Minister Karapetyan, distinguished guests, and students; it is a pleasure for me to be here today. I enjoy opportunities like this to speak with students. Because you are the next generation. You will soon enter the business world and contribute to making Armenia a prosperous secure country. I am always very pleased to visit here at the Agriculture Technical College because I am so impressed by the quality of the teaching staff. The knowledge and skills you are learning from them, at this school, will certainly make you more than ready to meet whatever challenges the future holds.
The U.S. Government is proud to partner with such a respected institution. As you probably know, the ATC was initially developed thanks to a collaborative effort between the Armenian National Agrarian University and Texas A&M University, with financial and technical support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. government continues to support this innovative program, now through USAID. We are working to expand the ATC curriculum and increase its research capabilities. Together with the school’s administration, and Texas A&M, we have helped this program become a recognized leader in agriculture business development, attracting not only Armenian students, but students from throughout the region.
Now, through USAID’s InnovATE program, the U.S. government is helping the ATC by connecting it with other great U.S. institutions of agricultural research and teaching such as Virginia Tech, the University of Florida, Penn State, and Tuskegee University. With these universities, we are working to bring to Armenia innovative educational methods and up-to-date curricula, particularly in areas such as food science and food security. Such study is vital to the health of Armenia, both the physical health and the economic health.
We are also supporting efforts to expand the reach of the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education. Through a grant, we are supporting the Center’s efforts to promote science, technology and innovation in water resource management within the Ararat and Armavir Marzes.
We are committed to helping you, and providing you with the tools you need to shape the future of Armenia’s agri-business sector, because we know how important the field is here. I heard a lot when I first arrived here about the importance of the IT industry and sectors like mining. But what I’ve learned and seek first hand since then is how agriculture drives the economy of Armenia. In Armenia, agriculture currently employs 40% of the labor force and accounts for 20% of nation’s GDP. The U.S. government is a committed partner in this field. Our agricultural support programs provide about $12 million in assistance to boost the competitiveness of Armenian agriculture and grow the economies of rural communities.
Food production — food security — is a worldwide concern, not just an Armenian one: As Secretary Kerry said at the Milan Expo this spring: with approximately 8,000 children dying daily from undernourishment; with 9 billion people predicted to live on Earth in 35 years; with a need to increase food production by about 60% to meet that demand — agriculture is a serious field to be in. The topic is timely as world leaders, including President Obama meet in Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties this week, and work toward a new international agreement on climate change to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Climate change is perhaps the most significant threat to global food security today. In the U.S., we consider the nexus between food security and climate change a central pillar of our foreign policy. I’d be interested in hearing your views on food security and what can be done to make it a global priority.
So as you see, you are here focused on the Armenian agricultural sector — but your work has larger connections and implications. Hopefully, in the future you will begin working not just in a stronger, better, bigger Armenian agriculture market, but also keep the global importance of your work in mind. I wish you all success as you approach your graduation and say to you: Shnorhavorum yem. Thank you.