Press Conference on World Food Programme, Millennium Villages Project Partnership

28 September 2009

Press Conference on World Food Programme, Millennium Villages Project Partnership

28 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on World Food Programme, Millennium Villages Project Partnership

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Millennium Villages Project announced the launch of a new partnership aimed at dramatically reducing hunger and malnutrition across Africa, at a Headquarters press conference today.

“This is a wonderful day, for me personally and for the Millennium Villages Project, in partnering with the World Food Programme,” said Jeffrey Sachs of the Millennium Villages, a project involving eight villages and more half a million people in sub-Saharan African communities working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

With 1 billion people -- one out of every six people -– waking up and going to bed hungry, the World Food Programme needed to “leverage the full range of our tools”, its Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, with Mr. Sachs at the press conference, told correspondents.  “Hunger is on the march.  “Hunger is on the rise.  And it is right now the most threatened Millennium Development Goal,” she warned.

Mr. Sachs said that over the past couple of years working at numerous sites, the “dynamic, remarkable, on the ground, real time, flexible” WFP had engaged a range of powerful programmes that fought acute and chronic hunger, such as school meal programmes, food-for-work and nutritional fortification and supplementation, to name just a few.

His recent visit to a Millennium Village in Ethiopia had illustrated to him and his colleagues the profound transformation of WFP environmental rehabilitation on food security, he continued.  Through a food-for-work programme, a large number of percolation ponds and check-dams had been built to capture rainfall in a dry area.  “It was marvellous.  I have never seen anything like the extent of the transformation of the landscape taking place in that community in a way that was providing life-saving water management and food security.  Many people don’t know about that aspect of the World Food Programme’s activities.”

The goal of the partnership, he explained, was to utilize the powerful tools of WFP in Millennium Villages, and through their joint forces, resources and tools, eliminate the villages’ defining characteristic of chronic malnutrition and create “undernourishment-free zones” that had sufficient and nutritious food.

The Millennium Villages Project, itself a partnership programme of non-governmental organizations, corporations, scientists, civil society, United Nations departments and agencies, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, was created to bring science, partnership and the United Nations together.  The new endeavour with WFP would strengthen the goals and objects.

He noted that the Millennium Development Goals summit in 2010 would be the last time the world as a whole got together to review and further the course towards the 2015 deadline.  “We have the tools for success on all counts -- the tools for success to fight acute hunger, the tools for success to accelerate progress to the MDGs and the tools for success to achieve them by the year 2015. I am going to do everything with my breath to help make that a reality,” he pledged.

Ms. Sheeran further explained that WFP’s partnership with the Millennium Villages Project would deploy the full range of the Programme’s tools and help utilize the Millennium Villages as a platform for best practices.  Engaging in such a holistic approach would bring together some of the best minds of the world with the local wisdom, dreams and hopes of the villagers themselves, and would enable the villagers to solve their problems and give them the tools to do so.  “This is not your grandmother’s food aid.”

Holding up a red food cup from the school feeding programme in Rwanda, she illustrated that filling it with food was just the beginning.  Feeding a child a cup of food every day was life-saving, but adding a de-worming pill meant the child was being fed and not the worm, and adding vitamin A could end night blindness.  The focus now was not just on filling the cup, but also on addressing what was in the cup.

Even more importantly, she stressed, 80 per cent of the cash received by WFP purchased food from the developing world’s farmers themselves, the majority of whom were women.  “When you fill this cup with food from farmers that are often completely cut off from markets and don’t have a chance to sell what they produce, it is a powerful, powerful solution to breaking the cycle of hunger.”

She added that WFP had successfully implemented that practice in war zones and in other difficult environments, and participating farmers were now able to expand into greater markets.  WFP and the Millennium Villages Project had already commenced that system in Millennium Villages in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, and were currently reaching more than 80,000 children.

The partnership would also be addressing the impact of malnutrition on children under the age of 2, she said.  Recent science was now showing that children deprived of appropriate food never recovered from the loss to their brains and bodies.  Through establishing “undernourishment-free zones”, the partnership would hopefully demonstrate to other countries that standing up to the challenges of hunger and malnutrition was possible.

When asked what concrete steps the new United States Administration was taking to further implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and honour its official development assistance (ODA) commitment, Mr. Sachs drew attention to the approval of large funding for global health since United States President Barack Obama had assumed office, as well as the Administration’s commitment to small-holder agriculture and the fight against hunger.  At the recent Group of Eight (G‑8) summit, the United States had announced a $20 billion, three-year effort for small-holder farmers, which could enable Africa to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Ms. Sheeran, when asked about the situation in Somalia and the possible diversion of food to Kenya, recalled that the danger to humanitarian workers was great, but that the commitment to reach the most vulnerable remained steadfast and strong.  An internal investigation into the possible diversion was being conducted and would be reported to correspondents once the results were complete.  Meanwhile, there was strengthened security at the warehouses and pathways.  “It is probably our most challenging environment to operate in the world, but we’re committed to stay and reach people, despite the loss of life to WFP staff and others.”

She was then asked about the life-long impact of malnutrition in the first two years of life and the resulting costs that WFP and other agencies had to bear later, and the commitment of the Millennium Villages Project and WFP to investing in those problems before they became emergencies.

She drew attention to a book by WFP about the cost of malnutrition in Latin America.  It showed that there had been losses of up to 11 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in some countries -- such as Guatemala -- owing to a loss of brain power.  That was a high cost to society.  When WFP had tracked a group of children from under age 2 to adulthood, it had found that the group that had been properly nourished earned up to 50 per cent more income approximately 30 years later than the control group.  That was powerful evidence that investment in nutrition could have a huge impact on a nation’s resources, talent and economy.

Mr. Sachs responded to an inquiry about the contribution from agriculture to the greenhouse effect and its possible impact on WFP’s new food initiatives.  Acknowledging the complexity of the relationship between greenhouse gases, agriculture and food initiatives, he noted that the new food initiative would not materially change those greenhouse gas numbers, but stressed that “you do not solve the problem of greenhouse gases on the backs of starving people”.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.