July 1, 2011 | By Roger Thurow

Rowing in the Same Direction

East Lansing, Michigan

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.  Representatives from each of these partners had assembled at Michigan State University for a Midwest Summit on African Development.  The gathering was sponsored by several universities – Michigan State, Auburn, Iowa State, Ohio State and Wisconsin – the ONE Campaign and The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa.

The goal: To take advantage of this moment in time when ending hunger and reducing poverty through agriculture development has become a central focus of the U.S. government, a number of African leaders, international development institutions, foundations, universities and a wide front of humanitarian and advocacy agencies.  To take advantage by forging new partnerships to spur new ideas and innovation.  To move the needle on African agriculture development.

In essence, to get everyone rowing in the same direction.  And rowing harder and faster than ever.The discussion focused on what each group can contribute.  These are some of the things the representatives said:

The NGOs, with their work on the ground and intimate involvement with smallholder farmers, are perhaps best situated to determine what are the best practices for agriculture development; what is working and what isn’t.  The foundations can focus their money on what works while also encouraging innovation and new thinking.  African governments should show the way, setting the priorities for their own agriculture development and embracing the responsibility for controlling their own destinies.  The U.S. government can provide support for these African agendas and rally other rich nations to do the same.

And the universities, particularly the land-grant schools, need to harness the expertise present on their campuses, be it agriculture, nutrition, environment, business or research.  Often times, it was noted, all of these disciplines are working separately on campus instead of in a coordinated program.  The universities, many of which have decades of experience in Africa, can energize faculty, enliven institutional knowledge and motivate students to bring a new generation of ideas and leadership to conquering the challenges of agriculture development.

All of these constituents, contributing in a coordinated way, were vital to the success of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and ‘70s.  And they all will be vital if this new push to end hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture development is to succeed.

Pursue a common vision with a strategy that all can support and tactics that everyone can implement.

Discussions of the vision, the strategy and the tactics all pointed to three other goals: Taking all endeavors to scale to impact as many smallholder farmers as possible; ensuring that these efforts are sustainable so that farmers can move beyond subsistence levels and environmentally maintain their improved livelihoods; and, raising the clamorto create grassroots support for these efforts both in the U.S. and Africa.

On the clamor-raising front, few organizations do that better than ONE, which moved the needle on debt relief for the world’s poorest countries and on global health initiatives, and on keeping governments accountable for their lofty pledges.  The summit was followed by a U2 concert; lead singer Bono is a major clamor-raiser and a co-founder of ONE.

Summit participants acknowledged that the gathering was a beginning, summed up by a variation on the lyrics that Bono would sing later that night: “We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”  But they are getting closer.


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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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