Africa: Secretary Antony J. Blinken At an Event On Food Security and Economic Growth At the Africarice Headquarters

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire — SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Well, good afternoon, everyone. And for me, it was both a pleasure and fascinating to be here, both with my colleague from the African Development Bank and also from AfricaRice, just to see the extraordinary work that’s being done to get to a place where, as President Biden has said, Africa feeds itself – and actually, more than itself, a place where Africa feeds the world. And that is not only very possible – I’m convinced that it can happen.

And it starts with a lot of the extraordinary work that the African Development Bank is doing in making the necessary investments in sustainable production and doing it in a smart, effective way. And then the work that AfricaRice has been doing for so much time to maximize the crops and to do things that are, as we know from recent years, vitally important: producing resilient crops that can stand up to climate change and other weather-related events. The focus as well on nutrition, as we’ve just heard going through the different stands here. And then a virtuous cycle where not only are you doing the necessary in terms of production, but you also have the infrastructure necessary not only to produce but also to distribute. And these are some of the things that we’re working on, including with the investments we’re making in the Lobito Corridor, and we talked about all of that today.

I just want to add from our perspective that there is so much extraordinary innovation that is not only possible but is happening that can make a huge difference. And what has really struck with me is that a couple of years ago, as we faced an almost perfect storm of crises that were having a huge effect on food security around the world – the combination of climate change, of COVID, and then conflict, including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – we were seeing the devastating impact that was having.

And of course, when you’ve got that kind of crisis you want to jump in and do everything you possibly can on an emergency basis to help people. And that’s exactly what the United States did, providing billions of dollars in additional assistance to countries in need. We’re by far the number-one donor to the World Food Programme. We are honored as well to be one of the closest partners to the African Development Bank.

But in meeting with partners from around Africa, and particularly my own colleagues among the foreign ministers, what really struck me in listening to them was that, as appreciative as they were for the emergency assistance that we were providing, what they really wanted and wanted us to focus on were making investments in sustainable African capacity – again, so that Africa can feed itself. And that has been President Biden’s focus throughout these last three years. Of course, we’ve had the remarkable work that USAID does through Feed the Future, a longstanding program that has made a huge difference. But what we’re also doing is adding new elements to that, and the one that we’re focused on now is something we call a Vision for Adapted Soil and Crops, or VACS.

And what’s powerful here is this. You’ve just seen today the extraordinary work that’s being done to adapt rice in the strongest possible way. But we also believe that, along with rice, there are other traditional crops in Africa that are remarkably nutritious – in other words, they don’t just bring a caloric benefit; they bring real nutrition with them, as you’re doing with the rice – that can be adapted to be climate resilient so that they can stand up to the extreme events and weather patterns that are afflicting crops around the world – and that will appeal to people here in Africa.

If you marry that to the other half of VACS – and that is the soil – and the technology that we now have to be able, anywhere in the world, to map the quality of a field anywhere. Is the soil good, bad? What does it need to be the most productive? You put those two things together, the ground itself and what goes into it, that is how you have a totally new picture in productive capacity, and one that I think is particularly adapted to Africa.

So we bring all this together in a way that I believe and President Biden believes can raise productive capacity throughout Africa in ways that we haven’t seen before, and that can bring Africa to the point not only of self-sufficiency, but of feeding others. This has so many of the other virtues that we talked about just listening to our colleagues as we went around the stands in terms of employment, in terms of economic activity, in terms of the impact on other related businesses, including bringing women into the workplace.

And by the way, this is so critical, and it was really interesting to hear the role that women are playing in this particular effort. We know that if women around the world had – were working on parity with men in the workplace, that is if you had equal participation by women in the global workplace, you would add $28 trillion dollars – $28 trillion – to the global economy. That’s incredibly powerful.

So all of these things create a virtuous cycle and answers one of the most – maybe the most – profound need that we have, because as President Biden said, if you can’t feed your child nothing else really matters. We see this here. We see this in the remarkable programs the African Development Bank is doing, and we’re grateful to be a partner. Thank you. (Applause.)

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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