Remarks by Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen at Green Climate Fund Agriculture Site

As prepared for delivery

Thank you very much. It’s great to be here. This project shows how our countries can partner to address two of the most critical issues facing Zambia and the world: food security and climate adaptation.

Today, hunger and food insecurity are taking a heavy toll on communities around the world, including right here in Zambia. The number of people facing acute food insecurity has increased to 345 million in over 80 countries. In Zambia, about 2 million people face acute food insecurity—and nearly half the population is unable to meet their minimum calorie intake requirements.

Global food systems have been strained for some time due to climate change, regional conflicts and the economic disruptions of COVID. Nowhere was this more evident than in Africa. And this difficult situation has been exacerbated by Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine, which has further burdened food, fuel and fertilizer prices around the world. Russia’s war cut off significant supplies of wheat, corn and sunflower oil destined for world markets, including in Africa, leading to shortages and price spikes. Higher global energy prices have raised the cost of supplying food and other goods, squeezing financially strapped countries. And the spike in fertilizer prices has hurt agricultural production in African communities.

The first to be hit hard are the world’s poor—including in the United States, but especially in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. Put simply, Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against its neighbor has harmed Africa by exacerbating existing food insecurity and creating an unnecessary strain on the continent’s economy.

At the African Leaders’ Summit in Washington last month, President Biden and I met with African heads of state to discuss how we can redouble our efforts to strengthen food security. Today I want to talk about the actions we are taking to respond to the urgent food security crisis. I would also like to talk about our long-term partnership with African nations to build more sustainable food systems. Our goal is to get to a place where the need for humanitarian aid is exceptional and rare. And we want to advance a future where Africa participates more fully in global food and fertilizer markets and supply chains.

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The United States is taking decisive and immediate action to relieve the famine. Last year, the United States provided $13 billion in humanitarian and food security assistance around the world. This includes President Biden’s announcement last month of $2 billion in emergency life-saving aid to Africa.

We also rallied countries and international organizations to avoid export restrictions and obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid. It is important that food and other important supplies can flow more freely. The United States has taken care to exempt food and key agricultural exports from its sanctions programs to ensure further flow of them to world markets.

We worked with partners to facilitate Ukrainian food exports through the Black Sea Grain Initiative, including shipments to Africa.

And with our partners, we are leading efforts to stabilize global energy prices by introducing a cap on the price of Russian oil. This policy maintains flows of discounted Russian oil – helping to cushion further price shocks in emerging economies, while reducing Russian revenues.

Although the policy is in the early stages of implementation, the Ministry of Finance estimates that it could lead to about $6 billion in annual savings for Africa’s 17 largest net oil importing countries.

We are also working with international financial institutions to increase our food security efforts. Last April, I convened a “call to action” with the heads of these institutions and representatives of the G7 and G20 to spur coordinated global action. The World Bank is implementing up to $30 billion in projects—including $12 billion in new programming—in response to the food security crisis. The African Development Bank continues to provide $1.5 billion in credit to address Africa’s food crisis. This mechanism is expected to benefit 20 million African smallholder farmers. With new seeds and fertilizer, these farmers will be better equipped to quickly produce up to 38 million tons of wheat, corn, rice and soybeans to meet the continent’s needs.

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While we address acute needs now, we must also take a longer view and increase investment in long-term resilience of food systems. Africa is a perfect example of these twin challenges. This is a continent experiencing acute food needs. But it’s also one that also has the potential not only to feed itself, but to help feed the world – if the right steps are taken. As an example, maize production in Zambia has the potential to make it a regional food hub.

Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States announced a US-Africa strategic partnership on food security at the African Leaders’ Summit last month. We will work together to improve Africa’s access to global agricultural commodity markets and meet the growing demand for fertilizers. And we will promote efficient agricultural practices and approaches, including strengthening climate resilience.

Let me talk specifically about climate for a moment. We know that storms, floods and droughts in Africa have increased in intensity and frequency over the past decade. This harmed agricultural yields. The same is true globally. Indeed, farmers – like those we work with here – are often the first witnesses to a changing climate and its effects. They know that climate change is not just a future threat; it’s already here.

We must take urgent action to adapt agricultural practices and technologies to a changing climate. The project we are visiting today is helping smallholder farmers better manage the impacts of climate change. It is funded by the Green Climate Fund, of which the United States is proud to be a part. We are committed to ensuring that the Fund has sufficient resources to continue this important work. We are also advancing climate adaptation through our latest $155 million contribution to the Global Program on Agriculture and Food Security. We prioritize innovative projects, such as providing farmers with new seeds that are more resistant to drought, heat and other extreme conditions. Even today, two-thirds of the program’s projects are climate-related.

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Africa’s long-term strategy to address food security also requires development of its infrastructure and logistics capabilities. The continent needs stable capacity not only to grow food, but also to ensure that it can be cultivated, stored and transported efficiently. The G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment will mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five years in a range of global infrastructure investments. The United States also advocates against export bans in the agricultural sector so that food can move more freely. And we strongly support increasing trade among African countries through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

An issue of personal importance to me is the role of women in the economy and society. In Zambia, women make up more than half of the agricultural workforce. Yet significant gender inequality in access to land, capital, seeds and fertilizers persists. This depresses agricultural productivity and harms production. I believe we must advance the cause of women farmers in Africa. This is the right thing to do. But it is also critical to food security and the economy.

This is a difficult time for many in Africa and around the world. But that makes our partnership even more important. As President Biden said last month, it’s not just about showing a willingness to work with Africans. It’s also about doing the hard work of tackling these challenges together. We are ready to do just that.

Thank you.


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