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.



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