Saturday July 30th
Bungoma, Kenya
Roger Thurow

Two scenes from the great African paradox of surplus and shortage – feast and famine – in the same country:

In rural western Kenya, farmer Crispinus Walubengo harvests a bumper crop of maize. He is expecting a half-acre yield greater than the thirteen 90-kilogram bags he reaped last year, which had been his biggest-ever harvest.

In the port of Mombasa, on Kenya’s east coast, a crane offloads thousands of tons of maize imported from Malawi. That maize would soon be heading to drought-ravaged northern and eastern parts of Kenya where hundreds of thousands of people are desperately hungry.

If any sense would come from this paradox, farmer Walubengo would be entertaining buyers from the Kenyan government or international relief agencies flocking to purchase his harvest to feed the hungry. They would come bearing a pile of cash to buy at the country’s current historically high maize price. It would be a rare win for Kenya’s smallholder farmers, and help Walubengo achieve his post-harvest goal of buying a top producing dairy cow.

So far, though, no one has knocked on the wooden door of his mud-brick house and no one likely will. Instead, imports and food aid continue to stream into the country and the greater Horn of Africa region. The U.S. has pumped more than $430 million of emergency assistance into the Horn since the beginning of the year. Part of that has gone to the United Nations World Food Program, which has received more than $250 million from donors to feed 11.5 million people in the Horn.

In Kenya, the WFP is feeding 1.6 million people and the government of Kenya 800,000. The number needing food assistance is expected to rise to more than 3 million by mid-August.

This emergency relief will undoubtedly save countless lives. But another emergency afflicting Kenya, the Horn and all of Africa is the lack of agriculture development aid to help farmers produce more food so the countries wouldn’t be in need of food aid in the first place. In contrast to the rush of emergency food aid, there is a decided lack of urgency in providing the emergency agriculture development aid.

The rich world countries have for the most part dragged their feet on meeting their pledges to dramatically increase aid to agriculture development. And in the U.S., the Obama administration’s Feed the Future Initiative, which aims to address emergency food aid needs while also improving the long-term productivity of Africa’s smallholder

farmers, is battling to hold back Congressional budget cutters who would obliterate such foreign assistance programs.

For those who doubt that agriculture development aid does any good, consider again the two opening scenes. Just six or seven years ago, Malawi was a large food aid recipient as a severe hunger crisis crippled the country. The government committed to developing agriculture by helping its farmers become more productive and donor nations joined in. Within a year or two, Malawi was producing a maize surplus, and it became a food aid donor to other African countries.

Two years ago, Farmer Walubengo harvested only 6 bags of maize on his half-acre. Then he became a member of the One Acre Fund, which provides seeds and fertilizer on credit, and farming advice to go with it, to some 50,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya and Rwanda. In one season, he more than doubled his maize yield.

Despite such successes, agriculture development has been so woefully neglected. And so, in the Kenyan breadbasket regions of the Rift Valley and Western provinces, farmers faced a seed shortage when planting season arrived in March. Farmers wanting to grow as much as possible were stymied by the underdevelopment of the country’s seed industry. Incredibly, many of them left fields fallow – at a time when drought and hunger were spreading in other parts of Kenya.

In 2009, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was established by the G20 nations to pool resources in support of country-led programs to improve the productivity of smallholder farmers. So far, the fund has allocated nearly $500 million dollars to 12 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. But it has exhausted its funding, and no new donations have replenished it. At the last round of allocations, GAFSP was unable to fund 15 countries for lack of money.

One of those was Kenya. Within months, emergency food aid was rushing into the country.

Friday, July 16, 2011
Outrage and Inspire

Roger Thurow

The promises made by the leaders of the rich world in L’Aquila, Italy, two years ago were supposed to stop what is now happening in the Horn of Africa.  But those pledges haven’t been kept, and starvation is raging once again.

This week brought a revealing, and tragic, juxtaposition of those facts.  On Monday, ONE, an advocacy organization pushing for policies that eliminate hunger and extreme poverty, presented a report that found that donors are falling far short of their L’Aquila commitment to mobilize $22 billion by the end of 2012 to finance agriculture development in the poorest countries.  And, ONE noted, it isn’t only the money that is failing; the political will needed to prevent future food crises is also lagging.

As the week moved on, newspapers brought us the manifestations of those failures: pictures of emaciated children in hunger refugee camps in Kenya, where masses of desperate people are gathering as they flee drought and famine in Somalia.

Hunger, once again, in the 21st Century while lofty promises and pious pledges go unfulfilled.

Relief agencies report that 10 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda are in dire need of emergency food aid.  That’s a huge increase over the 6.3 million in the region who needed assistance earlier this year.

The leaders who gathered at the L’Aquila G8 summit in 2009, in the wake of the 2007-08 global food crisis, had the right idea: reverse the decades-long neglect of agriculture development and begin the long term task of increasing the productivity of Africa’s smallholder farmers while dealing with emergency hunger crises as they arise.  They promised to deliver the $22 billion within three years.

But what happened to the sense of urgency?  Rather than rushing the L’Aquila commitments out the doors of finance ministries and into agriculture development projects, many of the rich world promise-makers are sitting tight on the money.  ONE’s “Agriculture Accountability” report finds that only 22% has been dispersed so far:

“Canada and Italy have disbursed more than two-thirds of their pledges.  France, the UK and the U.S. need to make substantial disbursements in order to be on track…Meanwhile, Germany, Japan and the EC (European Community) are difficult to assess because they have not yet reported any disbursements, for various reasons.”

In the case of the U.S., the ONE report notes that Congress has appropriated about $2 billion for President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative and other projects for fiscal years 2010 and 2011.  That’s about 60% of the U.S. pledge, but disbursements to the field and future appropriations are in the balance as Washington focuses on slashing the federal budget.  As the report says, “ONE considers disbursements to be the ultimate measure of political will and bureaucratic expediency.”

As the promised money has been bottled up, the hunger in the Horn has been spreading, propelled by drought on top of chronic underproduction of food.  It is the kind of “slow-onset” humanitarian crisis that doesn’t get as much attention as earthquakes and floods or uprisings and wars.  Yet it is precisely the kind of crisis that increased investment in agriculture development would lessen or prevent.

“Rather than waiting for a full-blown, life-threatening disaster that will cost exponentially more in loss of lives, livelihoods and humanitarian interventions, we must act now to save those already suffering from hunger and malnutrition as we build resiliency and food security in the region,” the heads of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and Oxfam said in a joint statement.

“The good news is that we know what to do,” they added.  And that mission is to forge “a partnership between countries, humanitarian organizations and the development assistance community to link long-term development efforts with humanitarian assistance to build food security.”

The leaders who made the promises at L’Aquila know this, which is why they christened their effort the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative.  But there they left it, with a nice name and lofty commitments but weak follow-through in the past two years.

“The G8 and other major donors are not approaching agriculture and food security with the urgency they deserve,” the ONE report asserts.  “A major injection of political will and good faith are needed without further delay to leverage support from other donors, recipient country governments and the private sector.”

ONE reminds the leaders that the promises they made were to “real people in peril, real people whose lives and futures depend on better aid for agriculture, food security and rural development.”

They were promises made to the people who are now crowding into the hunger refugee camps in east Africa.

Empty promises lead to empty stomachs.

Outrage & Inspire
Roger Thurow

East Lansing, Michigan - July 1,2011

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 clamor to 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.