By Melinda Gates
This commentary originally appeared on Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimist Blog.
At our foundation, the team that works in agriculture thinks a lot about the following contradiction: We are aiming to improve the lives of farmers in very poor countries, but we live and work far away in a very rich country. How can we—from an office building in Seattle—actually understand the aspirations of farmers in, say, Kenya?
I just read a book called The Last Hunger Season that I believe gets me a little bit closer to understanding. The author, Roger Thurow, spent a year in Bungoma District of Western Kenya, and he chronicles the lives of four farmers struggling to support their families by cultivating a couple of acres. When the rains don’t come on time, families often face the wanjala, Swahili for the “hunger season.”
I loved the book, but it also came highly recommended by an expert. A member of our agriculture team named Tony Machacha grew up on his family’s farm in the very same region in Kenya. He wrote me in an email that the book “transported me back to the land where I grew up and brought old memories flooding back.”
Two things about the stories in the book stuck with me.
By Roger Thurow
This commentary originally appeared on Stanford Social Innovation Review.
It was in the middle of a Chicago snowstorm when Andrew Youn and I first met to talk about Africa.
“The existence of a hungry farmer is completely crazy. It’s mind-boggling. A hunger season shouldn’t exist,” Andrew told me on that frightful winter day, as the wind howled and the snow drifted beyond the windows of a bookstore where we nursed warm drinks. “Our mission as an organization is to make sure it never, ever happens.”
I was intrigued by this thin, soft-spoken, unassuming young man. He was 20 years younger than me, but I could sense from the outset that we shared many things, particularly an ambition to conquer global hunger. As he spoke about banishing the phrase, the horrible oxymoron, “hungry farmer”—and the need to do it now, and forever—I recognized his passion. For it was also mine.
I repeated to Andrew what an aid worker with the World Food Program had told me during the Ethiopian famine of 2003: “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul. You see that nobody should have to die of hunger.”
By Dan Glickman
Dan Glickman served as agriculture secretary 1995-2001, and represented the 4th District of Kansas in the House from 1977-1995. He is the chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and co-chair of The Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative. This commentary originally appeared on Politico.
With back-to-back Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it’s natural to focus on our differences. While I have plenty to disagree with Republicans about, I am heartened to see the bipartisan support that exists for U.S. leadership in the world — particularly for our global development efforts.
Through programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, initiatives started under President George W. Bush, nearly four million lives around the world have been saved. Nearly half a million babies whose lives would have been overshadowed by AIDS were born free of HIV. Tens of millions of lives, including more than four million orphans, have been changed for the better because U.S. leaders set politics aside to do what is right.
And all this has been accomplished in less than a decade.
President Barack Obama has continued to champion and support global development efforts like PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which demand results and ensure accountability for U.S. taxpayers. This is not a hand out, but rather a hand up. These programs require countries to put their own resources toward meeting the needs of their people.
This partnership ensures sustainability, and that the programs have a lasting effect of providing opportunity to people around the world.
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nestlé S.A. This commentary originally appeared on Nestle Blog.
World Water Week got off to a good start on Sunday. This year’s focus is on water and food security. It is a powerful reminder that caring for water is intrinsically caring for life: a critical priority which is overlooked at our peril.
As a chemical compound, there are few that are simpler than water: two atoms of hydrogen joined to one of oxygen. But this simplicity conceals its human significance. Water is life, “the precarious molecular edge on which we survive”, in Barbara Kingsolver’s elegant phrase. Put more bluntly: without it we are dust.
On the face of it, talk of a looming water crisis might seem far-fetched. After all, Earth is blessed with an apparent abundance of water that has changed little over time.
Yet only 0.003% of Earth’s vast quantity of water is drinkable. What has changed, and changed seismically, is our population and our daily needs. The second half of the 20th century saw global population double. Far from stabilising at 7 billion people, this number will keep growing, possibly passing beyond 10 billion by 2100, according to the latest UN research.
By David Lobell
David Lobell is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University in Environmental Earth System Science, and Associate Director of Stanford's Center on Food Security and the Environment. His research focuses on identifying opportunities to raise crop yields in major agricultural regions, with a particular emphasis on adaptation to climate change.
For all of the talk about the need to adapt to climate change, we still know fairly little about two basic questions: what works best, and how much can adaptation deliver? It‘s time to learn quickly.
Why don’t we know more? It would be easy to blame our ignorance on complacency. There is a tendency to marvel at the progress made in agriculture in the past 50 years, and assume it can handle anything. For example, the USDA declared in the early 1970s that new technologies meant “man has reduced variation in yields in both good and bad weather.” This optimism quietly faded after a series of bad harvests in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, including the big drought of 1988. People realized that a period of unusually benign weather, and not the technological gains themselves, had limited volatility during the middle of the 20th century.
It is also tempting to blame ignorance on inexperience. After all, many people continue to view climate change as something to deal with in the future. But the evidence is clear that climate has already been changing over the past 30 years in most agricultural areas, and farmers are doubtlessly trying to adapt. Up until now, the United States was an exception to that trend. But the 2012 drought has changed that, and projections indicate that years like this will be increasingly common in the coming decades.
By Christopher Delgado
Christopher Delgado is Strategy and Policy Adviser in the World Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department, and leads the agricultural policy work program at the Bank that includes the Secretariat of the Bank’s Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) and the Coordination Unit for the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program (GAFSP). GFRP is a World Bank program set up in 2008 to expedite financing for urgent food security activities and has reached 47 poor countries. GAFSP is a multilateral funding mechanism requested from the World Bank by the G20 Summit in September 2009 to assist in the operationalization of the large donor commitments to longer term agriculture and food security made at L’Aquila in July 2009.
The seminal FAO and WFP joint report: The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises (SOFI 2010) focused on people living in 22 countries in which the incidence of hunger is particularly high and especially persistent over years, even decades in some cases, which it called countries in protracted crisis. The report found that 166 million people were undernourished in these 22 countries, representing nearly 40 percent of the population and nearly 20 percent of all undernourished people in the world at the time. Drivers included armed conflict and natural disasters, often in combination with weak governance or public administration, scarce resources, unsustainable livelihoods systems, and breakdown of local institutions. The U.N.’s Committee on Food Security is sponsoring a meeting this week in Rome of a high level forum to look at what can be done to address in a more durable manner the urgent and persistent issues involved in alleviating food security concerns for countries in persistent food crisis.
In this context, it is instructive to look at the experience of 6 countries included in SOFI 2010 as being subject to persistent food crises: Burundi, Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tajikistan. These countries all received grants after the 2008 price spikes from the World Bank’s Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP), targeted at fast-disbursing response in the form of budget support, safety nets and short term agricultural production support to deal with food emergencies. Yet within three years the same countries succeeded in winning substantial awards from the highly competitive and independently reviewed Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). GAFSP is a multilateral facility open to all poor countries targeted at supporting the most strategic, evidence-based, inclusive, and convincing country-led agricultural and food security plans arising from ongoing aid effectiveness programs, such as CAADP in Africa. A GAFSP award is a concrete testimonial to a country being serious about doing what is necessary to promote its food sector, and is necessarily based on substantial country-led preparation, consultation, and peer review.
By Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg is the Director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.
Farmers in Africa and America had a lot in common this summer. While farmers in the Sahel have been facing extreme weather events—mainly drought—for decades, food producers in the American Midwest and Western United States were hit by the driest summer in more than 50 years. And the impacts of these “natural” disasters will last longer than just a few months. High food prices, malnutrition, and debt will be felt for many months and years to come. But American farmers are finding out that they might have a lot to learn from their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa regarding innovative approaches to dealing with lack of rainfall, high temperatures, and other effects of climate change, making agriculture more resilient and profitable over the long run.
On a global scale, higher temperatures have already harmed global food production, causing food prices to spike by up to 20 percent in recent decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the Earth’s average surface air temperature will steadily increase by 6.4 degrees Celsius by 2099, but changes in climate patterns are already evident. Erratic and unpredictable weather patterns, attributable to climate change, have already disrupted global agricultural production.
According to the World Bank, droughts can significantly affect economic development, poverty levels, and the prevalence of malnutrition, especially in less developed countries. Droughts in India over the last four decades have reduced the annual income of households by to up 80 percent. Drought patterns in Malawi could increase the prevalence of poverty by 17 percent, and will most heavily impact rural communities.