June 22, 2012 | By Roger Thurow

Derailing Momentum

There is no doubt that the financial crisis roiling Europe has unsettled world markets, scrambled politics, shaken re-election prospects in several countries and darkened many 401-k prospects.  But as the drama stretches on and on, another mighty impact is emerging: it is derailing the momentum to fight hunger and poverty through agricultural development.

The Euro crisis certainly overshadowed the G8 meeting in May.  President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition before the leaders began their deliberations.  But when the deliberating began, it was consumed by the politics and economics of the Eurozone.  Earlier this week, the G20, meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, was also preoccupied by the financial crisis.  The G20 was supposed to be the setting to really move the needle on development challenges.  While some of the G20 countries did support a new initiative to drive private sector investment into more innovative agricultural solutions, the G20 didn’t do much to put into action the Action Plan on Agriculture it had ballyhooed at its previous meeting in Cannes.  As a number of advocacy groups noted, the focus was on more words rather than new action.

The lack of concrete action prompted the ONE campaign to note that, “Political courage seems to be in short supply…The G20 has consistently promised a lot, but delivered very little.  If it’s not careful the G20 will rapidly become irrelevant to the most pressing issues facing the world today….Leaders must provide substance to their rhetoric by ensuring that their stated desire to address global poverty is backed up by concrete action in the months ahead.”

Courage is an important word.  Before the G20 began, I exhorted the leaders to adopt the courage of the smallholder farmers who, they claim, are at the center of their Action Plans.  Many smallholder farmers across the developing world are taking the leap of faith to try new technologies and new methods – when made available to them – to boost their harvests, improve their nutrition and end their hunger seasons.  It is incumbent on the rich world governments to make this leap with them, for the smallholder farmers are indispensable in meeting the common challenge facing us all: nearly doubling global food production by 2050.  As Oxfam commented on the eve of this week’s Rio-Plus-20 meeting: “With the right support and techniques these small farmers can help feed our growing population without doing further damage to the environment.”

The smallholder farmers are also to be considered in that ultimate of domestic legislation, the Farm Bill, now making its volatile way through Congress.  And courage is needed here, too, as reforms to subsidies and international food aid programs are considered.

The subsidies, which largely flow to larger agribusiness concerns, have hurt smaller, poorer farmers here in the United States and abroad.  They have created an uneven plowing field between those that get subsidies and those that don’t, and they have ratcheted up the tensions in international trade.

The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill makes some progress on adjusting the subsidy programs, but more overhaul is necessary.  The same is true on the international food aid front.  The 2008 Farm Bill created a pilot program to study the effectiveness of purchasing food aid in the countries and regions plagued by hunger (since surplus and shortage, feast and famine often exist side-by-side in many hunger crises) rather than shipping U.S. grown food at much greater expense and time.  This so-called local purchase not only saves money since more than half of the cost of U.S. food aid is consumed by the shipping cost, but it also benefits the local farmers by introducing another element of demand for their crops.  The Senate version, Oxfam notes, turns the pilot into a full program, funded at $40 million a year.

Cue the applause sign.  But celebrate only briefly, for that is a very modest sum.  A good dose of courage would triple or quadruple that amount.


| 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.

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» 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.

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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?

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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.

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