By Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation
(Based on World Food Prize Speech — Adapted for Thanksgiving)
For many of us in the United States, Thanksgiving is a special moment for communities and families to come together around the dinner table. However, particularly at this moment, in this season, we must not forget that too many families around the world face uncertain access to affordable, nutritious food — something so many of us take for granted, especially during the holidays.
Here in the U.S. last year, an estimated 48 million Americans — or 14% of American households — lacked the nutritious food they needed to lead healthy, productive lives. According to data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, the burden of food insecurity falls more heavily on minority households, families with children and especially households headed by single mothers who experienced rates of food insecurity almost 2.5 times the national average. This is especially tragic because we know that hunger can have negative long-term effects on young people’s health, academic performance, and future success. It’s unconscionable that in the wealthiest country on earth even one family is food insecure when we produce more than enough food to feed ourselves.
Here in the U.S. last year, an estimated 48 million Americans — or 14% of American households — lacked the nutritious food they needed to lead healthy, productive lives.
Thankfully, many dedicated individuals and organizations across the country are addressing this challenge in a number of ways. There is still plenty of work to be done, but I continued to be inspired by the progress that is being made with the help of many people.
For example, Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the United States, is committed to providing food to individuals and families through more than 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs nationwide. Whether by providing complete meals or backpacks full of food for children to carry home over the weekend, Feeding America provided 3.6 billion meals last year alone. This is a staggering number and a testament to both the number of Americans who are struggling and the many ways in which we can — and should — be helping to do something about it.
Hunger isn’t just an issue, however, of making sure Americans — especially children — get enough calories. It’s also an issue of ensuring everyone gets enough of the right calories. Through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, we’ve been working with public schools to help ensure that schoolchildren get healthy, nutritious food at lunch. We are also working with out-of-school programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs to ensure that they’re buying nutritious snacks, and more broadly to build whole ecosystems to support children’s nutrition — not just during the school year, but also during the summer and on weekends. We believe strongly in this work because we know we can’t solve childhood obesity without also tackling child nutrition.
At last year’s Clinton Global Initiative, we also launched a Call to Action on food security here in the United States. One of the most important commitments to come out of that appeal is the Food Security Genome Project, which brings together a remarkable array of anti-hunger and technology leaders around a simple, albeit challenging mission: to aggregate and code every single study or program ever done by the federal, state, or local government, companies or NGOs targeting hunger in the United States. The effort is being led by some of the engineers of the Pandora music platform — on the belief that if we have a holistic data set of what has worked and what hasn’t, we’ll have better predictive analytics about the cost and prospective impact of new hunger and food security efforts. This will enable us to make better decisions more quickly about where to invest research and programmatic dollars to yield the greatest impact. They hope to complete this platform in the next 18 months.
Hunger isn’t just an issue, however, of making sure Americans — especially children — get enough calories. It’s also an issue of ensuring everyone gets enough of the right calories.
But, as we all know, the issue of hunger is not confined to the United States. According to the World Food Programme, nearly 800 million people worldwide do not get enough to eat, and we are certainly not on track to be able to feed the 9 billion people that we expect to inhabit our planet by 2050. This is cause for concern, but again, we know that progress is possible and we believe that making women and girls part of the solution — and particularly empowering female smallholder farmers — is an important place to start.
I am proud to say that we are doing this through the Clinton Development Initiative in Malawi, Tanzania, and Rwanda, where we are working to aggregate groups of smallholder farmers to help them access higher quality seed, better fertilizer, important technical training, and climate-smart agriculture techniques such as crop rotation, mulching, and agro-forestry. In each of these countries, we work alongside local communities and in partnership with local governments. We believe that NGOs like the Clinton Foundation are there to help fill the gap between what the public sector can provide and what the private sector has a sufficiently robust business case to produce. We also believe that once farmers are able to consistently sell their products for a reasonable return and feed themselves and their families, it’s time for us to leave.
We believe that NGOs like the Clinton Foundation are there to help fill the gap between what the public sector can provide and what the private sector has a sufficiently robust business case to produce.
Throughout all of our programs at the Foundation, we’re deeply committed to ensuring that women are a part of everything we do. Our efforts in Malawi, Tanzania, and Rwanda have thresholds of at least 40% participation by women smallholder farmers, and I am thrilled that we have exceeded those targets in every country and community in which we work. For example, in Malawi, nearly 55% of the smallholder farmers we partner with are women, and in Tanzania, women make up nearly 47% of our farmer clubs. We know that women provide approximately 43% of the agricultural labor in sub-Saharan Africa, so as we say in my family, “Investing and empowering girls and women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” We know that if female farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to the same inputs and investments as their male colleagues, Sub-Saharan Africa could feed itself. Achieving that is the right thing to do — and the smart investment for our world.
We also think it’s equally as important that women farmers become leaders in these efforts, not just participants. In cooperation with field officers and government extension workers, our lead famers are at the heart of our agronomic training. They act as peer mentors to other farmers. They host and maintain active demonstration plots and help educate others in the community about the benefits of climate-smart agriculture. I’m proud that we’ve met or exceeded our goal of 30% female participation among lead farmers. In Malawi and Tanzania, women make up 37% and 30% of our lead farmers, respectively. I’d like to share a couple of stories that demonstrate why it’s so important to empower female farmers and why we continue to work so hard in this area.
One amazing farm leader is Wazia Chawala from Tanzania. She’s a young single mother of seven children. She relies on her crops to feed her family and generate income to support sending her kids to school. Since joining our program, she has become a demonstration plot owner and one of the project’s most successful lead farmers to date. Moreover, she’s increased her yields by 1000% and earned enough money to buy a cow and send all seven of her children to school — including her girls. She’s a role model in her community and is changing perceptions every day about what women can do and what they can become. To me, that’s pretty remarkable. She’s not only changing her family’s future, she’s changing her community’s future — and the future of the next generation.
We know that women provide approximately 43% of the agricultural labor in sub-Saharan Africa, so as we say in my family, ‘Investing and empowering girls and women isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.’
We’ve also been privileged to work with Lucy Banda in Malawi. Lucy joined our program in 2012 after walking through a friend’s field and noticing how productive her corn and soya crops were. By working with her field officer to improve the quality of her soil, Lucy was able to increase her yearly income from $50 to $750 in just two years. She, too, has used her additional income to send her children to school and add solar panels to her home, so that her children can study at night. She bought an ox cart and 2 oxen to pull it, and as she increases her soya production further, she plans to finish her house by pouring a concrete floor and buy a vehicle so that she can better get her product to market and help ensure that her family and her community can get to the hospital when they need advanced health care.
She believes so strongly in her work that she became the secretary of her local farmers club and has committed to helping other women take leadership positions, as well. In bettering her own future, Lucy has enabled other female (and male) farmers to advance as well. These are the types of solutions we need — solutions that solve the challenges of today and give women and girls power over their futures.
What all of these efforts say to me is that whether we are working to alleviate hunger around the corner or across the globe, empowering women, or working to feed a growing planet, we need to reach out and work with unlikely partners. We need to understand what we don’t know and what could better inform our work. Certainly that’s what we try to do at the Clinton Foundation — and I have no doubt that if we continue to work together, we’ll get to the healthy future we want to see for our families, our communities and our world.