April 16, 2010 | By Roger Thurow

All Together Now

It’s all the same really, the clamor over hunger, climate change and environmental preservation.  The common goal: improve food production and nutritional quality to feed the planet’s ever-expanding and more prosperous population while adapting to climate change and protecting delicate eco-systems.

Yet the attention of policymakers is often divided as if these are unique problems with separate solutions.  At the end of last year, for instance, there were separate summits on hunger and climate change at opposite ends of Europe.  The food summit in Rome got relatively little attention while world leaders stampeded to the microphones and cameras at the climate change summit in Copenhagen.  One summit would have riveted attention on the two issues: the one billion chronically hungry people and the environmental challenges that threaten to make that number much worse.

We need to harmonize the clamor.  One effort to do that is the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.  In a paper released this week, it identifies three challenges “that are central to the global conversation on hunger reduction”:
  • Unify the food security, climate change and ecosystem protection agendas;
  • Rise above conflicting perspectives on the causes and solutions to hunger;
  • Empower farmers and communities to feed themselves.
“Historically, there has been a major disconnect between policymakers focused on hunger reduction and the newer voices mobilizing around ecosystem conservation and climate mitigation and adaptation,” says Sara Scherr, president and CEO ofEcoagriculture Partners who has co-authored a paper for Worldwatch outlining these goals.

“The various models for agricultural, food security, climate, and ecosystem conservation, and the policies to promote them, are in serious conflict, which threatens to cancel out progress on production, food security, climate or environmental goals,” notes the paper, “Agricultural Innovation for Food Security and Poverty Reduction in the 21st Century: Issues for Africa and the World.”

“Yet,” says Scherr, “in the midst of all this conflict, a rapidly growing set of individuals and institutions has been exploring innovations for reconciling these objectives – for developing landscape mosaics that overcome these challenges simultaneously.”

These innovations, suggests the paper, are aiming to grow more food, mitigate climate change and conserve critical ecosystem services, such as watershed protection, pollination and pest and disease control.

However, these innovations – be they on the scientific or markets fronts, or on the ground of Africa’s small farms — are often overlooked by governments, funders and private sector agribusiness.  In the past several decades they have been more concerned with mobilizing large amounts of relatively cheap food for the global food chain of urban retail and wholesale consumers, rather than ensuring that resource-poor rural populations and people with little purchasing power in developing countries (the one billion hungry and others on the edge) have access to adequate food supplies and nutritional quality.  This perspective was one of the factors leading to the sharp decline in agriculture development aid for the poorer countries of the world since the 1980s.

And, as we illustrate in our book ENOUGH, these innovations are often undermined by policymakers’ self-interested adherence to practices that sap the incentive of these small farmers.  Namely, food aid systems that feed the hungry through handouts rather than encourage them to feed themselves, and agriculture subsidies that are showered on farmers in the richer world and denied to farmers in the poorer precincts, particularly in Africa.  The resulting uneven plowing fields of agricultural trade subvert innovation.

I have often marveled at the entrepreneurial ability of Africa’s small farmers.  What they are able to accomplish with very little resources is remarkable and inspiring.  But still they often fall short.  Given support, they can be the leading innovators in the drive for their own food security.

These farmers don’t look at the problems of hunger, changing climate and environmental threats as separate challenges.  And, in unifying our clamor to spur political and popular action, neither should we.  Their goal – and we should share it — is to feed their own families and communities despite climate changes while making sure the environment can support their farming for generations to come.


| By Roger Thurow

A Wondrous Journey

Cruising down I-80 in the summer is one of the most wondrous, and paradoxical, drives in the country.

| By Roger Thurow

1,000 Days and Migrant Stress

The first 1,000 days of a child's life is a critical time for development, where nutrition--and stability--lay the foundation for a lifetime. 

| By Roger Thurow

Outrage and Inspire with Roger Thurow - Am I About to Lose My Second Child, Too?

The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.

Roger Thurow on SDG 2.2

Roger Thurow sat down with Farming First to talk about the individual and societal consequences of malnutrition. 




Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »


Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »