Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Caitlin Grady, PhD Candidate in the Ecological Sciences and Engineering Program at Purdue University and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
It is well-known that, unfortunately, many development interventions worldwide have failed to provide benefits to the communities in which they are implemented. One can find failed projects from funders such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation in Africa, or failed digital villages in South Africa, or a campaign that donated computers to villages without power, and the list goes on. The possible reasons for these failures are numerous: some suggest that it may be due to a lack of local perspective from program implementers, others speculate that it may be the result of trying accomplish too many things things on much too short timelines, or perhaps it is due to one of the hundreds of other reasons outlined in both scientific inquiry and popular press.
If a quick Google search can find a number of resources on failed projects or programs, why are we still making million dollar mistakes? I reflected on this at The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014. As a Next Generation Delegate, I had the opportunity to represent a youth voice at the Symposium. Several of the speakers provided new and interesting technological advances or solutions to our complex global food challenges, yet there was little discussion about mistakes and failures of approaches in the past.
I suggest that we should talk openly about previous failures, project planning, local perspectives, follow through, and continued monitoring and evaluation. Let’s make room for failure in international development. This means embracing experimentation and learning from past failures. Some development organizations have already taken this step - Engineers Without Borders, for example, publishes Failure Reports, noting that “development is not possible without taking risks and innovating – which inevitably means failing sometimes.”
We can learn from previous failures, but only if we lower the “costs” of failure in our current social environment within the development community. Together we can change the discourse and start to make significant progress on working to bring basic human rights and needs to all.
This post originally appeared on Choices Magazine.
By Philip G. Pardey, Jason M. Beddow, and Steven T. Buccola
A large part of U.S. agricultural output and its competiveness in international commodity markets is attributable to research-induced gains in productivity accumulated over the 20th century. In 2012, the United States accounted for a sizable share (9.5% by value) of the global food, feed, and fiber economy. This is substantially smaller than its 1961 share of 14.8% (United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 2014). Over the same period, the Asia-Pacific region (including India and China) grew its global share from 24.2% to 45.1%. Productivity growth in U.S. agriculture has declined along with its global market share. For the post-World War II period through 1990, agricultural productivity—measured by accounting for changes in the use of multiple factors of production—grew on average by 2.1% per year, but dropped to almost half that rate (1.2% per year) during the subsequent two decades (Pardey, Alston, and Chan-Kang, 2013).
As the 21st century unfolds, a question of major importance is whether a continuation of contemporary trends in public investments in research and development (R&D) are sufficient to preserve or enhance past productivity gains and ensure the United States remains competitive in global agricultural markets (Alston et al., 2010, especially chapter 11). While the links between R&D investments and changes in productivity are difficult to disentangle, there is compelling evidence that these investments continue to yield relatively large social dividends (Hurley, Rao, and Pardey, 2014), but with several major, and politically crippling, caveats. The lags between investing in R&D and realizing returns on those investments are long (often spanning decades), and the benefits are diffuse, accruing to a broad range of producers and consumers, and not limited to any particular political jurisdiction or constituency. It is, therefore, harder for politicians to reap short-term electoral benefits by acting in a far-sighted fashion for the country’s long-run economic and environmental gains. Nevertheless, decisions taken now will have potentially profound consequences for U.S. and global agriculture at least through the middle of this century.
So how have political commitments to the public investments in R&D that affect the food and agricultural sectors fared of late? Are the institutional arrangements for funding and performing public agricultural R&D evolving in ways that will lead to a robust future for U.S. agriculture? Are the investment and institutional changes envisaged in the 2014 Farm Bill sufficient in light of substantive shifts in the roles of public versus private R&D within the United States, and the position of the United States in global innovation markets for food and agriculture?
Read the full story on Choices Magazine >
As a student in nutrition and international development, I have strived to develop a variety of skills in the fields of food security and nutrition. My experiences so far have convinced me that ensuring global food security requires a breadth of measures, from the lab to the field, in order to attain sustainable solutions to these pressing problems.
As a student at the University of Illinois, I conduct research in Food Science and Human Nutrition, under the direction of Dr. Juan Andrade. I analyze fortified blended foods to test for values of specific micronutrients. Although vitamins and minerals are vital for health, vitamin deficiencies are not immediately physically evident, unlike calorie deficiency, or ‘starvation.’ But micronutrient deficiencies can be just as detrimental as calorie deficiency, leading to health problems like blindness, mental impairment, and even death. Fortifying these vitamins and minerals into foods is therefore an important solution that not only requires insight into food chemistry but also sociology and economics. For example, I analyzed Corn Soya Blend, which is a porridge given to children in school lunch programs worldwide by the World Food Programme and USAID. It contains a bountiful supply of micronutrients, but through our analysis we learned that when the product is improperly prepared, the nutrients are severely diminished, because vital nutrients can be destroyed through high cooking temperatures, sunlight, and humid storage conditions. I realized that the interventions necessary to resolve these issues depend on technical expertise as well as careful consideration of the entire supply chain and sociological influence, such as educating caregivers on the proper preparation techniques and storage.
My field experience in Latin America taught me about nutrition interventions beyond technical laboratory work. In my field research, I supported a PhD candidate’s analysis of the correlation between food security, diet diversity, coping strategies, and other livelihood factors in rural Honduras and Guatemala. We traveled to several rural communities and went door-to-door surveying households on these indicators. Suddenly, the effects of malnutrition were no longer a dataset for me, but a child with cloudy eyes whose height falls far below their developmental average.
This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
We’re excited to announce the launch of a new multi-part film series on Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season. Now through October 16—coinciding with World Food Day 2014—we will be releasing new episodes from the series each week. Part 7 is now available below. See all episodes.
With Rasoa Wasike’s first big harvest came big plans for the future.
She and her husband Cyrus would begin saving money for their three sons to attend high school.
Rasoa and Cyrus, now seeing their family farm in western Kenya as a family business, strategized about diversifying their crops. Growing a greater variety of vegetables would be good for the nutrition of their boys. And the crop rotation would help revitalize the depleted soil in their field.
Hazy, distant plans for adding another cow or two, and starting a poultry business, and planting more fruit trees became clear and imminent.
And, of course, there would be a new house, with a bedroom just for the boys.
Tripling the size of their maize harvest opened up the possibilities. Relieved of the daily worry of putting enough food on the table, Rasoa was free to think ahead. Greater productivity on her farm—thanks to the access to financing and the ability to purchase better quality seeds and soil nutrients through One Acre Fund—yielded a cornucopia of choices. It liberated her entrepreneurial spirit.
In this video, Rasoa personifies the benefits of investing in Africa’s hard-working family farmers.
On October 6, 2014, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on how innovation in US agriculture is helping to reduce hunger and advance a safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply both in the US and abroad. Vilsack, who was welcomed by Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture and cochair of The Chicago Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative, highlighted the importance of continued innovation and US leadership in agriculture in order to address the most pressing global problems that we currently face.
Secretary Vilsack emphasized the important role of agriculture in the face of threats from climate change, highlighting the Obama administration's launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture at the UN Climate Summit in September. The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture aims to increase agricultural productivity worldwide, ensure agriculture’s resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. He also heralded the value of agricultural research, particularly in the face of climate change. Earlier this year, he said, USDA established the Open Data Initiative to “open the vault” of USDA data to scientists worldwide. Secretary Vilsack also recognized the importance of partnership with the private sector, and emphasized the USDA’s belief in “a science and rules-based system to spur innovation.” He noted the creation of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research in the most recent Farm Bill, noting that the US government’s investment, to be matched by the private sector, has created a $400 million investment in agricultural research.
Secretary Vilsack also outlined the role of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative in supporting agricultural production throughout the developing world, noting that is has assisted over 7.4 million farmers and 3.8 million hectares of land worldwide. Feed the Future is a country-led program, he said, in which the US listens and responds to countries, rather than dictating policy. Recently, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would make Feed the Future, whose programs include credit systems for smallholder farmers, trade and export assistance, data collection, and improved storage of crops to avoid loss, a permanent fixture of USAID’s programs. Secretary Vilsack encouraged such legislative action, stating:
“We hope that Congress takes action to institutionalize the Feed the Future program—to institutionalize the training, credit programs, data collection, market access and export programs—in this global food security legislation. We hope Congress will pass it, because it is the right way to approach these issues, and the most innovative way.”
As the world’s population grows closer to 9 billion, Secretary Vilsack observed, every tool and innovation will be necessary to ensure global food security. Noting that over 70 percent of the world’s farmers are women, he paid particular attention to the important contributions of women in agriculture, both in the US and internationally. “We need the ideas, focus, and direction that women in particular can bring,” he remarked. He concluded: “Agriculture is a big deal,” assuring that agriculture has the capacity—and ability—to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.
Livestock Insurance Could Protect Cattle-Herders in Africa from Drought
Index-Based Livestock Insurance, being piloted in Kenya, uses data from satellite imagery to assess the impact of drought on the vegetation that livestock need to survive, allowing insured pastoralists to receive a pay-out in times of drought based on predicted rather than actual livestock deaths. It is a promising option for addressing poverty traps that arise from catastrophic drought risk.
What Do African Farmers Want? More Manure
The Guardian Project Foundation’s initiative works as a pay-it-forward scheme, with farmers given a female sheep or goat as an interest free loan. Access to manure from the animal can increase crop yields by up to 300%. The increased income and greater stability in the communities involved in the project has led to significant improvements outside farming and food, including in healthcare and education.
Arctic Greenhouse Provides Locals Fresh Produce Year-Round
A greenhouse based in a northern Canadian community is providing fresh local produce for residents of the Arctic region for the first time. The greenhouse will help improve local food security by extending the growing season past the summer months.
Solar Energy: A Sunflower Solution to Electricity Shortage
IBM revealed the prototype of its advanced solar electricity generators: the machines can convert 80% of the sun’s radiation into electricity and hot water. At present, about 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. However, that figure is dwarfed by the number—2.5 billion—who have no access to proper sanitation; a number that is currently increasing at a rate of 9% a year.
Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series
By Jennie Lane, DVM, Master of Public Health from University of California, Berkeley and 2014 Next Generation Delegate
I felt fortunate to attend The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014 as a Next Generation Delegate and meet my fellow delegates, as well as sponsors and attendees. The Symposium was an excellent forum to understand the different aspects of food security and to learn about the diverse breadth of solutions to some of the toughest global challenges of our time.
It was especially exciting to listen to the remarks by US National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah regarding USAID’s 2014-2015 Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy. In my opinion, agriculture for nutrition and health, or A4NH, is one of the most important aspects of food security. Integrating the disciplines of public health, agriculture, water, sanitation and food assistance into a cohesive strategy is an obvious step in the mission to eliminate extreme poverty around the world. I firmly believe in the potential of agricultural interventions through education and environmentally appropriate techniques to contribute to food security, decrease the prevalence of malnutrition, empower populations, withstand climate change and promote sustainable development. But we need more rigorous evaluation of the diverse and context-specific agricultural interventions designed to improve health and nutrition, learn what solutions work, what don’t and why, and how to scale those that succeed.
Livestock and animal agriculture is another important aspect of agricultural production. While food systems involving animals are recognized as essential to global food security, the impact of smallholder animal agriculture as well as draught animals - cattle, oxen, horses, donkeys, and mules - at all levels of the food system is poorly understood. These animals are essential to rural and traditional forms of agriculture. Learning more about their effects on farming systems has implications for national and international policy, the provision of veterinary services and education, and sustainable agriculture worldwide. Improving animal agriculture, in part through improved veterinary care, will remain essential to feeding a growing population. In tandem, we need an even better understanding of the effects that livestock systems have on household socioeconomics, human health, the local environment and the potential to mitigate climate change.
To sustain the planet’s growing population, we need to integrate strategies to improve food production while adapting to and mitigating climate change through attention to soil improvement, increased use of perennial and forestry crops, improved grazing techniques, and advanced water retention methods. To this point, Dr. Cynthia E. Rosenzweig made excellent recommendations to the panel discussion of the climate-food nexus: she suggests we need increased collaboration and rigorous, cross-disciplinary research employing public health, agricultural, climate, agroeconomic, and social science techniques to fully understand the complexity of these systems.
At the Symposium, numerous experts called for increased collaboration across sectors; similarly, two of the four recommendations in the Chicago Council’s report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate, called for increased partnerships. These recommendations must be converted into action. With increased knowledge paired with human-centered design and community involvement at all levels, we can continue to develop solutions that result in food security and support sustainable societies.
This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
We’re excited to announce the launch of a new multi-part film series on Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season. Now through October 16—coinciding with World Food Day 2014—we will be releasing two episodes from the series per week. Parts 5 and 6 are now available below. See all episodes.
During the hunger season, Leonida Wanyama not only struggled to feed her children. She also struggled to educate them.
For Leonida, putting her children through school was as important as putting food on the table. At the beginning of the year, she sold her entire maize harvest—which could have fed her family throughout the year—to raise money to pay the high school tuition for her son, Gideon. Gideon was in his third year of high school. Leonida desperately wanted him—her fourth child—to be the first in the family to complete secondary school.
At first, it seemed an unfathomable decision. Selling the harvest meant plunging the family back into another hunger season. But Leonida told me they could cope and somehow make it through; they always had. Yes, she said, the food would have likely satisfied the family for a year. The opportunity to have a high school graduate in the family, though, could yield lifetime benefits. Education of her children, she believed, was the steady, long-term route out of poverty.
The initial tuition payment, however, wasn’t enough to cover the entire year of schooling for Gideon. The principal would regularly send him home for more money to stay in school. Leonida and her husband continued to sacrifice; they sold their little plastic radio and some chickens and tightened their belts further. The deepening hunger season made it harder for Gideon’s three younger sisters to perform their best in school. How can you study on an empty stomach? But their mother said it would pay off in the long run: with a high school diploma, Gideon could get a better job, and he could then help put his sisters through high school.
In these next two videos, Leonida and her husband Peter emphasize the importance of education. And Gideon and his sister Jackline Sitawa, who is in eighth grade and hoping to follow her brother into high school, explain what it is like to be teenagers during the hunger season, how they yearn to accomplish something in school, and achieve a better life even as the food on the table dwindles.