This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack left the beauty of a cherry blossom adorned nation’s capital to travel to the origin of the beautiful pink and white flowered trees—Japan (where one finds even larger crowds of tourists, amateur photographers, and general admirers of the cherry blossom trees than along Washington DC’s tidal basin this time of the year). Vilsack is in Japan to highlight the outstanding partnership that exists between the United States and Japan, and to promote U.S. agricultural exports, as part of President Obama’s efforts to expand U.S. exports under the National Export Initiative.
Today, Secretary Vilsack gave a keynote address to a packed room of agricultural experts and reporters at the Partners in Agriculture Global Food Security Symposium. He emphasized the need for investment in agricultural development and that by doing so it will lead the way to a permanent solution to food insecurity. He added that cooperation between the U.S. and Japan, the world’s leading economies, will be critical to explore how the world’s wealthiest countries can address hunger and malnutrition around the world. Near the end of his remarks, Secretary Vilsack shared a touching anecdote about an experience he had during a trip to Africa, where he was told by students that the best part of school was the fact that knew they would get a good meal if they came to school. He emphasized that the reason this food security symposium was so important was that it brings “two great nations together to address one of the great challenges of our time” and to address these issues “in a meaningful and comprehensive way…to make sure we have a world in which every child can say the reason they enjoy school is not because they got fed, but because they learned.”
Later that morning, Secretary Vilsack led a fascinating town-hall meeting with Japanese students. After taking off his coat to create a more relaxed atmosphere – a step that none of the students followed – and briefly discussing the importance of the relationship between the United States and Japan on agricultural issues, Vilsack opened it up to questions, both to the people in the audience at the US Embassy in Tokyo as well as groups of students at consulates around Japan connected by videoconference. Despite initial concerns that Japan’s extremely polite students might not want to ask questions, the students posed a series of extremely thoughtful and intelligent questions – on topics ranging from encouraging young people to be farmers, to the role of genetically modified crops, to the relative safety of locally produced vs. imported food, anti-trust issues around seed technology, and support for value-added agriculture.
Secretary Vilsack rounded out his afternoon of industry meetings by joining Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation in co-presenting the Norman Borlaug Medallion to Yohei Sasakawa, for his leadership in creating the Sasakawa Africa Association. The Medallion is intended as a special honor to be presented to individuals who have provided exceptional humanitarian service in reducing hunger and poverty. For the past 23 years, the association has worked with tens of thousands of frontline extension volunteers and several million farmers in 14 sub-Saharan Africa countries to test and promote higher-yielding technology for maize, wheat, rice, grain legumes, and roots and tubers.
Secretary Vilsack led a town-hall meeting with university students in Tokyo on a variety of agriculture topics.
Secretary Vilsack and Kenneth Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation presented the Norman Borlaug Medallion to Yohei Sasakawa for his leadership in creating the Sasakawa Africa Association.