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GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s see, I want to make sure you can hear me OK. So, look, we’re going to have a panel that’s—this is going to be a pragmatic panel. We’re going to talk about what has to be done, what has to be done now, and what we’re going to as best we can demand that the G20 address.
So, without further ado, I would like to bring in the other members of the panel.
We’ll start with His Excellency the Minister of Agriculture, Republic of Indonesia, Mr.—or, His Excellency Syahrul Yasin Limpo. Mr. Minister, welcome. Please.
Next will be Ambassador David Merrill, former US ambassador to Indonesia. Long career in the US Agency of International Development. Next, please.
Next will be the Honorable Kira Rudik, who is the vice president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, people’s deputy of Ukraine. Welcome, Kira.
And on the screen with us we should have—yes, we have—Dr. Seth Meyer, the chief economist, the—probably one of the most—foremost experts in the world on agricultural economics and technology. And, Seth, we’re delighted to have you with us. Thank you. I’m sorry you’re not here in person. And we’re looking at you continuously, but don’t let that make you nervous. We’re going to watch you the whole time.
OK, let’s get right to it. So I want to start with the deputy from Ukraine. And, Kira, I want to ask you this. You know, we were talking about this being a crisis. So we’re in a crisis. This war is not over. Of course, we’re happy that Ukraine has recovered Kherson, but we don’t know what’s going to happen next. So the odds are that we’re going to have another disrupted planting season in Ukraine, and Ukraine’s one of the breadbaskets. What can you tell us that we should ask the world to do for the farmers of Ukraine right now to give us the greatest output of grain for the world?
KIRA RUDIK: Hello. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure being here.
So when we are talking about the next harvest season and how to make sure that we prepare for it the best and most effective way, we should look at it with a business approach. So in business, when you are in crisis, the first thing is you need to fixate the losses. So right now we need to make sure that there is no more destruction or at least it’s minimized. So, for that, we need air force protection systems. And we are asking our allies—United States, European countries, United Kingdom, all countries from all over the world—to provide us with air force protection systems to protect infrastructure from further destruction. This is the first one.
Second one is, of course, de-mining. The de-mining efforts need to happen right now. They are happening, but at a very small scale because, basically, all the lands that are supposed to be agricultural lands right now partially or fully are mined. And they are not going to be able to be used to plant the harvest.
Third thing, of course, we need to fix infrastructure and use these five months before the next planting season to fix the infrastructure. As of right now, 40 percent of energy infrastructure in Ukraine is destroyed. So when the cities are experiencing electrical outages, when there is no running water, it will be very hard to continue on the commitment that we have in terms of the agriculture. So we need from the international community support on going through the winter and also fixing the infrastructure.
Fourth thing is commitment on the fuel. We understand that right now Ukraine is purchasing fuel and this, of course, has an impact on the price of the harvest on the grains, on all the products. So we need to make plans and commitments for the next year for the fuel and for the price of it. And of course, it’s a painful subject for everybody.
And the last but not the least, and a critically important point, is the grain deal. The grain deal is a temporary agreement between the United Nations, Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey that the ports where the grains are exported from are being not neutral, but the ships can go in and out easily. So the price of the harvest depends on the price of the insurance that the companies have to put on the ships that are going in and out of the warzone, basically. So having a written commitment or the general commitment so it will seem safely or look safely or be more safe for the companies to ship the grains in and out of Ukraine would decrease the price of insurance and the price of transportation.
As of—as for Ukrainian people, we want the war to be over. We are a technological and agricultural country. We want to make sure that we continue being a breadbasket for the whole world. This is one of our missions. This is what we want to do. And I can tell you part of my family are farmers. It’s sacred. It’s almost religious for us to be able to provide life, to create life instead of death. And this is critically important, and this is why we are fighting so hard to win the war, to end the war, and to make sure that we return to the safe operation where we are able to build prosperity for everyone and contradict all the crises.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Kira, thank you very much. You’ve given us some very clear guidelines, and we’ll make sure those get reflected in what we pass on to the White House and also to the—to the G20 here.
And I’d like to turn next to Minister Limpo. Minister, General Prabowo gave us this incredible presentation today that shows this progress that’s been made in Indonesia. There must be many countries all over the world who look at the example of Indonesia and say: We could do this. We would like to do this. I know we have representatives here from several African countries, and I’m sure they will be anxious to listen to your experience and your guidelines on how was this accomplished. The rice, the palm oil, the technology with cassava, how was this done? What is Indonesia doing that’s bringing it to the forefront in this way?
MINISTER SYAHRUL YASIN LIMPO: Yeah. Thank you, General.
Distinguished resource persons, ladies and gentlemen, from discussions which we have had and for the last one year, we have heard the huge challenges and issues that we are facing concerning climate change, wars, and also the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. We have talked about this in many forums.
And talking about food, food is the most strategic issue. And this issue requires the attention of states, nations, and the global citizens, as well as peace and public order. We might be able to delay other issues, but we can’t delay the issue of food. Food issue is the most essential, the most fundamental, and it has multidimensional aspects. Therefore, our president, Mr. Joko Widodo, has determined that food is a top priority, and it shall be discussed in detail.
In our countries, we look at our provinces, regencies, and sub-regencies, and also the states. And then we look at the regions. And we divide our areas in Indonesia into production regions. In two, three areas, we are dividing our areas in Indonesia into areas that have surplus in stocks, regions which have limited stocks, and which may get in trouble in a crisis if a crisis strikes. And there are also areas which have shortages. Likewise, in the global level there are countries facing shortages of food, and there are also countries having limited stocks, and there are also countries having abundant stocks. Therefore, in facing this global crisis, the food crisis, what we may do, among others, like what we do in Indonesia under the leadership of our president, is mitigate and adapt ourselves with issues including climate change, including the global supply chain, and food logistic aspects. This should be anticipated, and proper adaptation should be made by all food producers as well.
Second of all, subnational cooperation. Subnational cooperation should be promoted and regulated by the state. No subnational region should restrict its trade, fulfilling its own need only, or even close itself because it may affect the trade ecosystem as a whole. And this pattern is the same with the global pattern. We need to look at the flow of food to where it needs. We should look at the flow of supply chain, from which area does it flow.
And in Indonesia, we have dealt with food crisis. For the past three years, we have had a surplus in food reserve, especially rice, which we have used to deal with shortages in wheat because there is a problem with supply from India, Russia, and Ukraine. Therefore, we must prepare measures to substitute the wheat in the event of wheat shortage issues. So we prepare our sago, our cassava, and our sorghum to prepare for any shortages. Currently, there is no problem. This year, we are OK. We don’t have issues with wheat. But what about next year? What about the regulation? And will the regular shipping of this commodity return to normal? And what if the stocks are concentrated in a particular area? If this happens, what we need to do is to substitute such commodities.
We also have issues with cattle, which we have imported 1.2 million cattle. Therefore, in the event of shortage, what we need to do is to prepare our land, chicken, and ax supply. What I meant is handling this food crisis is a must. And there is no single country that has an ability to restrict itself because this will result in a global issue.
And as for cooperation, in the G20 agricultural ministerial meeting last time in Bali there were three points.
First, promoting the agricultural and food system that is resilient and sustainable, which includes the incorporation of technology, food variety, cooperation, and collaboration in science.
Second, promoting open, just, predictable, transparent, non-discriminative trade to ensure affordability and availability of food. Food is human rights, and therefore there shall be no country in G20 itself to restrict its trade or to protect its internal interests only because we are part of the global community of G20. And this is what we have agreed upon in the G20 agricultural ministerial meeting.
Third of all, we have had an agreement that for all countries with the agreement in Washington with G20 finance ministers and agricultural ministers, all countries should put food on the top priority. It should be on top. Therefore, we are talking about the global context—or the countries that have issues of food shortages. We need to take measures. We have to know the issues and also the target and also the methodology that we are using in dealing with and helping those nations that are facing food shortages.
We are having a surplus of 10.2 million tons of rice. Our president has prepared an adequate reserve for certain countries to help them, including African countries. The point is whenever a country has a surplus or has been able to exceed the national needs, they should plan for using the excess they have for global interests. Therefore, to me, the global cooperation should be enhanced [to include] how to monitor follow-up actions in the level of implementation in fulfilling the needs. Therefore, our strategy in Indonesia, we need to look at regions having emergency needs, including countries having conflicts, yeah, like happening between Russia and Ukraine.
What is our step? Are there any temporary measures? In Indonesia, we have prepared two years, yeah, to prepare ourselves in the event of issues. We are the fourth-largest country after China, India, and the US, followed by Pakistan. Therefore, we need to ensure that in, for example, the past two years, we didn’t have any acute food shortage issues. Then cooperation for a permanent system indicates that food security becomes important and there shall be no countries harming the trade ecosystem which we have built so far.
I think that’s all. Thank you.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. I know that there will be many countries studying what Indonesia’s doing, and we’re going to come back with some follow-up questions on that shortly.
Now I’d like to turn to Dr. Meyer, who’s with us on the screen. And Dr. Meyer, I’ve been bragging at this conference about some of the US innovations in agriculture and especially about improvements in things like bushels per acre of corn, and also talking about the role of agricultural extension services that the various states have and the Department of Agriculture. So when you look at the food security issue in the world, how do you see—what do you see as the right things for the United States to do? What would you be recommending right now if we could put you in front of the G20 in person and have all those heads of state lined up and you’d be able to tell them, one two, three, I want this done? What would you tell them?
SETH MEYER: Yeah. So I think the first place to start is in the US we’ve been incredibly productive in terms of growth in US agricultural production. You know, when I look to say, you know, what should we be doing around the world, when we look at the application of technology in the United States and what we’ve done to improve productivity, I think we did this, you know, from a three-point approach in the United States now. Which is, you know, we want not just to execute and pull every single bushel out of every acre if that’s not environmentally sustainable; or, we don’t want to apply technologies or activities which don’t make producers money.
So, again, you know, we think about this in terms of sustainable productivity growth in the United States. It’s got to make money for the farmer. It’s got to produce food that is affordable for consumers. It’s got to be environmentally sustainable. This isn’t something that you can produce for a few years and then you do damage to your system or the climate and you can’t continue to produce. So, you know, I think the US sees itself as being a reliable producer on the global market.
One of my other hats that I’ll put on here quick is the G20 has an initiative, the Ag Market Information System, and one of the—AMIS. One of the principles of AMIS is, you know, providing market information and avoiding unnecessary disruptions in the global market. So when I say the US being a reliable supplier, part of that is not putting export controls on. Part of that’s not putting export controls on, being a reliable supplier, and providing it to the rest of the world.
And in the US, you know, when we take our look at technology and sustainable productivity gains in the United States, there’s also a big interest in the United States in sharing that technology, sharing the adaptation practices from our climate hubs in the United States and taking that internationally. The secretary of agriculture mentioned that at COP27 today. So taking the lessons we’ve learned.
You’re right about our domestic Extension Service, but we’re pushing that to the next level. We’re pushing that into our Climate-Smart Commodities programs, where we’re going to—you know, we’ve put in $3 billion to experiment how to produce commodities in an environmentally friendly way, that producers can extract money and income from and yet meets the demands that the consumers want for these sustainable goods.
So, you know, what’s our principle in the United States? I think it’s to be—continue to be productive, to be productive in a sustainable way, and to share all those experiences about how we’ve done it with the rest of the world, as well, too. Because we can do lots of things in the United States, but we’re not going to achieve this goal of global food security without sharing this information which is very specific to countries’ own situations. So we’ll share our experiences with the rest of the world. I think that’s how we do it.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, thank you very much, Dr. Meyer. And we got a couple follow-up questions for you here if we’ve got time on some of the specific technologies we’re doing on carbon sequestration and other things, and maybe even on intellectual property.
So at this point I’d like to turn to Ambassador David Merrill, former ambassador here in Indonesia. And David, you must be really impressed by the progress Indonesia has made—it’s remarkable—in your time and experience here.
DAVID MERRILL: There’s no question about it.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: But I want to ask you, we haven’t talked that much about international institutions.
DAVID MERRILL: That’s right.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: So when you think about, as we’re looking at the G20 here, and we’ve got the minister’s experience in Indonesia—
DAVID MERRILL: Sure.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK:—we’ve got the immediate guidance from the member of parliament in Ukraine, we’ve got the willingness of the United States to share, but what about these international organizations like FAO and World Food Programme? Are they really tuned up to help us move forward?
DAVID MERRILL: Yes.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Or do we need to do more with them?
DAVID MERRILL: Yes. General Clark, thanks for that question.
I just am struck by the poignancy of this moment. I mean, here we are sitting in Bali just ahead of the G20. We are mainly NGOs. We are some government officials. We don’t know what form the G20 communique or statement or any other document on food security will take, at least I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. But we have an obligation to use the NGO channel to address the G20 and give them our ideas.
Now, one of them is on what international institutions can do. There are the MDBs, the World Food Programme, the FAO, even the WTO. USAID has done a lot of work over the years. Other government aid agencies have done a lot. So they can work on national and local distribution schemes. They can work on internationally coordinated food emergency reserves, which I haven’t heard being done yet. They can work with NGOs and private charities.
The idea is, as you have said, to coordinate the mobilization of adequate finance, repurpose—there’s about $800 billion a year of agricultural support going through multilateral and bilateral agencies, maybe just multilateral alone. That can be taken a look at. It could be repurposed for the needs of this particular food crisis. Balance of payments and budget support. Debt relief. Adequate IFI financing, even expanded. Emergency food reserves. So that’s one.
And we want to refrain from trade restrictions on fertilizer trade that would make things worse.
We want to guarantee the affordable supplies of staple foods—physical supplies, access via trade, access via income and livelihood support, social protection programs.
And I’ll wind up with later a possible G20 forum for food security dialogue that would continue after the current G20. It doesn’t have to be another international institution. It can be a place for things related to food security to be discussed under the aegis, perhaps, of Indonesia.
The improving supplies and distribution of fertilizers is key. There are trade barriers. There are subsidy schemes that have to be revisited; redoubled efforts to improve the efficiency of fertilizer use to help farmers do more with less, to save costs, to reduce nutrient loss to the environment. There needs to be improved productivity of smallholders growing staple food crops, closing the yield gaps. There’s a gentleman from Israel here who’s using micro water injections to improve food productivity. It doesn’t even have to be fertilizer; it could be fertilizer plus no-fertilizer technology. So the resilience and sustainability of food production, there’s a lot that can be done.
And as General Prabowo said and as the Chinese say, out of crisis comes opportunity. So here’s a dilly of a crisis, but it’s also a big opportunity. And we can even change the—make at least some changes in the world’s system for dealing with this as a result of this crisis: improving the nutritional quality of diets, progress for women and children, increased use of micronutrients.
What about agricultural research? We’ve been doing that for 40 years. Taking a look at the agricultural research that’s being done, see what improvements can be made, make crops more resilient to climate change, more sustainable, higher yields on less land.
Now, it wasn’t too long ago—it was only in April or maybe March—that the G20 itself was grappling with did it even need to be concerned with the Ukraine food crisis. They said, hey, this is a political crisis. This is for other agencies of the UN. And most of us went around saying, no, this is an economic crisis. OK, it started with politics. It started with war. But if people are starving to death, isn’t that a concern of the G20? Fortunately, it took only about two, three weeks for the G20 to say that’s exactly right. So the G20 can make equally impressive leaps in the next couple weeks and years.
Now, the one thing that we have talked about is the creation of a G20 forum for food security, trying to bypass the resistance that we would encounter for setting up yet another international institution. Don’t need to. Indonesia’s in a great position because of its posture on the world stage and because it’s leading the G20 to serve as a I don’t want to say clearinghouse necessarily, but a forum for discussion of ideas on food security.
And Indonesia has a very good track record on food security. If you go back to 2008, there was a severe rice crisis and Indonesia was one of the primary—probably the primary leader on solving the regional and global rice crisis in 2008. Indonesia’s going to be chairing ASEAN. So let’s let Indonesia within ASEAN at least deal with the rice part of food security, which it’s already shown it can do a good job.
So, in sum, I think we should write up the recommendations of this conference in some form with some people designated and get them post haste to the people in the G20 that are deciding whether to have some kind of statement and what that statement should be. It’s the least we can do to make our input. That’s my suggestion.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador. Those are some really great ideas and we’ll try to incorporate them.
OK. So we’ve got about 10 minutes. I’m going to try to do a couple of let’s call them lightning rounds and then I’m going to come back to the minister to ask another follow-up question. So the first lightning round I want to ask each of our panelists this question. When we look at classical economics, we talk about land, labor, and capital. And in agriculture, of course, there’s agricultural land, there’s the farm labor, there’s the mechanization of labor which has helped us tremendously, but capital—the world is awash in capital. We had no idea 50 years ago that capital would be so plentiful in the world. What can capital do—financial firms, investment firms, firms that want to talk about how to improve mankind? I deal with these firms in London all the time. I hear it in New York. What is our specific ask of the financial community in dealing with this world food crisis?
And I’d like to start and ask—I mean, you don’t—you may not have an answer to this, but if you do I’d like—I’d like you to come up and tell me what you think about it. And let’s talk about the Ukraine crisis first. What can the international capital leaders do? They’ve got billions of dollars of resources. What are they going to do with it to help us right now in Ukraine?
KIRA RUDIK: First of all, to secure the investments into agriculture for the next year. I think all of us, we realize that generally there has been a huge flow back of the investment into Ukraine, and this is understandable because of the war. So we need that to come back.
On all the investment forums with all the investors/bankers, we are saying we all remember the lessons of the war: The one who is coming first will get the big—the big buck. And so this is why it’s time to invest right now. The risks are high, but the output will also be extremely high. This is how fortunes are made. So this is why, if the argument of the risks and the output would not work, we will just ask saying do it as a humanitarian way, invest into Ukraine right now into agricultural sector.
Then we are coming back again to cleaning up the mines because this is—the de-mining efforts are critical right now and will require tremendous investment. Just for everyone to understand, de-mining is basically going through every field and checking and processing the certain level of the ground. So it’s just like another agricultural work, basically, and it’s an incredibly important and hard and complicated process that needs to happen. But the output of it will be extremely productive because it will give us back the very fertile land.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: OK. So I’m going to—I’m going to jump in. I’m going to say I’ve got two suggestions, OK, and you tell me if you like them, you take them back to Ukraine, we’ll go to Dr. Meyer and he’ll push them through US Department of Agriculture and get them up there.
One is farmers in Iowa have done amazing things with putting tile underneath their farmland. They have rich, deep, dark earth just like Ukraine does. It promotes drainage so you can get into the land sooner, you can take out the pockets that hold water, you can have uniform crop. Suppose we gave Ukrainian farmers no-interest loans to improve their land in that way so that they would get more productivity per hectare?
Number two, there’s been a lot of destruction and theft of agricultural equipment in Ukraine. Suppose Ukrainian farmers got no-interest loans to replace that agricultural equipment. Would that be helpful? If you like that—
KIRA RUDIK: Yeah, I do like that.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: OK, good.
KIRA RUDIK: It’s a fantastic suggestion.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Dr. Meyer, can we do that?
SETH MEYER: Well, and we’re already doing some of that—
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: All right.
SETH MEYER:—when it comes to the US government support for farmers.
So I’ll even take a step back. My Iranian—my Ukrainian colleague’s talking about infrastructure and delivery of grain. I’ll even take a step back and say we’re figuring out ways to try and help the agricultural producers to be able to afford simple things like cash flow, getting that crop planted, getting the crop stored as they work on their infrastructure. So things like temporary storage, the big silo bag. So instead of having a large barn, you have a very long, long, long plastic tube, essentially, where you’re storing grain temporarily. I think there are things that need to be done on the ground in Ukraine now for these producers to cash flow for this next crop, put that winter wheat in the ground or plant spring crop.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: That sounds good. Remember, I’m focusing on finance. Put the money in. Get the farmers the money they need at no-interest loans. They can improve productivity.
Now let me turn to the minister. Sir, I want to ask you this question. I know you’ve had a lot of foreign direct investment in agriculture in Indonesia, these palm-oil plantations and other things. But what more can the international financial community do to promote sustainable agriculture in Indonesia? What could we do to—what do we need to advertise?
And you’re the pacesetter for so many tropical environments. What do we need the bankers in London and New York to know about your needs for finance?
MINISTER SYAHRUL YASIN LIMPO:Agriculture does not only concern food. It also involves employment and a fundamental economic system to support industries, including pharmaceuticals industry. So, when it comes to agriculture, there are opportunities for investment in the agricultural cultivation stage as well as post-harvest, and there are also opportunities in agricultural industries. And the third one is the marketing of agricultural products. So there are three agendas, three segments which can be tapped into in investment. And we, on the order of our president, are working on this.
Agriculture must be the answer. And this year, after three years since Indonesia’s agriculture has been the mainstay of the Indonesian economy, other sectors have been hit hard by COVID-19, but our agriculture went up by 16.42 percent. Our global exports rose to 38.2 percent. And this is a sign that agriculture has not been much affected by the conditions and weather, except for war because we need fertilizers. Sodium and phosphate fertilizers are in Ukraine and Russia, and this is a challenge for the whole world.
Therefore, where is the investment? The investment can be made in the three areas, General. And talking about agriculture, we are a tropical country consisting of 17,000 islands. There are areas which can be invested for this in coastal and marine areas. And there are already investments that can be made. We produce a lot of tuna, up to 18 million tons a year. We can grow crops on the coastal areas, as well, with the technology that was presented by our American colleague. We have crops that are resilient against water-related challenges, can survive in swamps and can survive in salty seawater. Indonesia has many hills and mountains, and we still have enough land available to invest.
Currently, the president of Indonesia, Mr. Joko Widodo, is trying to focus several areas to be made into Food Estates called integrated farms where the large land consists of plantations, animal husbandry, and even freshwater fish cultivation, as well as horticulture. All of this requires technology, requires experts, and requires machines in order to become a product that the world needs. Therefore, agricultural products, after reaching the industrial stage, will be part that we are waiting for.
We have enough land for sugar factories. We have sugar in Indonesia in large quantities, but we still import some of it. So which bank is willing to invest?
Finally, agriculture needs capital, and this is one of President Joko’s successes in preparing a large enough budget to be accessed by small farmers in the form of people’s business loans. Its value is approximately a hundred trillion. Our farmers two years ago used these funds, around 55 trillion. The NPL was only 0.03 percent. Our farmers are honest and don’t want to be in debt.
Last year, we used 85 trillion people’s business credit funds based on government policies. It is not a subsidy, but a loan with low interest. With low interest, this can be good working capital to use. And the NPL is 0.6 percent, and that is in agricultural cultivation stage. Now, in post-harvest it’s on how micro, small, and medium enterprises can access agriculture loans.
Therefore, finally, there are five points that has become our focus from these investment funds.
First, they encourage the opening and creation of agricultural businesses, both small, medium, and large investments. I have given the example of sugar. We have sago palms in an area of 5 million hectares, and this can be used as flour, which can substitute wheat. If there is a bank that wants to invest, we will show you the place.
Second, we support young entrepreneurs to become Millennial farmers in agriculture. We focus on giving access to young farmers who want to try. We have trained more than 300 farmers using people’s business credit funds of approximately 2 trillion rupiahs. The acceleration is very fast because the younger ones have a faster network, strong motivation, and WhatsApp groups. And this works quite well.
Third, provide assistance for agricultural businesses for export. For exports, we assist them. Therefore, we bridge between buyers from one country and buyers from other countries. And the G20 must be able to bridge the assistance from the United States and what we can facilitate with the current conditions. Conducting training and assistance in the development of agricultural businesses requires experts. Even an entrepreneurial system is needed for our agriculture because our agriculture involves global matters. Our oil production is large. But does everything have to be with big industries? No, the president wants this to be done by people’s industry, and this requires capital to be facilitated so that the products can be exported to the global market at a lower price. Then, of course, we enhance our national products so that they are competitive compared to those of other countries.
I think agriculture is the answer to the global crisis and the world economic crisis in the future. If we can maintain our agriculture properly, it will be very much helpful, as everyone needs agriculture.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Great lessons. Great lessons. That’s great.
So, look, we’re trying to do a lightning round here and I’m going to get struck by lightning if I don’t move this thing alone. So I’d like to open up this next question to anybody who wants to do it. But in the military, we always have dreams about what technology we might have in the future. You know, we’ve always thought better communications, higher resolution imagery, those kinds of things. If you’re in the—thinking about the food problem in the world, what do we need to think about in the way of technology? What’s the—what’s the opportunity that we just need to put the resources on to really move us forward to the next level? How do we do it? Anybody. Who wants to take it? David? Seth, want to take it here from the—what do you say from the United States about it?
DAVID MERRILL: It’s a combination of international institutions and the private sector. I believe there still is an international institute on wheat research. I think it’s called CIMMYT. I have no idea what it’s been doing, but it better be doing something right now. So that’s one.
The other was the idea that Minister Prabowo said about getting private investment started. He’s doing a good job. So are others. And I think that’s equally worthy, if not more worthy, than the government programs.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Dr. Meyer, what do you say? If you could have your silver bullet here to fix this, what would it be?
SETH MEYER: I think it would be two very different things.
So, on the pure science and technology side, we’re making huge advancements in things like gene editing. So taking genes within the plant—not introducing new genes; just turning things off and on or letting the plant express genes which are already there. So impressive technology to help us do more with less, you know, ways to avoid putting—you know, rationalize better things like fertilizer use, which is both good for producers in terms of lowering cost and good for the environment.
But then I think that there are some other, you know, not cutting-edge science that really has potential for food security. And that is translating a lot of this technology and practices—some of them used by US producers—into smallholder farms or even let’s talk about the ability of women to gain capital and their productivity gaps. And even steps here where we could bring, you know, women, make them as productive. And it’s not because they’re not productive; it’s access to capital and technology. There is a huge gap that could help us close in productivity. Simply providing technology and capital to women farmers would do a tremendous amount for food security. So I think we’ve got amazing science we can apply, but we got to bring that science down to producers to fix those productivity gaps around the world.
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, thank you.
Now, look, here’s what we’ve done in the last 35 or 40 minutes up here. We’ve looked at the immediate crisis in Ukraine. We’ve come up with some concrete suggestions that have to be done right away. We’ve taken Indonesia as the example of a tropical country that has done marvelous work and has so many lessons to share with the world, and we congratulate Indonesia for this. We’ve listed the international institutions and a number of changes that can be made. We’ve talked about international finance. We’ve talked about the future of technology and the role of the United States still as a leading agricultural country to develop that technology, share it, and push it out. I think it’s—this is a time to come out of the crisis and look to the future with hope.
Thank you all. Let’s give our panel a big hand here. Thank you.
Watch the panel
MATTHEW KROENIG: Well, thank you, General Clark and our panelists, for a really rich discussion. I enjoyed that. I hope you did as well.
My name is Matthew Kroenig. I’m the acting director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. We’re leading the Atlantic Council’s food security work as part of our mission of developing sustainable nonpartisan strategies for addressing the most important security challenges facing the United States and its allies, including food security.
So we’ve had a terrific discussion this morning. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re running a little bit behind on our schedule. And so my team and I have updated the schedule. We’re on track to finish on time at three p.m.
What we’re going to do now is go ahead and take a break for lunch. I know some of you have been out there already, but now we’ll take a break, 30 minutes. So be back here at 1:30 and we’ll continue our discussion at that time.
And as you’re going away to lunch, it’s my pleasure to introduce a video from Congressman Pat Ryan of New York’s 19th District. So as you’re going to lunch, enjoying your lunch, you can listen to this message from Congressman Ryan. Ryan is on the House Armed Services Committee, so he understands very well the links between food security and national security. So enjoy the video, enjoy your lunch, and we’ll see you back here in 30 minutes. Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE PATRICK RYAN (D-NY): Good morning, everyone. Congressman Pat Ryan here. I want to start with a thank you to the Atlantic Council for organizing this forum, and a special thank you to Gaurav and your family foundation for hosting and convening such a timely and important conversation.
This is a topic that doesn’t always get its due, but I will say it plainly to begin: Food security is important not only for its humanitarian consequences, but also because it is inextricably connected to national security. We’ve seen this in Russia’s illegal and reprehensible war in Ukraine, but also in conflicts around the world from Nigeria and Syria to where I served in Iraq. And there is a direct linkage between food insecurity and these hostilities. In the former example, food security was a literal weapon of war used to inflict economic and human casualties. And of course, in the latter examples it deteriorates civil situations within countries and fosters environments ripe for extremism, for terrorism.
And this is a topic where I have direct frontline experience, having served two combat tours in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer. What I saw and what I really remember was a people driven to war with their own neighbors really by a lack of access to the basic necessities of everyday life: food, water, shelter—and what may come as a surprise to many of you, oil. People often overlook the complex but critical interdependence of global food systems with energy markets, even in countries like Iraq that sit on huge crude oil deposits. Proper refining capacity, shipping routes, supply lines are just as important as farming itself, and we have to make sure our solutions address this dynamic.
Right now I have the honor of serving the eighth-most rural—of 435, the eighth-most rural district in the United States; also the region that raised FDR, who tried to put the world on a path to food security almost 80 years ago. And even here we struggle with access to modern agricultural techniques. We have our own supply-line struggles.
So with both of those experiences in mind—both combat and my own community—I’ve come to Congress with an immediate focus on food security. We have to ensure that the United States is a strong voice and a strong leader in strengthening food systems, improving agricultural productivity. And we cannot underestimate the importance of energy markets in this puzzle.
What’s encouraging to me, what I’m happy to report, is that this is one of the last remaining bipartisan endeavors. Look no further than the recent Global Food Security Reauthorization Act, providing billions of dollars every year for the federal government to partner with food-insecure countries to get on a path to self-sustainability. Because of this legislation’s Feed the Future program, 5.2 million more families no longer suffer from hunger. And this is a bill that’s been led by my Democratic and Republican colleagues in both houses in true bipartisan fashion. I see this as an issue that can and should transcend a lot of the traditional economic and military alliances. It’s an opportunity for real cooperation that brings everyone to the table.
Ultimately, I am so excited to work with everyone gathered here today as we combat world hunger, as we bolster our supply chains, and increase security and safety across the globe. Thank you so much.