May 21, 2010 | By Roger Thurow

Feet to the Fire

Just back from Sudan, Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator, came to the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security this morning with fresh evidence that food security is the key to national prosperity, regional stability and international Now, the work begins.

Just back from Sudan, Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator, came to the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security this morning with fresh evidence that food security is the key to national prosperity, regional stability and international peace.  And he provided more implementation details of the roadmap to achieve that, the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program – ending hunger through agriculture development.  The goal is to increase the incomes of 40 million people in 20 countries over 10 years, and to reach 25 million children with nutrition interventions that will prevent stunting in 10 million kids.

Through Feed the Future, the government will be investing at least $3.5 billion over three years (as part of a concerted international push to spend $22 billion) to reverse the neglect of agriculture development of the past decades and to reverse the resulting soaring hunger and malnutrition.  The idea is to follow country-led investment plans and adhere to their priorities – a big break from the past practice of telling developing countries what they needed.  And to spread the investment beyond mere production increases, to work the whole value chain from research lab to cooking calabash.

“We have considerable capabilities in this area, but too often our investments have resulted in a collection of projects that fail to transform a value chain and leave a lasting market-oriented agricultural system,” Shah said.

He gave an example: “I just returned from Kenya, where a bumper maize crop and poor drying conditions have lead to high levels of aflatoxin contamination that could wipe out the gains farmers expected for their hard work.  In fact, an initial USAID survey of draft African agricultural plans shows that developing effective markets is their top priority.”

Success, he said, won’t come easy, but it will be easier if all those involved push in the same direction – which would be a rarity in international development.

To the developing countries becoming partners in Feed the Future, he said, “We will follow your lead.  Once you commit to a comprehensive plan, we will commit to helping you execute it over the long term.”

To NGOs, he urged, “align behind country priorities.  We will work with you to maximize the amount of money that gets invested in countries versus redirected back to the Beltway.”

To the private sector, he said, “Tell us what countries and donors can do to reduce constraints on business operations and please explore with us whether our tools to encourage investment would help you make the commitment to invest.”

To Congress, he said, “We need you now more than ever to fully fund our efforts.”

Getting the money — $3.5 billion over 3 years — should be the easiest task, for that amount is peanuts given the multi-billion bailouts handed out over the past year.  But it will likely be the hardest.  We have said it before: Congress quickly conjured up $3 billion for its Cash for Clunkers program last year.  Surely it can come up with a like amount to fund this program.

Right?  Now is the time to tell your representatives in Congress: Support Feed the Future.

As Shah said, “By far, the most important thing that each of us can do is to hold each other’s feet to the fire.”

That fire is growing hotter by the day.  “I am acutely aware,” Shah said, “that today lack of food will lead to the death of about 25,000 people.  We are gathered here today because we know that doesn’t need to happen.”

Cheryl Mills, leading the Feed the Future charge at the State Department, injected another jolt of urgency.  “Every day not acting is a day lost.”

She also warned that agriculture progress will be “a long march.”

Best, then, not to lose another day.eace.  


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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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