USAID Administrator Shah inspires and calls for action at IFPRI event

December 11, 2012
by Marcia MacNeil

The US government is “doubling down” on hunger and food security in the new presidential term, with a major focus on scaling up proven agricultural technologies to reach as many people as possible – and it would like the help of the international agricultural research community.

That was a key message by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah when he spoke at IFPRI last Friday.

Shah, who leads the efforts of more than 8,000 development professionals in 80 missions around the world, came to IFPRI to challenge and inspire—and also to seek guidance from IFPRI and fellow members of the larger CGIAR global research partnership.

Shah painted a picture of the vast number of technological breakthroughs in agricultural improvements, many discovered by CGIAR scientists: salt-tolerant rice that saves water use, rust-resistant wheat, drought-tolerant maize, high-yielding chickpea varieties, new soil fertility technologies, biofortified crops, and more. His message was clear: “Let’s put these technologies to the test.”

Shah spoke of seeing heart-breaking famine first hand, but also of witnessing inspiring new solutions. On a trip to Kenya, he visited the Dadaab refugee camp with Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and spoke with survivors of the devastating drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. That afternoon, they visited a laboratory and met with African scientists working on biofortified crops that Shah said could change the dynamic of tragedies such as the Horn of Africa famine.

Through its Feed the Future program, which began with a presidential commitment to global agricultural investment at the 2009 G8 summit, Shah said the US government has increased funding for agricultural research and put into place a detailed research strategy, a food security innovation center, and a network to raise the yield of maize 50 percent in the next 20 years, among many other initiatives.

USAID staff in developing countries will also be setting targets for agricultural technologies, supporting country policymakers to create—and implement—encouraging policies, and working more closely with research partners, including CGIAR.

But, Shah said, they need CGIAR researchers’ help in identifying the best new technologies that can be scaled up for the greatest impact. He announced a new $1 million-plus exchange program between scientists at US universities and CGIAR scientists worldwide to help facilitate that partnership.

Shah ended by telling IFPRI and the other CGIAR centers to continue the path they are on: “The work you’ve done to come together gives us all reason for hope, and to partner in an effective and large-scale manner.”