting the way we work with food insecure communities to help them become more resilient:

1.     Leadership by and for affected communities and local authorities for a more holistic approach relevant to local needs;

2.     Partnering across organizations for joint action;

3.     Integration of relief and long-term development objectives;

4.     Ensuring safety nets for the most vulnerable;

5.     Enhanced monitoring for better risk management; and

6.     Interventions that are evidence-based and focused on long-term results.

These principles are already embodied in the daily practice of how P4P partners do business.  But you don’t need to take my word for that.  The words of P4P participating farmers tell the story best.

Farmers like Angelo Zingbondo from South Sudan, who said:

Before joining P4P I was only growing enough food for myself as the market in Yambio is quite far and due the lack of storage facilities the food was easily getting spoiled. P4P is changing the story of my life. It helped me earn some money for my family and to pay my children’s school fees, to improve my shelter, and a mobile to communicate with other farmers out of my village.

“P4P is changing the story of my life.”  Powerful words, clearly spoken.  Resilience in action.  The definition of resilience.

South Sudan is one of five post-conflict P4P countries.  P4P partners in these countries face particular challenges, and we especially applaud these smallholder farmers for their pioneering contributions to national recovery.

If you want to hear more of Angelo’s story, you should have a word him yourself, because he is here with us, representing over 600 farmers who make up the Nzara Agricultural Farmer Association.

Angelo, please stand.

And now I ask all the P4P farmers in this room, all farmers’ organization representatives, all of these hard working women and men who are present with us today to please stand. 

Thank you for making P4P possible.  You are, of course, P4P’s most essential partners of all. 

Partnership and resilience, twin engines accelerating our transition from food aid to food assistance.  P4P partners know food assistance as a call to action for the integration of capacity building into everything we do.

We’re working with smallholder farmers to help them change their life stories and the stories of their families, their communities and their countries for the better, because P4P believes that truly helping someone means supporting them to reach for the day when they won’t require our assistance.

And here lies the first of two challenges I want to put before this community for your consideration during these two days of reflection and consultation:

·        If P4P stands for effective actions more than motivational words, we must always be prepared to prove the operational value of our learning. 

Yes, we’re experimenting.  And experiments designed to expand our knowledge of what works may not always yield the outcomes we seek every time.  But when things don’t turn out as expected; when results miss the targets we had set – as they surely must sometimes if we set the ambitious goals our work demands – when that happens, we don’t need finger pointing, accusations or criticism; we need lessons learned and identified methods – we need figures that make a point.

So, make sure you are ready with those figures that can measure success, because if you don’t have quantifiable results, this P4P community will hold you to account.  Our success depends on one another.

Now, my second challenge for this P4P community, which may seem in some ways to contradict the first:

·        All this great learning we collect will never be enough to tell us how to tackle the next challenge unless we continue to experiment.

Think about it.  When you are moving down a road to a new place which way should you look?  Should you keep your eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, smiling confidently that you made it this far with the knowledge you now possess? 

Well, perhaps a little, but most of the time, we need to look where we’re going, adjusting our bearings for whatever our senses can detect coming at us, because it’s not coming from behind.

The choice to end hunger in our lifetime is like that.  Not just for every one of you in this room, but for all of humanity.  We are moving there together, but we are still discovering all the twists and turns, the hills and valleys that lie ahead of us. 

P4P contributes essential learning that leads us in these discoveries.

P4P can and should stand rightly proud for this community’s past accomplishments, but success in the years to follow requires that we not stand apart from changes happening around us.

As we enter the last year of the P4P pilot and start preparations for the International Year of Family Farming, coinciding with our P4P evaluation year of 2014, here are four questions to contemplate on the way:

1.     How will this P4P community respond to the imperatives for improved nutrition?  What steps will we take to help ensure food produced by smallholders delivers the vitamins and minerals that the more resilient communities of tomorrow require for healthy physical and mental human development?

2.     How will current P4P integration of smallholder agricultural production with food supplies for social safety net programmes adapt to trends in food assistance away from direct physical food deliveries and toward cash and vouchers?

3.     How will P4P partner with local communities and governments to transcend obstacles we have seen in some countries to the empowerment of women, including women’s access to land, credit and leadership roles?

4.     And what role should farmers’ organizations and others from civil society have now and in the future in helping to shape sensible, hunger-fighting policy decisions from governments and international organizations?

In sum, P4P is simply one of the best and the most exciting examples I can cite as evidence that our continuing search for innovative solutions is on track.  I welcome every big picture question that your example, determination and vision have led us to boldly explore.  And I have full confidence that this year’s consultation will help us identify more solutions and raise more questions that guide us further down the road to ending hunger in our lifetime.

Keep up the great work!