July 6, 2012 | By Roger Thurow

Just Do It

With the London Olympics approaching, it is time that we dusted off the old Nike slogan – Just Do It – and apply it to the agricultural development front.

We have just finished up a dazzling run of high-level summit meetings that focused global attention on the need to end hunger – and increase the planet’s food production, a benefit to all of us – through agricultural development.  It started with the Chicago Council on Global Affair’s symposium on food security and nutrition, continued through the G8 and G20 summits and then finished with the Rio Plus 20 gathering.  There was much talk and plenty of lofty rhetoric.  We reaped a bumper harvest of high-minded resolutions.  This was all accompanied, and followed, by earnest analysis of what it all means and much hand-wringing that it wasn’t enough.

It certainly should be enough.  The awareness is there.  The commitments are there.  The political will is there – or at least the politicians proclaim it is.  Finally, finally, finally.  Now, one more thing: Just Do It.

Where we fall short is in the implementation.  In this realm, we’re far better at goal setting than goal achieving.  It is time to move from the season of pronouncements to the season of accomplishments.

We know that agricultural development works.  We see many examples of it in Africa, where such development has been utterly neglected for decades, resulting in the horrible oxymoron “hungry farmers” that describes tens of millions of families.  I write about the work of smallholder farmers affiliated with One Acre Fund in The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.  It is on the brink of change – of consistently producing surplus harvests with an improved nutritional mix, of conquering the annual hunger season, of thriving rather than merely surviving — because agricultural development works.  We know the impact of better seeds, soil management, technical training, improved storage, access to micro-financing, efficient markets.  Just Do It.

We have established the Millennium Development Goals and, for the most part, we know how to achieve them.  Just Do It.

We know that proper nutrition during the 1,000 Days of a mother’s pregnancy and the first two years of her child’s life are absolutely critical in the child’s development.  We know how important that time is to avoid physical and mental stunting, how important those days are to helping individuals, families, societies reach their potentials.  Just Do It.

We know that agricultural improvements spur greater economic development because we have seen it happen across the rich, developed precincts of the world.  Just Do It.

I’ve written that the essence of all these intended efforts – from the White House and State Department with the Feed the Future initiative, the G8 and G20 chambers, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the mighty philanthropic foundations, a growing number of corporate boardrooms, the spreading grassroots movement – comes down to improving the lives of the world’s smallholder farmers with the addition of three little letters: A-N-D.  Putting an AND between the farmers’ goals of feeding their families throughout the year, educating their children, improving their nutrition, accessing the necessary health care.  That’s what increased harvests mean.

To achieve these three little letters we need to act on three little words: Just. Do. It.


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A Wondrous Journey

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

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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. 

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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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