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

Starved Bodies, Hungry Minds

The women farmers at the foot of the Lugulu Hills paused from the preparation of their fields for the planting season and looked forward to the harvest.

| By Roger Thurow

Extending the Reach

I returned from a day in the field with Kenyan smallholder farmers last week to find these words from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as the Newsbrief’s Quote of the Week:

“As I travel around the world talking about American agriculture, the one thing that has struck me is how jealous the rest of the world is about extension, how they would love to have the capacity that we have in this country and often, unfortunately, take for granted, of the ability to reach out and gain very useful information and insights to improve productivity.”

Exactly, I thought.

| By Roger Thurow

Bringing Home the Seeds

It’s been Christmas in February this week for thousands of smallholder farmers in western Kenya.  Seeds and fertilizer for the imminent planting season arrived.

| By Roger Thurow

Reality Check

As the budget battles intensify, a reality check is in order: Slashing foreign aid targeted for boosting development in poor countries will hardly make a dent in the deficit.  The savings will be negligible, but the consequences would be huge.


| By Roger Thurow

Writing on the Wall

The writing on the wall, foretelling the turmoil that has roiled North Africa and the Middle East in recent weeks, appeared during the food crisis of 2008.  It was then that staple food shortages and soaring prices sent protesters into the streets in dozens of countries in the developing world.

| By Roger Thurow

We Do Big Things

For those of us who were listening to the President’s State of the Union address this week, listening for a reference to the fight against hunger through agriculture development, we heard this near the end of the speech:

| By Roger Thurow

African Paradox

Once again, the great paradox of Africa emerges: hunger in one part of a country, food surplus in another.

| By Roger Thurow

The Task Ahead for the 112th Congress

As 2011 dawns, the United States government is poised to lead the greatest assault on global hunger through agriculture development since the Green Revolution half a century ago.  

| By Roger Thurow

Bowling against Hunger

The college football bowl season, which begins this weekend, celebrates food and eating almost as much as it celebrates gridiron excellence.  Just consider how many of this season’s bowls – Bowls!  The very word comes straight from the kitchen — are sponsored by food companies or named after food:


| By Roger Thurow

Food Is the Foundation

This week in Cancun, international negotiators have been consumed with climate change.  And on Dec. 1, all around the world, red ribbons were out in force for World AIDS Day.

Multimedia

Videos


 


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.

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?

Learn more »

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 »