April 22, 2011 | By Roger Thurow

A Measuring Glass

Is the glass one-quarter full or three-quarters empty?

That’s the question after the budget battles for fiscal year 2011 provided $100 million of President Obama’s $408 million request for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP).  To those involved in the trench warfare seeking full funding for programs to attack hunger through agriculture development, that even $100 million survived is reason for an ounce of optimism.  For them, the glass is one-quarter full.  As the budget rhetoric heated up, with loud calls to slash all foreign aid, gloom spread that food and agriculture development would be entirely cut.  As it turns out, $100 million is indeed better than zero.

“In the end, Congressional leaders and the President came together to preserve our national investment in global food security,” said Kristin Sundell, policy advisor at Action Aid USA, which has been leading a coalition of agencies lobbying Congress to fund the administration’s efforts to reverse the neglect of agriculture development and the subsequent rise in global hunger.  That includes the President’s Feed the Future initiative.

GAFSP is a multilateral program administered by the World Bank to support underfunded agriculture development projects in the developing world, particularly in Africa.  The U.S. was the lead donor to GAFSP when it was launched a year ago, and if America retreated completely on its funding pledges it would have been in no position to prod other countries to contribute.  But the quarter-full optimists hope the $100 million might be enough to convince Britain and other countries in the wealthier precincts of the world to join in.

According to the World Bank, six countries and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged about $925 million to GAFSP over the next three years; so far $405 million has been received from the public sector and $50 million from the private sector.  Since its launch, GAFSP has approved grants worth $321 million for eight countries, but 17 countries that prepared agriculture investment plans deemed worthy of support are still waiting for funding.

Those 17 countries, and many more looking at GAFSP with hope for future funding, would likely be among the glass-is-three-quarters-empty contingent.  Their worries whether the rich world is really committed to boosting agriculture development in the poorest countries grows more acute by the day as food prices increase.

According to the World Bank’s Food Price Watch, global food prices are 36% above their levels a year ago, pushing a multitude of people deeper into poverty.  Rising food prices crush the poorest on the planet, because a huge portion of their income is spent on food.  And it is their staple foods that are rising most dramatically; maize is up 74% over a year ago, wheat 69%, soybeans 36% and sugar 21%.

The World Bank estimates that about 1.2 billion people live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.  Since June, it figures 44 million people have fallen below the line because of the soaring food prices.  A further 10% increase in prices, the Bank calculates, could drive an additional 10 million people into such extreme poverty; a 30% price spike could do the same to 34 million more.

All this had led World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick to recently warn that “we are at a tipping point in terms of food prices.”  He fears that the world is “one shock away from a full-blown crisis.”

“We have to put food first and protect the poor and vulnerable, who spend most of their money on food,” he says.

Africa is particularly vulnerable.  Akin Adesina, vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, told a gathering in Ghana last week that the continent spends over $50 billion annually on food imports, a tab which grows as food prices increase.  “As it does, (Africa) is simply importing food inflation from global markets,” he noted.  “The poor will be hurt the most.  Yet, African can feed itself.”

That prospect – Africa growing enough to feed itself, to insulate it from global price volatility – is at the core of GASFP and Feed the Future.  Which brings us back to the funding issue.

Adesina reminded his audience that the $20 billion promised by the G8 – a group of the leading industrial countries — several years ago for African agriculture has yet to materialize; an $18 billion deficit on those pledges remains, he says.

And more recent pledges, made by the G8 two years ago in L’Aquila, Italy, to increase spending on agriculture development are also failing.  ActionAid said it remains concerned that the levels of funding in the fiscal year 2011 budget could complicate U.S. efforts to meet its L’Aquila commitment to provide $3.5 billion over three years to support smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere.

So the battle turns to the fiscal year 2012 budget.  ActionAid warns that flat-funding the budget at 2010 levels, as some in Congress have proposed, will make it difficult for the U.S. to keep the L’Aquila promise.  Significant increases in funding will be needed.

A glass only a quarter full won’t be nearly enough.


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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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