Check against delivery!
Thank you. First of all, thank you for inviting me and thank you for the two good days – from what I hear – of work you have done. Thank you for the Global Report on Food Crises  that you have presented yesterday. And, most of all, thank you for the good set of recommendations and ideas on which I am sure we will be able to build together with other colleagues in the institutions and with our partners in Europe and beyond.
This event and these two days are built on a very basic idea that has been at the centre of my work over the past years: food is a security issue. Hunger is not just the consequence of a conflict. It is very often its cause. And hunger can be also a weapon of war.
I do not need to explain this to you, present in this room, but you probably know better than I do that many around the world, including some decision-makers around the world, still do not understand this very simple fact: investing in food security is an investment in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. It is a way to prevent the next crisis, and to help solve the existing ones.
I think all of us, Europeans, are sometimes asked what we are doing on security, and sometimes we are told that we are focusing only or too much on humanitarian aid and development cooperation, and too little on security and defence. First of all, we are, as European Union, today investing in “traditional” security and defence matters as never before, but most of all, my answer is always the same: investing in sustainable development is probably the most effective investment for our collective security. Because there is no sustainable security if there is food insecurity.
And I think many of you in this room might be the living proof of how relevant our work on this is to our collective security, not only to the security of the areas
of involved, but also to our European security.
In these years, we have worked at the European External Action Service to anticipate crises and to prevent them – instead of just reacting to conflicts when they erupt. To this goal, we have set up an Early Warning System – and I can tell you that food insecurity is one of the key parameters that we use to assess risks.
It sounds almost incredible in an era of immense technological progress like ours, but access to natural resources is still and probably more and more the trigger for tensions and conflict. If you think of the broader Sahel region, from Mali to the Red Sea, from Northern Nigeria to the Horn of Africa, the global conversation has focused a lot on factors and drivers of conflict such as ethnicity and religion – while a much more basic and to my eyes relevant factor has too often been overlooked. Conflicts begin because fertile land has turned into desert, because water supplies have dried out, and militias want to take control of scarce resources. So, sometimes they use the cover of religious or ethnic factors when in fact the real factors are often the control of scarce resources. Addressing these real factors that trigger crisis and conflicts is essential not only for peace in those lands, but also for our collective security – including here in Europe, as I was saying.
At the same time, food security is very hard to achieve in a conflict situation, or in a difficult security environment. The Report makes this very clear and this is why investing in traditional security is also essential to accompany our humanitarian aid and our development work. I believe we cannot forget the images from almost thirty years ago in Somalia, when humanitarian convoys fell prey to militias and warlords. Until recently, Boko Haram and other criminal groups prevented humanitarian workers from accessing certain areas of the Lake Chad region. For years, UN agencies and NGOs could not reach those communities who truly needed our help. This problem could only be addressed with an investment in traditional security, as we have done in our work for instance with the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram and with the G5 Sahel.
Our work on development, on humanitarian aid, and on security can only go hand in hand. I think that this is the main lesson we have learnt in these years and the main practice we have established in our joint work with my colleagues here and also with other friends across the world.
We need, first of all, the defence community to understand that investing in sustainable development is essential for sustainable security, and we need the development community to also recognise that without traditional security their work becomes sometimes impossible. If I can put it in one sentence: development needs security, and security needs development. Even more than that, I would say that development is a security factor – probably the strongest one – and security is also a development factor or a development condition.
We have spent a large part of these almost five years during our mandate, together with my colleagues, to break these assumptions that the different worlds of security, development and humanitarian aid are not only separate worlds, but also sometimes competing or conflicting ones. We have tried to build bridges among the different communities and the different organisations - with some success I think - to create synergies that are beneficial on the ground. Sometimes we need to overcome certain dose of ideological approach, but I think that when we look at the reality on the ground, when we look at projects, when we talk to the people that are affected by these situations, we realise very easily that there is no clear distinction and division between these different sectors of concern. There is a real division in the sectors of action and in the actors that play a relevant role - be it on security, development or humanitarian aid -, but for someone that is affected by the crisis or a conflict situation, including food insecurity, it is simply vital to overcome the situation, no matter from what angle. And every single action is needed, no matter from what actor.
I think we have made a big step forward in these last years to overcome these divisions and sometimes prejudices that have informed for long decades the work of the international community, including the work of the European institutions in the past. Hunger used to be a weapon in sieges of cities and villages even in ancient times. It still is a weapon today. Hunger has been a weapon in the siege of Aleppo and in the war in Yemen. Humanitarian access has become a political issue in Venezuela - something we are working hard to avoid together with our partners in the International Contact Group that just met for the second time in Quito last week, as we are trying to create the awareness and also the practice that avoids that relief and humanitarian aid can be politicised.
But there is also some good news, coming from different parts of the world. We all know about the situation in Somalia, where four years of drought were followed by devastating floods. A major humanitarian catastrophe seemed inevitable. But the international community took effective action, and even though the situation remains very difficult, I believe we have managed to avoid an even greater tragedy.
And in Yemen, even if also here the situation remains extremely worrying, the factions at war have still agreed in Stockholm at the end of last year to allow humanitarian access to the country's sea ports. We know that the implementation of the Agreement is proving to be extremely difficult and just yesterday the World Food Programme staff were not allowed to do their job in the major Red Sea port city. And yet, this is the only way forward. Being stubborn and insisting on not only achieving agreements but also implementing them remains the only way forward to open up the space, including for avoiding that hunger is used as a weapon in conflicts. The only way forward, not just in Yemen or in Somalia, the only way to bring food to the hungry is to join up our work - the humanitarian workers, the diplomats, the development community and the military people.
This is also the European way to peace and security. It is a unique mix of hard and soft power. We are probably the only ones having all these tools at our disposal and finally, I believe, trying to use them in a coherent and coordinated manner. It is about preventing conflicts and not just dealing with their consequences. It considers traditional security threats that are relevant especially in these times, but also the impact of climate change on security. We always put human security at the core of our action, because that is the only way to build what I would define a “sustainable security” in our difficult world. The international community has developed in recent decades the concept of sustainable development, wisely so. I believe it is time to develop the concept of “sustainable security” in a deeper manner, so that we can join forces adequately to build the conditions not only for security to be established after a conflict or in prevention of a conflict, but also to be sustained over time. And this includes for sure an element of development, an element of human rights and rule of law respect and good governance and climate action.
This is the European way and I know that this is also your goal. I know it is the goal of so many friends around the world and I believe we can aim at building a sort of alliance and partnership at the global level to advance this agenda in an effective manner. This is our message to the Global Network against Food Crises and to all those who share our goals: The European Union is and will continue to be your most reliable partner and you can count on us to continue this journey together.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-170478