SECRETARY BLINKEN: John, thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you. Good afternoon. John, my old friend, thank you very, very much. And as always, here, it’s particularly good to be with leaders from across government, business, civil society. So when you think about soil, the U.S. Secretary of State is probably not the first person who comes to mind. (Laughter.) But the truth is soil is literally at the root of many pressing national security challenges that we face.
You all know this, and we know this increasingly with every passing day: without good soil, crops fail, prices rise, people go hungry. Eroding soil also worsens the impact of droughts, of floods, of other climate-driven extreme weather, making crop yields even lower – and as a result, food even scarcer. As we meet here today, 700 million people do not know if they will have enough food to eat tomorrow.
This hunger fuels instability, and instability fuels hunger. A parent who can’t put food on the table for their children picks up the family and moves because it’s the most basic thing, the most important thing that they can do, and they will do it however they have to do it. And if that means moving halfway around the world, they will. But that contributes to unprecedented migration flows that we’re facing around the world. Shifting climate patterns force neighbors to compete for dwindling resources, further straining ethnic tensions, destabilizing entire communities.
Meanwhile, Russia’s attacks on fields, on granaries, on ports in Ukraine, the world’s breadbasket, have disrupted global markets, making food harder to afford and harming the poor and most vulnerable most of all. In the Red Sea, through which 15 percent of the world’s commerce passes, Houthi attacks have forced ships to take longer, more expensive routes, further raising the price of food and energy.
The United States has been and is working intensely to tackle this food crisis and support those who are most affected by it. Going back to January of 2021, the U.S. Government has devoted $17.5 billion to provide vital sustenance to people in need. We are honored to fund over one third of the World Food Programme’s budget. Now I had a chance to see some of these efforts just last week at a World Food Programme warehouse in Jordan, where I met with UN staff that is working relentlessly, often at great personal risk, to get aid to Palestinians in Gaza, over 90 percent of whom are facing acute food insecurity.
Too many people already go to sleep hungry, and it’s set to get worse. If you project out to 2050, global demand for food is projected to rise by 50 percent. But over that same period, climate change could reduce yields by as much as 30 percent. So do the math and it doesn’t balance out. In short, we need to feed more people as growing food becomes harder.
That’s why the United States is partnering to adapt and transform agriculture and food systems, because as vital as emergency assistance is, if we don’t get at the underlying infrastructure, if we don’t get at a way to produce better, stronger, more resilient crops, then we won’t solve the problem. But we joined a pledge with over 130 countries signing the Emirates Declaration at COP 28 to address a big part of this. Our Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate initiative with the UAE has mobilized $17 billion to invest in efforts like regenerating degraded crop land and capturing carbon in soil. Through the global partnership for infrastructure and investment, we are working with dozens of countries – from India to Zambia – to scale climate-smart agriculture and bolster supply chains.
And together with the African Union and the Food and Agriculture Organization, we’ve launched a new initiative. It’s called Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or VACS, and VACS is part of the USAID’s flagship Feed the Future initiative. This is our comprehensive response in the U.S. Government to food insecurity around the world, and the approach that we have is two-pronged. And it really boils down to this, two very basic things: First, we’re investing above ground, identifying the indigenous African crops that are most nutritious and most resilient to climate change, improving these varieties, delivering them to the world; at the same time, we’re investing below ground, mapping, conserving, building healthy soils. If you get this right, if you get the seeds right, if you get the soil right, then you have your agricultural foundation for the future.
We’ve been incredibly fortunate at the State Department to have one of the world’s leading experts, Dr. Cary Fowler, lead our efforts in helping develop this initiative. We’ve committed $150 million thus far toward VACS. We’re also rallying a broad coalition of governments around the world to advance this work: Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, as well as leading nonprofits and corporations. Just to cite one example, IBM is expanding access to its OpenHarvest platform, which is using AI and climate modeling to deliver tailored farm and field management recommendations right to farmers’ cell phones. We have the capacity as we’re doing this with all of this technology to literally map the soil any place in the world, any given field, to tell whether the soil is good, bad, deficient, and then to figure out how we can make it as productive as possible.
So, this is something that I believe is genuinely revolutionary – seeds and soil, we put them together, and we can begin to answer a lot of the challenges that our world is going to face over the next 25 or 30 years. And so my simple pitch to you today is this: Join us. This is a powerful investment. It has extraordinary, even transformational returns.
Some of you may know that the word human comes from the Latin term for earth, for soil. There are a few things that are more human, more and more important to humanity, than figuring out how to cultivate this planet so that it can feed and support all of us. We have an opportunity in this moment to actually deliver better for people today while actually building a sustainable tomorrow.
So part of the reason – and John said at the outset – this event in and of itself is unusual for Davos. Having foreign policy types participate in it may also seem a little bit unusual, but it only underscores the importance that all of us attach to both this challenge but also this incredible, incredible opportunity to get maybe the most fundamental thing in life that we need to sustain us right going forward into the future, and that’s the food to feed everyone on this planet and to feed them well.
So those of you who have the interest and the opportunity, please join us in this initiative, join us in this effort. We can make a huge difference together. Thanks very much. (Applause.)