This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @GlobalAgDev and use #globalag on twitter to join the conversation.
Ten years after the Ethiopian famine of 2003, when international food aid rushed in to feed 14 million people, another World Food Program (WFP) tent has been erected on an open field. But this isn’t a scene of food distribution. It is a scene of food purchase.
The action happens on the grounds of the Sidama Elto Farmers’ Cooperative Union in Awassa, Ethiopia. Sidama Elto is one of 16 cooperative unions in Ethiopia that have signed forward contracts with the WFP for the purchase of more than 28,000 metric tons of maize grown by their smallholder farmer members. The maize, which is part of 112,000 tons of food the WFP purchased in Ethiopia last year, will be used for WFP relief distributions in the country. Ten years ago, many of those farmers and their families were receiving food aid from the WFP.
One of the major lessons in agricultural development over the past decade is this: Markets Matter. The 2003 famine tragically, and incomprehensibly, followed two years of bumper harvests in Ethiopia. The surplus production overwhelmed the country’s weak and inefficient markets. There were no export channels; the domestic market’s ability to absorb the harvests was crippled by woeful infrastructure. The food piled up on farms and prices collapsed, upwards of 80% in some areas. Farmers lost incentive to plant the next year. Then the drought hit, and feast turned to famine. The markets had failed before the weather did.
That gobsmacking turnaround triggered a reversal of the neglect of agricultural development that had set in since the 1980s, as I noted in my TedxChange talk
last month. In the past decade, science and research geared toward improving the work of smallholder farmers (who produce the majority of the food grown in the developing world) have been reinvigorated; so too have trade and business efforts accelerated to provide greater market incentives and opportunities for the farmers. Prior to 2003, boosting agricultural production – growing more food -- was the primary focus and developing markets was considered to be a “second-generation problem.” Now, markets share top billing with production, as it should; markets provide incentive to produce more.
In Ethiopia, it started with the creation of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange in the wake of the famine. Now, the mantra spreads, in radio dramas, government pronouncements, business negotiations: If you grow it, someone will buy it.
The WFP’s partnership with Sidama Elto is part of its Purchase for Progress
(P4P) program, which uses the WFP’s purchasing power to create markets for smallholder farmers. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and implemented in collaboration with the government of Ethiopia through the Agricultural Transformation Agency
(ATA), P4P works with the farmers to improve the quality of their crops and the post-harvest handling. Simiret Simeno, deputy manager of Sidama Elto, says that for the first time its 13,000 farmer members see that better quality can bring better prices. And they can also see their contribution to healthier communities, as one of the markets is an expanding network of school feeding programs supplied by locally grown crops rather than food being shipped in from abroad.
The ultimate goal of the WFP purchases is to demonstrate to commercial buyers that smallholder farmers can reliably produce high-quality food worthy of their business. Sustainable success here could also bear witness to the potential impact of President Obama’s proposed food aid reform, which would allow for nearly half of the U.S. food aid budget to be used to buy food nearer to the hunger crises – providing markets for smallholder farmers -- rather than shipping it all the way from American farms (as has been the U.S. policy for decades).
These public-private ventures bring both maturity and modernization to markets that hadn’t changed much for centuries. Working with local banks and donor governments, P4P has introduced forward contracts to participating cooperatives and smallholder farmers. The ATA has also been crafting links between farmers and commercial buyers of several crops, like teff, barley, sesame and chickpeas.
Above all, says Khalid Bomba, the chief executive officer of ATA, “Smallholder farmers need confidence that there will be buyers for what they grow.”
And confidence that the misery of 2003 – the misery of failed markets -- won’t happen again.
As word spread earlier this week of the food aid reform section of President Obama’s 2014 budget, I wondered how Jerman Amente would greet the news. He was a wiry 39-year-old Ethiopian farmer and grain trader when I first met him back in 2003. The country was tipping toward a disastrous food crisis – 14 million people would be on the doorstep of starvation that year – when he invited me to see his warehouse in the crossroads town of Nazareth. He unlocked the door and threw open its large metal panels, revealing, astonishingly, a room full of food.
It was a gobsmacking site in a country that would be receiving more than one million tons of international food aid. Bag upon bag of Ethiopian grown wheat, corn, beans, peas and lentils were stacked in towering columns stretching toward the ceiling. It was the bounty from the two previous farming seasons, when Ethiopian farmers reaped bumper harvests. Those surpluses overwhelmed the weak markets and prices plunged 80% in some areas, to levels below their cost of growing the food. It was a catastrophe for the farmers; their success had led to failure. Without a market, the food piled up in warehouses or rotted on farms.
Just a few blocks away, though, trucks laden with international food aid, most it from the United States, raced down the main highway. This is how I described the scene in the book ENOUGH, Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, with Jerman at his warehouse:
“He could feel the trucks rumbling in from Djibouti, massive double-load wagons stacked to the top with 220-pound white woven-plastic bags bearing the characteristic red, white and blue markings of American food intended for hungry foreigners. The trucks came in waves….The ground shook as they rolled over the potholes.
“Jerman shook with anger whenever he saw those trucks.…(He) scrambled to the summit of one of his mountains of grain and comically posed for pictures. “I should hold a sign saying, ‘Please send food. In Ethiopia we have no food!’ ” He howled wickedly. “I don’t think Americans can imagine this.”
“No, Americans imagined their food aid arriving to save the day amid blighted landscapes of misery where everything was brown, dying and grim. Their perceptions of the situation – and of their own best intentions – were perhaps most clearly expressed on one of the trucks that rolled up to the Ethiopian government’s strategic grain storehouse in Nazareth, groaning under the weight of American wheat and corn to be unloaded there. The truck’s passenger-side window had been converted into a stained-glass painting of Jesus. It was perfect imagery: Jesus, in Nazareth, bringing salvation to the Ethiopians.
“Americans certainly didn’t imagine their food aid arriving in green fields, rolling past warehouses full of local food. They didn’t imagine African countries producing grain surpluses, certainly not those countries with all those starving people.”
It was eminently clear to me, standing there with Jerman, that something was wrong with the U.S. food aid system, which, since the 1940s, mandated that the U.S. provide American-grown food on American flagged ships. No matter that it doubled the cost and the time of food delivery to the hungry. There was no room, no flexibility, for American dollars to be spent buying up food that was grown locally, in the same country or the same region where hunger reigned.
It was hard to fathom. Why not buy up the food here first? It would be cheaper. It was already here, so it didn’t need to sail on the high seas for months. And it would be a great help to local farmers, who saw their own markets collapse from their surpluses. Instead of solely shipping in surplus food from America, why not buy up local surpluses first?
It seemed like common sense. But common sense had long ago left the U.S. food aid system. As the years went by, U.S. business and political interests had come to wield ever more influence over food aid policy, keeping the focus on what was best for American agribusiness and for the politicians it supported rather than on what was best for the world’s hungry. Even as American generosity grew – half of all international food aid has routinely been provided by the U.S. – so did its self-interest.
Jerman and other farmers who had gathered with him told me that they were grateful for international assistance because the need in their country was so great. But couldn’t some of that assistance be to also help local food systems?
Again from ENOUGH:
“Jerman reported that some farmers hauling their own grain up from the south, hoping to sell it on the markets, had pulled a U-turn in Nazareth when they met the food-aid trucks coming in from the east. They returned to their farms and stashed the grain in flimsy storage facilities, breezy bins open to the elements, where insects and pests and the heat would ruin it in a matter of months. What kind of incentive was this for farmers to improve their harvest? With food aid flooding into the country, what was the use of producing a surplus?”
Back then, Jerman told me: “If we take the perspective of the American farmer, it is logical to supply food aid to the world. This is the right policy for America. But if the main aim of aid is not only to support American farmers but to support the poor country, then the donors must do what is best for the Ethiopian farmers and the Ethiopian people. If this is the aim, to solve the hunger problem, then the U.S. must change. Don’t only send your food.”
It’s taken 10 years, but finally change may be coming, pending approval from Congress. There have been modest moves toward what is called “local purchase” in past U.S. budgets, but they have been tentative pilot projects. Now the President was proposing that nearly half of America’s $1.5 billion food aid budget could be used to buy local food when that food was available in hunger areas. Just like Jerman had pleaded a decade ago. Imagine that.
In a report launched today – a valuable yardstick called, A Growing Opportunity: Measuring Investments in African Agriculture – ONE reviews the past decade and finds some notable successes in terms of mustering money and political commitment, and the impact of agricultural development.
Ten years ago, Africa’s hunger season reached new levels of desperation. Hunger crises gripped the continent from the Horn to the southern tip. In Ethiopia, the feast of successive bumper harvests had incredibly, swiftly turned to famine, with 14 million people on the doorstep of starvation, surviving on international food aid. A drought spread through central Africa and crept down the east coast, destroying harvests. In southern Africa, AIDS was creating a new kind of famine where it wasn’t the crops that were dying but the farmers who planted them.
The suffering was immense. And it exposed the folly of international development philosophy and practice of the preceding three decades: agricultural development and sustained resilience, particularly for the smallholder farmers, had been woefully neglected.
The farmers who grew the majority of the continent’s food, who made up the majority of the population in many countries, were seen as too poor, too remote, too insignificant to be worthy of development efforts. This had been the shared attitude of rich world donor governments, African governments themselves, the mighty development institutions and the private sector.
Something had to change. And it did.
Amid the misery in 2003, African leaders gathered in Maputo, Mozambique and determined to reverse the neglect. At an African Union (AU) summit, the heads of state promised to allocate 10% of national budgets to agriculture and seek 6% annual agricultural growth by 2008. The AU leaders also adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) as a common framework to be implemented by member states to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agricultural development. This would be development led and owned by African countries, and supported by donors.
How have the seeds sown by the Maputo Declaration grown?
In a report launched today, Tuesday, March 26, 2013 – a valuable yardstick called, A Growing Opportunity: Measuring Investments in African Agriculture
– the ONE campaign
reviews the past decade and finds some notable successes in terms of mustering money and political commitment, and the impact of agricultural development.
As of January 2013, the report notes, 24 countries had signed CAADP compacts and held their business meetings and launched “solid, costed and technically reviewed” plans to accelerate agricultural development. Another six countries had committed to start the process and develop plans. The report assessed 19 of those plans:
Eight of those 19 countries are on track to meet the first Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. At least 13 have had 6% annual growth in the agriculture sector. Leading the way has been Ethiopia; by 2011, the government was spending 19.7% of the total budget on agriculture, almost double the Maputo commitment. The result is average annual growth of 24.2% in the agricultural sector in the 2008-2011 period, which, in turn, has accelerated poverty reduction, particularly in the rural areas.
Still, the report notes, much remains to be done.
“Despite progress, Maputo financing commitments are off track,” ONE found. “Disappointingly, our analysis shows that only four of the 19 countries examined have met the target of spending 10% of the national budget on the agriculture section.” Those countries are Ethiopia, Niger, Malawi and Cape Verde. Two more countries are close behind (Senegal and Sierra Leone). And six are at least halfway there (Mali, Tanzania, Gambia, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda). Seven countries, though, are seriously off track, spending less than 5% on agriculture; six of them actually lowered their agriculture spending. The resulting funding gaps of the proposed agricultural development plans in these 19 countries amounted to a $4.4 billion budget shortfall in 2011.
ONE exhorts African leaders to “act with urgency” to fill the gaps in partnership with donors.
As for the donors, their actions also need to match their pledges. Meeting at L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009, the world’s leading industrial countries, known as the G8, pledged $22 billion over three years to support sustainable agriculture and food security in the developing world. In 2012, at their Camp David summit, the G8 leaders launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a partnership between the governments and private companies to accelerate investments in agriculture with the ambitious goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty over 10 years.
The ONE report found that these G8 countries may have, in words and intentions, met their $22 billion pledges, but only half of the money has been dispersed and is working on the ground.
When the benefits do reach the fields, progress is remarkable. “Sub-Saharan African agriculture could, and should, be thriving,” the report concludes. “Unblocking Africa’s agriculture potential would also unlock its development.”
To accelerate the success, ONE suggests the agriculture development plans need more transparency and greater consultation with civic organizations, particularly farming groups and women’s organizations. They need a clearer focus on women farmers, who do most of the smallholder farming in many countries. And they need a stronger emphasis on improving nutrition as well as production.
This year, ONE says, “is a turning point.” The decade-old commitments to improve African agriculture need to be renewed and bolstered and put into action. Or the days of negligence could begin again.
Surely, no one wants that – not the Africans who depend on agriculture to drive their economies nor the rest of the world that needs African farmers to be as productive as possible to meet the great challenge of feeding a growing global population.
The hunger season in Africa has gone on far too long. This was originally posted on Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog.
Friday, May 20, 2011 Roger Thurow - Outrage and Inspire
I enjoyed the great privilege of giving my first commencement speech on Sunday, to the graduating class of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin. I had eagerly anticipated the ceremony, knowing that the passion to shape a more just world inspires young policy makers as mightily as it fuels journalists.
I exhorted the graduates to let their passion be their compass as they pursue their interests on a wide range of policy fronts, including education, health, food and agriculture, environment and international relations.
And I assured them that policy matters. It is a message that is particularly important in the fight against hunger and especially timely in advance of next week’s Chicago Council symposium that will be assessing the progress of U.S. leadership in global agriculture development and strategies for future success.
Here are some excerpts from my address:
Public policy matters. It matters very much. And often it can have consequences far beyond what you may have envisaged for a community, a state, or a nation in formulating those policies. The consequences can reverberate around the world.
Throughout my 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, I’ve written about the impact of many, many public policies, good and bad. But I’d like to zero in on one set of policies and one issue in particular that has emerged as my passion: Ending hunger through agriculture development.
In the fight against hunger, policy matters.
The killing of Osama bin Laden has had us all flashing back to Sept. 11, 2001. Perhaps it has had you thinking back to where you were on that day when you heard, when you watched, the horrific news. … What I’ve been thinking back to, particularly while pondering what I would discuss with you today, occurred nine days after 9/11, when President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress…
He asked a question he believed many Americans were asking: “Why do they hate us?”
He went on to say: “They hate what we see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
But after the shock of September 11, the President and the nation also understood that fear and misery in poor countries could create a toxic environment for resentment and terrorism.
The crafting of post-9/11 public policy began to reflect this. Reducing poverty in the developing world became a prime pillar of U.S. foreign policy.
In November 2001, America took the lead in launching a new round of world trade talks designed to bring the poorest countries more fully into the global trading system. This was dubbed the “development round.”
A few months later, in March 2002, the U.S. and Europe and other rich world countries gathered in Monterrey, Mexico and pledged billions of dollars in fresh aid to spur economic development in the poorest countries. This was called the “Monterrey Consensus.”
Then, two months later, Congress passed and President Bush signed a profound piece of legislation that was a hallmark of domestic politics but that reverberated mightily around the world. The 2002 Farm Bill.
With a flourish of his pen, the President increased the subsidies the U.S. government paid to American farmers and, in turn, increased the poverty of millions of other farmers in the developing world, especially in Africa, whose governments couldn’t afford to pay similar subsidies and, in fact, had long been specifically directed by the policies of the World Bank and other institutions not to subsidize their farmers.
That piece of legislation, that Farm Bill, undermined the efforts of the development round of the trade talks. It undercut the spending pledges at Monterrey. It exacerbated the uneven plowing fields of international agriculture, making it harder for African farmers to compete. It spread hunger and poverty.
I went down to the west African country of Mali to speak with cotton farmers impacted by the increase in U.S. subsidies, particularly the increase for American cotton farmers. In most instances, the cotton grown by both farmers in Mali and Mississippi ended up on the world market. Often, overproduction by American farmers, encouraged by the subsidies, contributed to lower world prices. American farmers with their subsidies were cushioned from falling prices. The Malian farmers, deprived of subsidies, were not.
“You have to know where your freedom ends and another’s begins,” Mody Diallo, one of the cotton farmers, told me. He didn’t hate America’s freedoms. In fact, he greatly admired them and he wanted those freedoms for himself and his countrymen.
But, he said, “You should enjoy your freedom up to the point of hurting someone. If I have money, I can enjoy it any way I want, but I must be concerned that I don’t hurt my neighbor. The Americans know that with their subsidies they are killing so many economies in the developing world.”
Why do they hate us? Here was another answer to the President’s question.
After that trip, I began looking into the long reach, the unintended consequence of our policies, particularly in agriculture. …
What I found was that so much of today’s hunger is caused by bad policy spanning the political spectrum in the rich world and the poor.
I found neglect – policies that turned foreign aid away from agriculture development, leaving Africa’s farmers far behind farmers elsewhere in terms of access to fundamental farming technologies.
I found hypocrisy – the subsidies of the U.S., Europe and other rich world countries that funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to their farmers while insisting that African governments don’t fund their own farmers.
I found good intentions gone bad – America’s food aid policy that defied modernization and reform, that mandated that U.S. grown food be sent as aid into hungry countries while locally grown grain sat unused in warehouses, a policy that often undermined the incentive of African farmers to produce as much as possible.
Then I went to Ethiopia in 2003, to cover a devastating famine; 14 million people would be on the doorstep of starvation. There, the impact of all these policies was made cruelly manifest.
I then explained how what I saw in Ethiopia ignited a new level of passion in me, leading me to write a book with my Journal colleague Scott Kilman, ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, and then eventually to leave the paper to speak and write about hunger from a multitude of platforms.
To, as I told the graduates:
Raise the clamor about the kind of public policy needed. Policies that reverse the neglect, that end the hypocrisy, that consider the global consequences of parochial domestic decisions. Policies that can make ending hunger through agriculture development the singular achievement of our age. Policies like the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative.
All this is to say, by way of encouragement, that public policy matters, that passion matters.
Join me in this. Follow your passion, give voice to what matters to you.
Raise the clamor. Shout from the ramparts.
Shout above the din of the budget cutting.
Shout that your policy interest matters.
Someone just might pay attention. Somebody might stop and think about something for the first time, or begin to think differently about something.
That’s how things change.
So please, please, go forth and follow your passion. Make a difference. Create a more equitable, more just world.
We’re counting on you.