By Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development This commentary was originally posted on U.S. State Department Blog, DipNote
If you look at a map of the Korean Peninsula at night, you can immediately understand the impact of global development. Darkness covers nearly the entire North, masking a child malnutrition rate of nearly 50 percent and untold stories of individual suffering and poverty. But over South Korea, you see a country shining with lights, energy and economic activity. Behind that brightness, there is a story of remarkable progress and partnership.
Fifty years ago, South Korea was poorer than two-thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and its people had an average life expectancy of 54 years. But South Korea also had effective development partnerships with nations around the world. In the decades of engagement since, we supported South Korea’s agriculture and industrial sectors, helping the country focus intently on an aggressive growth strategy.
Once a major recipient of aid, South Korea today provides assistance to the world’s developing countries. Now a vibrant trade partner with the United States, South Korea is currently the eighth largest market for American goods and services, ahead of France and Australia.
The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S., Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, tells an acerbic joke to illustrate the importance of good leadership:
Someone noticed that God had blessed Nigeria with so much: oil, agriculture, natural resources, industrious people. Why, God was asked, do you favor this country so greatly? “Just wait,” God replied. “Wait until you see the leaders I will give them.”
This is why, in one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries, people line up to fill their cars with gas. “We have everything to be a great country,” the ambassador noted in a speech at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs Friday. “Nigeria’s problem has been, pure and simple, leadership.”
Leadership has also been a problem in the fight against hunger. Namely, the lack of political will to make ending hunger through agriculture development a top priority of every government. The old maxim of success – where’s there a will, there’s a way – has been stood on its head in the fight against hunger. We’ve long known the way, but we’ve been missing the will to get it done.
So it was notable this week that the World Food Prize, which honors great achievement in the fight against hunger, announced that this year’s recipients of the award are two leaders who mustered the political will: John Kufuor, the former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil.
This growing season in south-central Kenya has been a good test for the new drought tolerant maize varieties being bred in Africa. This is a semi-arid area, but this year they can drop the semi. Farmers report only three short periods of rain since the February planting time.
“Without this seed, I’d have nothing. Nothing, like my neighbors,” says farmer Philip Ngolania. He sweeps his hand to direct the eye first to his maize and then toward a neighbor’s plot. Philip’s maize stalks, though looking thin and weak, have fairly uniformly produced large ears of corn. His neighbor’s maize is shriveled and dead, the stalks have toppled in their feebleness and there isn’t a cob to be found.
For some farmers in western Kenya, the hunger season I wrote about last week is coming to a mercifully early end. A new variety of bean is ready for harvest.
“The farmers say this bean meets the hunger,” says Reuben Otsyula, the scientist who bred this little black bean. “They can see the hunger is coming and the bean meets the hunger and pushes it back.”
It is called KK15 in agriculture nomenclature, but farmers call it a savior. The bean is early maturing and high yielding – usually a champion combination.
The early maturing means it is ready to harvest perhaps two months before the maize, the country’s staple which won’t be ready to harvest until the end of July at the earliest. So the bean dramatically shortens the hunger season by providing farmers with something to eat in May and June while waiting for the maize. And, with the bean naturally containing good levels of zinc and iron, it is important in the fight against micro-nutrient deficiency.
Farmers in this part of Africa call this time of year the hunger season because household stockpiles of food are dwindling and disappearing before the next harvest arrives in a couple of months. They cope, if you can call it that, by rationing portions and skipping meals.
This daily desperation has been deepened by the global rise in food prices. “Rise” is hardly the word to use in Kenya. “Skyrocket” is much more appropriate.
The cost of maize, the national staple, is up six-fold since the beginning of the year. In January, consumers were paying a bit more than 20 shillings for the standard household measure of 2 kilograms. Now, the price is 120. That’s higher than anyone can remember.
People tell me I'm an optimist. But right now this optimist is scared. We are facing some formidable challenges: 1 billion people chronically hungry, recurring food price spikes, extreme climate change impacts, and feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050 with no additional arable land. As John Beddington, the UK's chief scientific adviser, has said, we risk "a perfect storm" of crises that will cause major social and political upheaval.
In 1997, I published a book called The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the 21st Century. In it I argue that to feed the world we need agricultural systems that are not only productive, but also sustainable and equitable. I am convinced that this quest for a "doubly green" approach is more important than ever today. So how might we achieve a doubly green world?
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