May 22, 2014

Commentary - Combating Hunger is Common Ground for Mothers Worldwide

By Natalie Rosenbloom, vice president of sustainability and partnerships at Monsanto. This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 22.

As a mother, nothing is more important to me than the health and safety of my children.  I believe that no matter where we come from, no matter what our means, every mother around the world shares a common bond: the need to provide our children with nutritious food. 

Fulfilling this fundamental need can bring different challenges in different parts of the world.  In developed countries, it can often boil down to affordability, having the means to provide healthy, well-rounded meals.  In developing countries like those in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can all depend on adequate rainfall for women farmers tending small crops.

The vast majority of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, mothers tending crops on small areas of land to provide for their families in the months ahead.  About 90 percent of these farmers depend solely on rainfall to water their crops.  A period of drought can mean the difference between having enough food for their children or not.

Over the past seven years, a team of public and private organizations have worked together to help farmers in Africa better manage drought and adapt to climate change.  The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program is led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a nonprofit organization of people dedicated to providing better tools for African farmers to fight hunger and child malnutrition.  AATF works in collaboration with scientists of five governments in Africa, the public research institution CIMMYT and Monsanto, backed by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID.  Together, the partnership is developing maize (corn) seed that uses water more efficiently and resists insect pests.

We are excited that the initial results from the first WEMA crop are promising, with food production more than doubling that of traditional seed.

We sent a video crew to Africa to capture the first harvest, and to interview some of the Kenyan farmers who planted the first seed.  To me, Bertha and Victor Otor demonstrate the tenacity and focus on family that I see and admire in many farmers around the world.  I was struck by the drive they share with most parents.  They’re working to not only provide for their children’s basic needs, but to improve their lives.  A good crop not only provides their daily meals but helps to ensure their children can continue their education.

I’m also struck by the power of collaboration and innovation to help families like the Otors succeed in this noble mission.  The challenge of feeding a growing population while protecting natural resources is very complex and will require extensive collaboration between civil society and the private sector.  With partnerships like WEMA, we can make a tremendous difference in millions of lives.

I encourage you to view this video to learn more about the Otor family and their experience with WEMA seed, and to learn more about the WEMA program.  I hope you’ll share my excitement about the potential this program has to improve lives.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.