Address by Minister Fantino: Global Food Security Forum

February 5, 2013
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Thank you Minister Wyant for that kind introduction.

Good morning,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It's a real pleasure to be here with you today.

And not just because I get to be out of Parliament either.

I'm pleased to be here, because there is no better way to mark International Development Week than to join with you, Saskatchewan's economic drivers and representatives from the World Food Programme, to explore future partnerships that will not only benefit developing countries, but also Canada.

So thank you to Lionel and the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership for hosting this terrific event and inviting me to participate.

Lionel was just telling me Saskatchewan's economic growth has slowed by fifty percent this morning because the best in business are right here in this room.

In all seriousness, thank you for taking this time out of your busy schedules.

This conference provides us with a tremendous opportunity to have a twenty-first century, common sense discussion about one of the world's greatest challenges, and your theme:

How do we feed a hungry world?

It's a good question and one that the world has been trying to answer for some time now.

I think it's especially fitting that we tackle this question here in Saskatchewan.

As many of you know, the province has nearly half of Canada's total cultivated farmland.

Whether we're talking about pulses, grains, or beef, some of the best food in the world is produced right here in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan's agriculture industry is thriving, and you hold a wealth of knowledge and expertise that you can share with the world.

And the world needs your help.

After all, close to nine hundred million people remain chronically undernourished.

As the Minister of International Cooperation, I've met some of these people—women, men, and children struggling to survive.

It is clear to me that hunger is one of the worst forms of poverty.

It literally trumps everything else in life.

When you're hungry, you can't learn.

You are too weak to work.

And you're unable to support yourself or your family.

That's why Canada has, as Prime Minister Harper has stated, been a compassionate neighbour.

Most Canadians are familiar with our humanitarian assistance in times of disaster and crisis.

It is during times such as the earthquake in Haiti or the current food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa that Canada provides vital lifesaving services.

Of course, we couldn't do it without our partners at the World Food Programme.

Our relationship with them is based on mutual trust, respect, and commitment to respond quickly and effectively to people in their time of need.

When there is a food crisis, the World Food Programme works on the front lines of conflicts and disaster zones, delivering critical lifesaving assistance to those in need.

The Canadian International Development Agency has helped the World Food Programme provide emergency food assistance to ninety million people in seventy-three countries.

With our support, the World Food Programme has provided meals to more than twenty-three million (23M) school children around the world.

These school programs increase attendance—especially for girls—and improve performance in school.

As part of our plan to produce more results like these, we want to make food assistance more efficient.

That's why Canada led international negotiations toward a new Food Assistance Convention.

Supported by the World Food Programme, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and other Canadian organizations, this convention ensures a garantees annual supply of quality food assistance for developing countries.

This means countries would pledge their annual minimum commitment of financial support for the purchase and supply of food assistance.

This gives the World Food Programme the knowledge and certainty they need for long-term planning and purchasing, making them more flexible and efficient in what they buy and where they buy it.

This guaranteed financial commitment can pay dividends for food suppliers, such as Canadian farmers and processors, as well.

With the quality and consistency of Canadian products, Canadian farmers and processors would be able to compete and succeed as the supplier of choice for food assistance buyers.

With that said, I am pleased to announce that, today, Canada is formally adopting the Food Assistance Convention and announcing our annual commitment.

This initiative is one more way that the Canadian International Development Agency helps ensure that people have enough food to eat during a humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian assistance is a necessary and useful response.

But this won't help to feed them or their family for the long term.

That's why the bulk of CIDA's work focuses on long-term development.

While it is less visible, it is no less important.

We work to strengthen individuals, families, communities, and countries to be more resilient and self-sufficient over the long term.

More than that, we are all cognizant of the global situation and its often immediate effect on Canada.

Last year, we welcomed the seven billionth person to the planet.

One billion people are now young people located in the developing world.

We all know how economic instability and security risks around the world can affect us all—right from the farm gate through to the grocery store.

What happens in other countries, ultimately, has a local impact, and not just on TV or on the Internet but in our communities and our homes.

When the American or European economy suffers, we see the difference in our bank accounts and on our ledger sheets.

When there is political unrest in the Middle East, you pay for it when you fill up your trucks and farm equipment.

Right now, we are seeing how a food crisis in Mali is undermining their security, increasing the likelihood of there being safe havens for terrorists and ultimately drawing Canada and other nations into a larger security crisis.

This is the reality that we live in.

And this reality is challenging.

But it's is a challenge to which Canadians and the international community expect us to rise.

It is a challenge to which a country like Canada—with its extraordinary agricultural bounty and world-class expertise—has much to offer.

In a world where the growing population is increasingly demanding high-quality, nutritious, and sustainably grown food, Canada is ready to respond.

Canada's leadership in food security is recognized around the world.

We focus on responding to the immediate food security needs of vulnerable populations, while building the capacity of communities to feed themselves.

While other federal departments help sign the export certificates and negotiate free trade deals, we help create the conditions for trade to be possible.

By helping ensure they have access to food and water, they will be better prepared to be educated, participate in skills training, and, ultimately, become more economically sustainable.

We also help build up the institutions, laws, and regulations they need to become a stable trading partner and a place where investors want to put their money.

Clearly, food security is a complex problem that requires innovative and sustainable solutions.

I believe this is an area where the agriculture and agri-food industry can provide a great deal of expertise.

Already, you have a long tradition of innovative agricultural inventions that include everything from canola to marquis wheat—which was developed to battle our cold winter temperatures.

But, in order to grow more quality food, we need to drive innovation further.

We also need to bring current innovative practices to farmers in developing countries in ways that are relevant to their particular challenges and environments.

For this reason, I'm particularly pleased to see the plans for the University of Saskatoon's Global Institute for Food Security.

With the help of our great partners, Canada will continue to lead the way in agriculture and food innovation around the world.

Together, we are working in countries like Senegal to deliver zinc supplements that will benefit more than one point seven million children under the age of five and substantially reduce the number of child deaths.

This is a collaboration between Canadians, CIDA, Teck Resources—a Canadian private sector company—and the Micronutrient Initiative—a global leader in nutrition.

And we know there is more that can be done.

Whether we're talking about reformulating protein-packed pulses into Chinese noodles or incorporating the naked oat into a soup to feed those less fortunate, Canada has the expertise needed to feed the world.

In 2009, CIDA and the International Development Research Council launched the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.

Canadian and Southern partners across 17 different countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean have begun to work together on industry-led research that will meet the needs of their local farmers.

In Ethiopia, the farmers—most of whom are women—needed a way to increase the protein in their families' diets.

It was researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and Hawassa University who found a way to feed the depleted soil using nitrogen-fixing bacteria so that farmers could grow high-protein pulse crops like peas, lentils, and beans.

The fact is: agriculture is a business.

And when it comes to agricultural development and sustainable food security, we recognize that the private sector—both Canadian and international—will be a vital partner going forward.

This was emphasized at the GrowCanada Conference in Ottawa last November, which explored the future of Canada's agriculture sector and what it will take to secure Canada's place on the global agricultural stage.

There are opportunities for small and medium-sized Canadian businesses to do great work with agencies like the World Food Programme.

I encourage those businesses to attend the World Food Programme's procurement information session later this afternoon and learn more about how to become an implanting partner.

The reality is that private flows—including foreign direct investment, portfolio equity investment, and remittances—to many developing countries are now far greater than foreign aid.

This shift is welcomed and to be encouraged.

Our government wants to collaborate with Canadian partners, like you, that recognize that responsible business and positive social impact are good for their bottom line.

The public and private sectors each have different strengths to bring to the table.

The Canadian agriculture sector has the ability to identify market opportunities, offer specialized knowledge and expertise in agricultural technology, innovation and research, and provide the financial and human resources to make things happen.

You have considerable expertise in fertilizer production and improved seeds suitable for different growing conditions—something that I know is needed after visiting some of the most underdeveloped regions of the world.

Our government's strength is that we have long-term relationships with a lot of developing country governments.

We know their needs and priorities, and we are committed to achieving lasting results beyond our aid investments.

That gives us the power to bring momentum to initiatives based on our expertise and credibility.

Canada is supporting the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program's private sector initiative to find innovative financing methods for smallholder farmers and small and medium-sized agribusiness firms.

The Program's private sector window provides loans, equity, guarantees, and technical assistance to private firms in developing countries as a way to help smallholder farmers increase their productivity and reach new markets.

One of the beneficiaries of this funding was the Pran Group of Bangladesh—the country's largest food and nutrition company—which received money to expand its food processing and fruit pulping operations.

This created twelve hundred new jobs and ensured that several thousand farmers have consistent demand and fair pricing for their produce.

We need more partnerships like these, and we will be looking at similar ideas to inform our approach for future private-sector collaboration.

Seven billion people is a lot of mouths to feed.

And by 2050, it will be nine billion.

And so, when we ask the question, "How do we feed a hungry world?"

I believe we can do it through a coordinated approach between governments, development partners, and the private sector.

I encourage you all to look overseas for new partnerships and new opportunities that will deliver results for the world's less fortunate and here at home.

This Forum is a wonderful opportunity to advance the agenda of collaboration on global food security.

It's an agenda that is fitting for International Development Week, as it is one that benefits everyone, from farmers to businesses to consumers, both at home and abroad.

Together, I believe that we can achieve our development goals for agriculture in developing countries and support Canada's long-term prosperity.

Thank you.

- 30 -