Ambassador Julie J. Chung’s Remarks at McGovern-Dole New Funding National Project Launch

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Good morning. It warms my heart to be here on this special occasion. And congratulations to Save the Children on your 50th year anniversary in Sri Lanka! I want to first thank our colleagues from the government of Sri Lanka, including Honorable Minister Premajayantha, without whose support meaningful programs like this would be impossible.  My thanks also goes to my colleague Mariano Beillard, the Senior Regional Agriculture Attaché from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.  His leadership ensures projects like this receive crucial financial support. And thanks to all the provincial representatives here; you are on the ground and have seen the food security needs in your villages and towns, and are working in close partnership with us.  Last but not least, I want to thank our implementing partner Save the Children Julian, Micah, and the entire team-   who have shown admirable professionalism and kindness in taking on this meaningful task.  Preparing an event of this scale and committing to the cause of feeding hundreds of thousands of children is not an easy mission – thank you always for your partnership and support.

As you know, today’s event builds on our incredible work together over the past five years.  In 2018, USDA committed $27.5 million to work with Save the Children and Sri Lankan counterparts to help feed children in over 800 rural primary schools in Sri Lanka.  With this funding, we kept over 100,000 Sri Lankan children fed with salmon and yellow split peas we brought from America.  This included protein that was much-needed for kids growing up in many of the less fortunate neighborhoods of Sri Lanka.  When COVID spread and schools shut down from lock downs, the program gave out take-home rations for students not just to feed themselves but also their families.  This was based on the recognition that many rural schoolchildren rely on school meals as a significant part of their daily nutrition.  For some, it may even be the only meal they get for the day.  Besides nutrition, the project also works on raising literacy and sanitation standards in these rural schools, including construction of new latrines for students.  Now, with the latest commitment of $32.5 million from USDA, the project will work towards providing much-needed nutrition to nearly 200,000 students – close to 20 percent of students receiving the national school meal program.  We’ve added Colombo and the urban poor to the program this year recognizing that many vulnerable groups also live in cities.

I had a chance to visit some of the schools, including in Embilipitiya and Trincomalee, to speak with the school principals, teachers, students, and parents who dedicate their time helping as school meal providers.  In Embilipitiya, the Minister and I even got to help with the kitchen duty by handing out breakfast trays to students.  Each visit was a meaningful reminder to me that the support that we provide today not only helps feed the children but also keep them in school, and in turn lay the foundation for the future generation of Sri Lanka to realize their full potential in decades to come.  Doing so helps improve the country’s social stability and drives innovation and economic growth through education.

This project is one of the many highlights of the work that the United States has done to support food security in Sri Lanka through its roughest times.  In fact, the United States stands as one of the largest assistance partners to Sri Lanka on food security.  Besides this child nutrition project, our assistance included $40 million from USAID to provide fertilizer for Sri Lanka’s small-scale paddy farmers in 2022, as well as $6 million to provide emergency relief to nursing mothers during the crisis.  Alongside other food security assistance partners, our fertilizer support played a crucial role in reducing the number of food insecure Sri Lankans by over two million.  This is in addition to USDA’s $27 million to support over 25,000 small-scale dairy farmers in Sri Lanka, which has helped raise milk production by over 50 percent for most of them.  And of course, the U.S. government is not the only source of help – just last year, a farmer in Alabama donated 40 tons of rice to Sri Lanka to help feed 4,000 families, while this month, U.S.-based NGO Gates Foundation announced $1.4 million to help provide fortified rice to 50,000 Sri Lankan schoolchildren in partnership with the World Food Program.  Looking long-term, we are also providing technical assistance to ensure that Sri Lanka can be better prepared to weather future food security shocks, with USAID committing $9.2 million last year to enhance paddy productivity, diversify crops, and promote sustainable practices among Sri Lankan farmers.

But ultimately, ensuring a bright future for Sri Lanka’s next generation is a task whose success depends on the current generation of leaders in Sri Lanka.  The assistance that the United States provides on food security – alongside other donors – is not a guarantee of a better future.  It is only a chance for Sri Lanka to build a better future, and realizing this goal requires the continued dedication of Sri Lanka’s leaders and public servants. It also requires the support of local communities, of Sri Lankan humanitarian organizations like the Affinity Foundation,  Sri Lankan American groups, the temples, churches, and mosques who have also opened their doors to provide meals to the marginalized.  Sri Lanka’s food security should come from Sri Lanka’s own ability to manage the challenges of today and till the fields for the young generation, through well-informed government decisions, policies, and regulations.  Many of you know this already, and I have seen many colleagues from the Sri Lankan government – including those in the audience today – work tirelessly towards achieving this goal.

I know that there are uncertainties ahead, whether in economic recovery or political elections.  But regardless of politics, the responsibility of nurturing the next generation warrants the utmost dedication and the highest quality of leadership today.  With all the data and figures we’ve discussed today, what it comes down to is simply to provide food security to children, children who are now able to attend school and learn in thanks to this program so they can grow up to be future leaders of Sri Lanka.  The United States stands – and will continue to stand – with you as your dedicated partner in this task.  Thank you.