Norman Borlaug and Wangari Maathai were two unlikely Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. One came from small-town Iowa, the other from rural Kenya. They both won the world’s most prestigious award for growing things. Dr. Borlaug, honored in 1970, grew crops that fueled the Green Revolution. Dr. Maathai, hailed in 2004, grew trees and democracy. They were both deemed worthy of the Peace Prize because they worked to forestall future global conflicts by producing more food and preserving scare resources.
I am writing this because Dr. Maathai passed away earlier this week, two years after Dr. Borlaug died. And because it is big news here in Kenya, and should be everywhere else.
She was a pioneer who opened doors and spread democracy and gender equality in her homeland.
Once again, lamentably, the prophecy of Norman Borlaug comes to pass:
“Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past. We will be guilty of criminal negligence, without extenuation, if we permit future famines.”
Dr. Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, issued this warning back in 1970 when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end hunger through agriculture development. That’s 41 years ago, and, yet, another famine is upon us. And, again with pious regret, we try to salvage the human wreckage.
The reasons for this famine in the Horn of Africa are manifold: a severe drought has gripped the entire region; the conflict in Somalia has deprived many people of food and is forcing hundreds of thousands to flee through the bush and the desert in hope of finding food and salvation in neighboring communities and countries; high commodity prices and food shortages are spreading hunger and social volatility.
Another contributing factor is the “criminal negligence” Dr. Borlaug warned about. After the success of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and ‘70s, agriculture development slid down the scale of top global priorities. Africa’s smallholder farmers were particularly neglected by their own governments and by international development programs. For the past several decades, they have had limited access to better seeds, fertilizer, financing, insurance, irrigation, improved storage, reliable transport and efficient markets. Thus, smallholder farmers in the Horn of Africa and throughout the continent are woefully under-producing. They are generally unable to feed themselves let alone their countries and their regions.
Here, as seen by the World Food Program, is the current toll of the present famine and the efforts to “salvage the human wreckage”:
REMEMBERING THE POST-9/11 PROMISES TO RAISE FOREIGN AID
The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is bringing back a rush of memories and emotions. Everyone it seems is recalling, with respect for the victims, where they were on that day when they heard or watched the horrific news.
Amid the remembrances of 9/11, let us also flash back to Sept. 20, 2001, when President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. He asked a question he believed many Americans were asking: “Why do they hate us?”
He went on to provide some ready answers: “They hate what we see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
But after the shock of September 11, the President and the nation also understood that fear and misery in poor countries could create a toxic environment for resentment and terrorism. Politicians from both parties emphasized that America needed to emphasize its generosity and goodwill throughout the world. The crafting of post-9/11 public policy began to reflect this. Reducing poverty in the developing world became a prime pillar of U.S. foreign policy.
The Global Food for Thought blog, twitter feed, and facebook wall, provide updated information, commentary, and analysis on breaking developments on international agriculture, food, and related issues.
The Chicago Council and the Global Agricultural Development Initiative do not endorse the opinions expressed in this blog, twitter, and facebook but merely provide a forum for this information, commentary, and debate.
The Chicago Council takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion on the blog are the sole responsibility of the individual commentator, author, or media source. They may not reflect the views of the Initiative cochairs or funders.