Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
AMBASSADOR MURPHY: (In Khmer.) Please have a seat.
Just thrilled to welcome all of you here to AmCam Exchange. I am the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy, and I am incredibly honored and delighted to have a special guest to help us today engage on agriculture and food security.
First, just a quick word here about the Kingdom of Cambodia. Agriculture is the backbone of the Cambodian economy, and really a very important part of the cultural identity here. It’s a way of life. The sector accounts for more than 20 percent of GDP, employs over 3 million Cambodians directly, and has been an incredible source of resilience during the pandemic. I really want to emphasize that. Many migrant workers needed to return unexpectedly. Many people, particularly in the tourism sector, lost their jobs. Farmers absorbed and helped carry the kingdom through this pandemic.
As ambassador, I am charged with doing what I can to strengthen the relations between our two countries, and that means getting to meet lots of farmers and helping them expand trade between our two countries and bring technology, which really helps in this country with efficiencies and adding value to their products, and achieving more sustainable development. We’re very proud here of our U.S. Agency for International Development and our U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both agencies have programs in food security and, more broadly, agriculture. And it’s been critical to this resilience and in helping the sector’s economic potential.
Now, our special guest comes from Washington and brings a global perspective to food security issues. He has been very engaged with world leaders and counterparts around the globe to address emerging food security challenges. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone, and it’s wonderful to be with all of you here, to see you all here. Patrick, thank you not just for the introduction but for your remarkable leadership of this mission every single day. And thanks to everyone who’s joined us here today, especially our wonderful colleagues from USAID in our – in mission after mission around the world, where, as we would say, the rubber really meets the road. It is through our AID missions. They do remarkable work in place after place to create the most powerful connectivity possible between ourselves and our host countries, including here in Cambodia, by bringing to life powerful projects that make a difference in lives and livelihoods and futures.
So I’m glad to be with our USAID colleagues and our Cambodian partners. I met a few of them just a moment ago, and these are remarkable, dedicated entrepreneurs who are committed not just to their own success but to their country’s success. I got a chance to sample some of the remarkable products that they’re producing with assistance from the United States, and I can tell you firsthand this is good stuff. I happen to be an afficionado of cashews. Well, Cambodia is the number one cashew producer, exporter in the world, and I just tried some very good cashews, wonderful mango products and other things, beautiful vegetables, incredible things that are making a difference in lives.
So about 12 years ago, the United States launched an initiative called Cambodia Harvest, and that was part of our flagship global food security program called Feed the Future. The idea behind Feed the Future is that when it comes to chronic food insecurity, food aid is vital but it is not enough. We have the knowhow to improve farming across all climates, across all income levels, so that countries have their enduring capacity to produce their own food. It’s the classic example of the old adage about give a person a fish, feed them for a day; teach them to fish, feed them for a lifetime. Feed the Future is all about that: creating self-sufficiency, creating indigenous productive capacity, investing in that, investing in that future.
With the right partnerships, countries become more food secure. People’s health improves. Poverty is reduced. The need for food aid itself goes down. Here in Cambodia, our two countries have worked together to increase crop yields, to improve the health of livestock, to promote climate resilience, to train farmers, to create new markets. And we’re seeing strong results. So as I met some of the individuals behind the numbers just now, they were kind enough to share some of the work that they’re doing, to share their cashews, their mangos with us. This event is actually a diversion because as we’re doing it, I made sure that my team is taking the wonderful baskets of produce so that we can bring them back with us.
But it – in all seriousness, you can see the demonstrable impact of the partnership, and that’s a powerful thing. We often deal in big issues of policy that sometimes are abstractions. It is particularly gratifying to see the tangible results of this partnership between the United States and Cambodia.
Through our partnership, Bun Sieng has helped provide technical support to farmers across the country. We’re grateful for that. Holly Mio’s (ph) team used grants for our program to expand the Dry Food Company internationally. And so we see that resonating around the world, not just here in Cambodia. Dara An built new cashew processing facilities with a Harvest grant. And Sothea Mao runs a food export and distribution business with our support; she signed a deal to distribute a local company’s fruit in Cambodia and beyond. So congratulations for the remarkable work that each of you is doing. We’re proud to be your partners.
We want to build on these successes. So today we’re announcing the next phase of our collaboration, and it’s called Harvest III. It will launch next week. It’s going to provide up to $25 million over the next five years. So what will it do? It will continue to help farmers boost their incomes – for example, by increasing access to tools like greenhouses, which can help lengthen growing seasons, improve the quality of what’s grown, and help products actually meet market standards. We want to reach more farmers, especially women and young people, to make sure that they’re reaping the benefits of these investments as well. And we’ll help connect more Cambodian farmers and businesses to markets both here at home and abroad.
More than 60 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas. You heard the ambassador speak to this. More than three-quarters of those households rely on agriculture, fisheries, or forestry as their main sources of income. Many of these workers have only limited access to markets or financing. We want to change that so that more people can enjoy Cambodian products and more farmers and entrepreneurs can grow their businesses.
With this new phase, we’re basically expanding our scale. The last stage of our program that was called Harvest II worked in select provinces. Harvest III will be nationwide. Harvest II focused on fruits, vegetables, spices. Harvest III will add grains, fish, other products. We’re almost tripling the amount of grant money available to our partners. We believe in this program. We believe in our partners. And we want to do a lot more good work together.
The needs are urgent. Far too many Cambodians still live in food insecurity. Far too many Cambodian children are malnourished. As a parent myself, whenever I see this, it goes right to the heart. I think each of us who’s fortunate, when we see a malnourished child, we think – if we have children, we think of our own. We think of our families. And we want to do everything we possibly can to make sure that no child on Earth is malnourished.
This is a humanitarian issue. It’s a health issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s also a security issue because widespread hunger makes communities and countries less secure, particularly now when food insecurity around the world is on the rise because of Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine, which has blocked millions of tons of Ukrainian crops from being shipped to global markets. It’s critical that we strengthen global food security and that we address the root causes of hunger, of malnutrition, and of poverty. That’s what the United States and our partners have been doing in Cambodia and in more than 40 countries where Feed the Future operates.
So let me say again how grateful we are to all of our partners across Cambodia, like our friends Bun, Holly, Sothea, Dara, who work hard every day to produce food, to grow their businesses as well, to support their families, to contribute to their communities, to share the bounty of Cambodia with people across the country but also around the world. It’s an honor to be part of your journey. Thank you very much. (Applause.)