March 23, 2012 | By Roger Thurow

Developments at the Development Bank

I’m surprised that “surprise” is a word being used to describe President Obama’s nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank.  Surprise, perhaps, over the specific name, because Dr. Kim hadn’t figured prominently in the speculation of who would replace current World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

But there should be no surprise over the intention of the nomination: to select someone who has been deeply and passionately immersed in development and poverty reduction efforts to run the world’s largest poverty-reduction institution.  In fact, it makes all the sense in the world.

As President Obama said today as he nominated Dr. Kim, “The leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed.  It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency.”

Past leaders of the World Bank have been economists and trade specialists and defense experts and diplomats. Now comes Dr. Kim (traditionally, Washington selects the president of the World Bank, while the Europeans name the head of the International Monetary Fund).  A Korean-American, he is a global health expert who co-founded Partners in Health, a nonprofit that provides health care for the poor in some of the most wretched places on earth.  Most recently the president of Dartmouth College, Dr. Kim is also a former director of the department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization.

The background he brings to the World Bank will hopefully be good news for the Bank’s renewed commitment to agriculture development as the driving force of poverty reduction in the world’s poorest countries.  Zoellick began to reverse decades of neglect of agriculture development and multiplied the amount of money flowing into projects to help the world’s poor and hungry smallholder farmers become as productive as possible.  That work needs to continue and accelerate.

From his past experience, Dr. Kim is fully aware of the ravages of malnutrition and hunger, how an absence of food and micro-nutrients undermines all the good work being done on the health front.  He knows that you can’t solve the world’s health problems, the world’s development problems, without ending hunger and malnutrition.

He also has been a committed practitioner of intensive consultation with the intended beneficiaries of a development program, to understand the challenges, needs and desires of the world’s poor.  Living with those you seek to help, questioning the inequalities, pushing for innovative solutions, have been hallmarks of Partners in Health.

Too often in the past at the World Bank, economic theory and text-book financial practices trumped practical on-the-ground understanding.  Projects that looked good on office blackboards often backfired in tiny villages.  The classic example was the Bank’s structural adjustment policies of fiscal austerity that ended up punishing smallholder farmers in the developing world, particularly in Africa, and derailing agricultural development for decades.  Structural adjustment, well intentioned on the drawing board, ordered poor country governments to drop their support of agriculture so the private sector could develop and flourish.

Well, the private sector in most African countries was too weak, too undercapitalized and too disinterested to fill the void and agriculture collapsed.  Seed companies failed, extension services disappeared, the farmers were left alone to bear 100% of the risk of a very risky business.  In the meantime, rich world governments – who control the World Bank — increased their support of their own farmers, creating a horribly unbalanced global agriculture system.  It was nearly three decades before the World Bank reversed course and once again made agriculture development a top priority.

Dr. Kim will need to keep it there.  His co-founder of Partners in Health, Paul Farmer, said after hearing the news of his friend’s nomination, according to the New York Times: “Jim is all about delivery and about delivering on promises often made but too seldom kept.”

Delivering on promises to the poor. It should no longer be a surprise.  It should be expected.

Archive

| By Roger Thurow

Remembering the Post-9/11 Promises to Raise Foreign Aid

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is bringing back a rush of memories and emotions.  Everyone it seems is recalling, with respect for the victims, where they were on that day when they heard or watched the horrific news.

| By Roger Thurow

Coping with Drought

With drought devastating farms from the Horn of Africa to the Panhandle of Texas, I journeyed to one of the frontlines of climate change to “chew the news,” as the Maasai say.

| By Roger Thurow

Harvest and Hunger – Part 2

At 6:30 this morning, as the sun was coming up, Sanet Biketi walked out of his small house made of mud and sticks.  Carrying a machete at his side, he headed straight to the edge of his maize field and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the arrival of harvest day.

| By Roger Thurow

Harvest and Hunger

Two scenes from the great African paradox of surplus and shortage – feast and famine – in the same country.

| By Roger Thurow

Empty Promises, Empty Stomachs

The promises made by the leaders of the rich world in L’Aquila, Italy, two years ago were supposed to stop what is now happening in the Horn of Africa. But those pledges haven’t been kept, and starvation is raging once again.

| By Roger Thurow

Rowing in the Same Direction

Vision.  Strategy.  Tactics.

These were the priorities that emerged at my table during a discussion about the role of U.S. universities, government agencies, NGOs, foundations and the African diplomatic community in advancing African development.  

| By Roger Thurow

Political Will

The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S., Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, tells an acerbic joke to illustrate the importance of good leadership.

| By Roger Thurow

Countering Drought

This growing season in south-central Kenya has been a good test for the new drought tolerant maize varieties being bred in Africa.  This is a semi-arid area, but this year they can drop the semi.  Farmers report only three short periods of rain since the February planting time.

| By Roger Thurow

Cool Beans

For some farmers in western Kenya, the hunger season I wrote about last week is coming to a mercifully early end.  A new variety of bean is ready for harvest.


| By Roger Thurow

Big Brains on Little Brains

Little brains were on the minds of some pretty big brains in the fight against hunger at the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security this week.

| By Roger Thurow

The Importance of Innovation

Bill Gates came to the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security with a confession.  “I’ve never been a farmer,” he said.  “Until recently, I rarely set foot on farm.”

| By Roger Thurow

Public Policy Matters

I enjoyed the great privilege of giving my first commencement speech on Sunday, to the graduating class of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.  I had eagerly anticipated the ceremony, knowing that the passion to shape a more just world inspires young policy makers as mightily as it fuels journalists.

| By Roger Thurow

Something to Cut

With many words in this column, we have discussed what not to cut from the federal budget.  Namely, administration requests to fund agriculture development, especially in Africa, under the Feed the Future initiative and the Global Agriculture Food Security Program.

| By Roger Thurow

Yin and Yang of Foreign Aid

Here is the Yin and the Yang of development aid spending: In the U.S., it is on the chopping block, threatened by budget cutters sharpening their knives; in China it is on an expansion course, favored by a government seeking to accumulate influence and riches in the developing world, particularly Africa.

Multimedia

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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.

Books

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?

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EnoughEnough

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 »