A Food Pricing Problem Now. Next Year, a Food Availability Problem.

We are facing unquestionably, undeniably, a food security crisis beyond anything we have seen at least since World War II. And quite frankly it’s going to get a whole lot worse in the next 24 months.

Thank you very much. President Linton, thank you. The hospitality has been remarkable. We have so many mutual friends and to be here I feel like I’m among family and friends. But as President Linton said at breakfast this morning with a group of students about football, knowing that I come from Clemson, “There’s a chance that we could end up playing at the end of the year. Our friendship disappears on that day.” The Tigers or the Wildcats, I’ve learned how to do this. But I did sneak in a picture like that. President Linton, thank you so, so very much. And it is truly an honor to be here. When I looked at the distinguished list of speakers in the past I told the President, I said, “You’re now at the bottom of the barrel.”

But quite frankly to have this discussion on this day, in this time in world history it couldn’t be more appropriate. Because we are facing unquestionably, undeniably a food security crisis beyond anything we have seen at least since World War II. And quite frankly it’s going to get a whole lot worse in the next 24 months. We’ll break this down today. I took this role as the executive director of the World Food Programme five and a half years ago reluctantly, quite frankly. President Trump was elected, and friends called and said they were very concerned about strategic international aid being cut, and would I consider taking this role. My Republican and Democrat friends in the Senate and the House said, “You can talk him out of that. Please take this role.” And I’m like, “Look, I don’t want a job. I don’t need a job.” Well anyway, six years later… And it wasn’t that difficult convincing President Trump of the value of strategic international aid and how food security is critical to the stability of nations around the planet.

And what was and has been a beautiful thing in spite of Washington, D.C., on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that appear to be fighting about any and everything regardless of the issue, how they come together on food security is absolutely a beautiful and powerful thing. When I walk into the halls of Congress—whether the House or the Senate—and Tracey Mann knows this from firsthand experience, and Jerry Moran—it’s amazing to see them drop their differences and say, “Governor, what can we do? What needs to be done?” So when I took this role five and a half years ago, my goal at that time was to put the World Food Programme out of business. At that time there were only 80 million people as we would say marching to starvation. That’s different than chronic hunger, but those in severe food insecurity status or those that end up in famine, destabilization of nations, or mass migration. So being a former U.S. governor, I like to set goals, objectives, benchmarks: What can we do to put the World Food Programme out of business? That’s not something you see from many U.N. or government agencies, right? So I would go into a country and say, “OK, you’ve been here 30 years, maybe it’s not working. What do we need to do differently so that we create food independence, sustainability, resilience for the people in that country?”

Well, sadly enough, the number instead of going from 80 down to zero, it went from 80 to 135. That was right before COVID. So the question would be, why did it rise? And the simple answer—number one—is man-made conflict. Matters of the heart. Number two was climate shocks. COVID comes along—economic devastation, disruption of supply chains around the world, especially in the poorest of the poor countries. The number went from 135 million people marching to starvation to 276 million people. These are not numbers, folks, these are real people with real names living in communities, struggling to survive. The economic devastation from COVID lingered and the coping capacity of the poorest of the poor was completely wiped away. Living from hand-to-mouth on a day-to-day basis. Heartbreaking. Tragic. From country to country.

So just when you think it couldn’t get any worse you have the Ethiopian war. Afghanistan. And then the breadbasket of the world, Ukraine—grows enough food to feed 400 million people—now the longest breadlines on the planet. When you take a nation that grows enough food to feed 400 million people and take it out of the market, the impact is just catastrophic. I was already saying a the end of 2021—and if you go back and watch my Nobel Peace Prize speech in December 11 months ago you’ll see us talking about 2022 pre-Ukraine would be the worst humanitarian year since World War II because of conflict, because of COVID, because of climate shocks, and pricing inflation. Many leaders couldn’t understand that.

Then Ukraine comes along. Dozens upon dozens of nations around the planet depend upon the grain from Ukraine. Fifty percent of what we were buying came from Ukraine. We feed and assist about 130 million people on any given day, week or month. But the poorest-of-the-poor countries that were relying on grain from Ukraine or fertilizers from Russia, for example—you’ve got dozens upon dozens of nations that were devastated. You’ve seen the pricing that has increased around the world. The impact that it’s having on the average family in America. I heard Senator Boozman in Arkansas say that it’s about $570 per family per month, the impact. Well imagine the impact that it has on a mother trying to feed a family in Niger when 75 percent of their income already goes to food. The impact that it has in many of these very poor places it’s seven times the cost that it was just a couple of years ago. I have mother after mother that tells me personally—I was just in Syria, just in Afghanistan—now that the winter months are coming back, “Mr. Beasley, I don’t have any more money and I now have to choose do I buy heating oil and therefore starve my children to death, or do I buy cooking oil and therefore freeze my children to death. But I cannot buy both.” It’s unprecedented what we’re facing.

And in the midst of all this, when all the political leaders around the world were fixated on the eastern border of Ukraine because of the military invasion by Russia, I immediately went down to Odessa and said, “You’ve got to open these ports.” Which was not a simple thing because even the Ukrainians didn’t want to open the ports out of fear of Russian invasion. But 50 percent of the Ukrainian economy the GDP is based on those ports. This was not just a Ukrainian matter. If Putin maintained the blockade without firing a shot along that coastline, the economy of Ukraine collapses and food security absolutely just is a tsunami on top of the perfect storm. You can’t imagine it getting any worse. And so when the Black Sea grain initiative came together—and it was a lot of work, a lot of effort—I remember tweeting to President Putin. I said, “If you want to bring famine to the rest of the world, keep these ports closed.” But leaders in Ukraine and the rest of the world began to understand the significance of getting those ports opened, because supply chains mean everything. And President Putin and Russia came to the table and we had the Black Sea grain initiative. You only saw three days ago that it fell apart. Fortunately we were able to re-negotiate putting it back together again. But it’s a very fragile agreement.

Now that’s as to grains, but fertilizers—it’s hard to understand the impact globally when 30 percent of all wheat is produced out of that region, like Russia and Ukraine. Or 20 percent of all maize—corn—from Russia and Ukraine. And I could go on down. Russia’s the number one exporter of fertilizer. There are 8 billion people on the planet. Four billion of those people eat because of fertilizer. I don’t care if you love or hate Russia, we’ve got to have those fertilizers.

And now because of the droughts we’re facing around the world, here in the Heartland, the Midwest, and the South, India, South America, the Horn of Africa, compounded with fuel costs, food costs, shipping costs, our operational expense has increased because of fuel, shipping, and food costs by over $70 million per month. Imagine what the poorest of the poor are facing around the world. And it’s not like you can sit back and say, “Well you know we’re struggling here in America so we’re going to take care of just ourselves.” Let me tell you it’s really pretty simple. It’s like you’ve got leaking water lines in the ceiling. You can go up there and fix the water lines or you can say, “I’m not going to worry about it.” So instead of spending $200-$300 on fixing the water lines in the ceiling, you wait a year and you replace all of the carpet, all of the flooring, all of the furniture, everything. There’s not another option.

I’ve seen it firsthand, and I can assure you, when you feed 130 million people on any given day, week, or month like we do we survey people all the time. And they don’t want to leave home. But if you don’t have food for your children and any degree of peace you will do for your child what you’ve got to do. If that includes risking their lives crossing border after border after border, whether from the Middle East into Europe, or whether it’s in the Darién Gap coming from Central America into the United States. I can support a family in Guatemala on a resilience program with the World Programme’s experience for $1 to $2 a week. If that same child ends up on the border in the United States at a child shelter it’s $4,000 a week. So Mister Taxpayer, what do you think is the better investment, $4,000 a week or $2 a week? It’s not complicated, is it?

That’s why I’ve been so proud of our Republican and Democrat senators and House members who understand the power and the importance of food security. But this didn’t happen all by itself. When you think about the simple fact that 200 years ago, when the world’s population was 1.1 billion people and 94-95 percent of the people on planet earth were in extreme poverty and today it’s less than 10 percent. We have built systems, and programs, and institutions that are sharing wealth, achieving food security in unprecedented ways. Sadly in the last few years we’re going in the wrong direction. And I tell a lot of my young people who sometimes want to tear everything down, I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” because they’re concerned about that 10 percent we haven’t reached yet. So we don’t tear down the system that’s reaching 90 to get to the 10. We continue to fight to improve the systems to reach that final 10 percent.

So how have we gone from 94 percent poverty—extreme poverty—to where we are today? In 1953, this old country farmer named Peter O’Brian up in Cheyenne County, northwest Arkansas—not Arkansas, Kansas. If I told you how many countries I’ve been in in the last two weeks—and by the way… well, I don’t know if I should say this or not. I got a message from the King of England yesterday to be at Buckingham Palace tomorrow. I’m here in Kansas. I’m a big fan of Dorothy. There ain’t no place like home. So Peter O’Brian clearly understood the significance of agricultural commodities and surpluses. And of course—being a good old country boy with a good heart—how can we take these surpluses and help the poorest of the poor around the world? So he went to his local Farm Bureau in Cheyenne County and they made a little resolution which got then adopted at the state-wide Farm Bureau in 1953. Which got then adopted at the American Federation Farm Bureau across the country.

And you had a senator and a congressman who said, “Wow, we like that.” So they put in a piece of legislation and it ended-up being Public Law 480. And guess who signed it? An old local boy, Dwight Eisenhower, President of the United States, from Kansas. Kansas clearly understood that if we can help these people who need help and help them get their feet back on the ground, it not only helps them but eventually they’re going to end up buying more food from us. So it’s a good thing. I believe that America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. Kansas has been at the heart of improving the lives of people all over the world.

And this morning when I sat down with many of the students with President Linton and Sally and listening to the stories and listening not just to the heartbeat of these young men and women, but listening to their experience already and their expertise I’m like, “Wow, I know I can teach them a few things, but I think they can teach me a lot of things.” Because now they realize because of what we are seeing around the world that food security is a big deal. And what you’re doing here at Kansas State is critical to global security. As the Nobel Peace Prize Committee said, “Food is a pathway to peace.” And Food for Peace, which was the program that came out of PL-480, which was therefore the genesis for the World Food Programme. You have been building that pathway to peace, which is why food security has been improving these past many decades. But we’ve got more work to do. Yes, we’ve got to improve yields. Yes, we’ve got to improve harvests. Yes, we’ve got to improve seeds. Yes, we’ve got to improve fertilizers. Yes, we’ve got to improve practices. What else do we need to do? How do we reduce waste? And all the different things that must be done. But let me say, we’re running out of time.

We have a food pricing problem right now. But next year we very well will have a food availability problem. If the Black Sea Grain Initiative collapses and we don’t get the Russian fertilizers and the grains out of that region as we need, honestly I don’t know how we don’t avert a depression by the end of next year. In 2006 and 2007, when you had the food crisis then along with the Arab Spring in 2011, you had 48 nations that had riots, civil unrest, and protests. The economic indicators today are much, much worse. We’re already seeing destabilization in many nations—riots, protests in Central America and South America. We’ve actually seen them in Panama and of course Haiti, Peru, Indonesia, Chad, Burkina Faso. I could go on and on and on already. And we have nowhere hit the bottom of what we are facing. So in the immediate, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But imagine when we have a world population of 10 billion people. I honestly believe that we can truly end world hunger by 2030 which was the sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations around the world. But we will never achieve that as long as we have manmade conflict. I’ve been hard on the leaders in private, saying that you’ve got to slow down and we’ve got to end some of these wars like in Ethiopia, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan. And we’ve got to resolve issues with countries like North Korea and Iran and Venezuela. How do we do these things so we can stabilize the planet? Because we truly are facing extremely difficult times ahead. And I’m very worried.

One of the hardest questions I get from the media is, “How do you stay optimistic amidst all the darkness?” An old friend of mine told me one time, he said, “You know all the darkness in the world can’t put out the light of one little match.” When I get out there in those war-rubbled villages of Syria, or Niger, or Ethiopia, amidst all the pain and suffering I’ll see that little child come out from behind that rubble and I’m like, that’s what we’re fighting for. You see if we’re not there, it’s not that just that child may or may not die, or that child may or may not get the nutrition that he or she needs so she won’t be stunted and wasted and diminished the economic opportunities of a country—World Bank has done all kind of studies on this—you’re talking about 10- to 15-percent reduction of GDP by failing to provide children the food they need in early years. You get that. You understand that. But these children, when I get out there and see them, it just inspires me. Because I believe that every human being on the planet is created in the image of God. And that every child out there is special. And that’s our little brother. And that’s our little sister. And we shouldn’t turn our backs on them.

Now, if we don’t reach them you have famine, you have destabilization, you have mass migration, and the cost is a lot, lot more. I was just speaking at the Bundestag—the German parliament—just a couple of weeks ago about the failure of Europeans to address the situation in Syria at the right time. For example, Germany alone with 1 million refugees alone over a five-year period has a price tag of $125 billion. Do the math, that’s $70 a day just on humanitarian aid, not even getting to the other costs—of military operations, etc., which is a lot more. I can feed—the World Food Programme—a Syrian in Syria for 50 cents a day. And actually that’s a little bit high, but if you try moving supply chains in a war zone it costs a little bit more. And a Syrian like any other potential refugee around the world—because we survey them—they will move two, three, four, five times in their home area before they will eventually leave. They’ll go to their aunts, or their cousins, or their brothers, or their friends and then finally if they’ve exhausted everything they’ll eventually leave. And you can talk to them wherever they are and they’re like, “I want to go back home. I did not want to leave.”

But the heart of the American people is just a remarkable thing. One of the things I’ve really been frustrated with by the international media is that, you know, I can tell you what Prince Harry was wearing yesterday or what Donald Trump did at 3:15 p.m. yesterday. And I’m like look, I don’t care if you love or hate these issues but the propaganda coming out of the social media today is destroying the hearts of people all over the world, creating so much division. And when I was talking to the young people today I said, “You’ve got to figure this thing out.” I said, “I honestly feel like we could shut down TV for a week or month and shut down propaganda from this and actually things will probably calm down. But we can also use these things as we do to do amazing thing.” You don’t realize that at the World Food Programme how we’ve modified and changed since the original days of Food for Peace. We now feed 128-130 million people and this year we plan to scale that up even more, we’ve got about 23,000 employees now. Then we sub-contract out so to speak with another—who knows, 50,000 or 75,000—World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse. The list goes on and on.

We’ve got about 5,000-6,000 trucks out there, ships on the open seas, 120-130 airplanes in the skies dropping food, carrying passengers. And by the way, when COVID hit, remember the airline industry pretty much shut down. Well, you know, we can’t shut down. We can’t just say, “Oh, we’re not going to feed you this month.” One of the reasons we did receive the Nobel Peace Prize is because our women and men lay their lives on the line every day to keep it going for the poorest of the poor. And so when the airline industry was shut down, we’re actually the supply chain logistics for the United Nations and humanitarian operations for UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, refugees—whatever it may be. So somebody needed to be carrying the COVID supplies out there. So we were delivering COVID supplies all over the world—183 countries—until the airline industry finally got its footing, learning from us on how to do these things and what it is we do on supply chains.

Out there we now put $2.3 billion worth of cash into the communities. There’s places where we bring in food—there’s no food and bringing in money won’t help—you bring in food. And then there are places where there might be food but they don’t have money so how can we not displace the local farmers, create economic opportunity, and how can we buy more locally—in addition to while we’re buying from here in the United States—to help stimulate market supply and supply chains in these countries. One of the things we like to do is if I want to put the World Food Programme out of business, how can we create sustainability resilience? You know, taking advantage of what you’ve done here in research and development and taking that out around the planet and scaling it up? In a lot of places if we’re providing food year-in, year-out. When is that going to stop unless you provide a solution? Many places it’s about harvesting water. The poorest of the poor countries pay the price on the climate shocks.

And guess what? We call it Food for Asset, because I have not met a beneficiary that really wanted outside support. They don’t… they want to take care of their families. And if you want to learn about the entrepreneurial spirit and capitalism, you get an African woman and put the same tools in her hand you give others. I can tell you firsthand it’s a beautiful thing to see. I’ve stood there with more women. When we came in and helped them, putting down a water well or a water harvesting system to rehabilitate the land so they can grow their own crops. And I’ve stood there from woman after woman over the past years and they say, “Mr. Beasley, we depended on you 100 percent two years ago. Now because of what you’ve worked with us, we’re growing our own crops, we’re feeding our own families, we’re selling into the marketplace, we’re buying our own clothes and medicines for our children, and I just paid for my son’s wedding.” Holy moly. You see, when we’re not there ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and other extremist groups recruit using food as a weapon of war. When we come in with the right programs, and if we complement a food security system with like home-grown school meals, let me tell you what happens: migration drops off the chart, teen pregnancy, and marriage rate of 12- and 13-year-olds drops off the chart, recruitment by extremist groups drops off the chart. Quantify each one of those compared to that $1 to $2 a week. It’s an incredible investment.

And while we’ve made so much progress, we’ve got so much more work to do. Just in the past few years WP—and when I say that I mean our beneficiaries—have rehabilitated over 3.5 million acres of land, built over 109,000 small ponds, small dams, reservoirs, 81,000 kilometers of feeder roads, 26,000 kilometers of irrigation lines and water canals, 380,000 community gardens. I could go on and on. It’s a good investment. But we will not do it by government, United Nations and philanthropy alone. Many of you in this room, in the private sector in the farming community understand the significance of what I’m about to say: the private sector is fundamental in ending poverty and hunger around the world. We must do it together.

My belief is that how can I empower the private sector in every country that we are in so that we’re no longer needed? What more do we need to do on the research that’s being done now, develop on the successes that you have had, President Linton? Clearly the commitment here at Kansas State University is a role model for the rest of the world. And your congressional delegations. I mean when I think about Bob Dole, the conversations that he and I have had over the years, and I could go on. And by the way, when I was Gov. Bill Graves was the governor here, and Jim Slattery heard I was here, sent me a message last night, “I didn’t know you were coming to Kansas.” And you’ve got Jerry Moran, and Tracey’s got his whole family here. The commitment of the women and the men in this room—this is why I have hope about our future. With all the division in America, it’s your love that will move us forward. People are struggling around the world, but people are also struggling here. Don’t underestimate what your loving hands can do for a neighbor that might be around the corner. Be willing to step out and touch them. Loneliness and brokenness is the No.-1 problem in the world today. The power of a hug, a smile. Those things go a long way. But when I meet with these students like I have this morning, it inspires me, encourages me, and gives me hope. They can learn from your experiences, they can learn from our mistakes, but the future of the world is depending upon the men and women in this room.

Thank you for allowing me to be with you. Thank you for allowing me to share with you the insights but also the opportunities that we have before you. God bless Kansas State University and the Wildcats.

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