You can’t build peace on empty stomachs.
Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, was fond of saying that. He may not have been the first to formulate that philosophy, but he certainly was one of its most ardent purveyors. He said it to politicians and economists and journalists and students. And he said it to generals and their lieutenants as well.
It would be a good slogan for this month of May, packed as it is with crucial international summits.
The clamor is rising for the G8 leaders to accelerate their action to attack hunger and malnutrition and secure the global food chain for future generations when they meet in two weeks at Camp David. And it should also be directed at the NATO leaders who will be gathering in Chicago later that same weekend.
For the heads of state of the leading industrial nations, increasing agricultural development in poorer countries is of paramount economic importance. It is vital if the world is to meet one of its greatest challenges: doubling food production by 2050 to meet the demands of a global population that is growing in size and prosperity. It will contribute to more stable commodity prices. And it would confront one of our great moral failings: every night, one person in seven goes to bed hungry, and tens of millions of children are in danger of life-long physical and mental stunting because of lack of proper nutrition.
For the NATO brass, ending hunger through agricultural development should be embraced as an important element of their military strategies. Ensuring food security was a cornerstone of the Marshall Plan to secure the peace in Europe after World War II. Today, bringing prosperity to farmers is certainly essential for the long-term stability of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Food shortages and rising prices have ignited the two most recent convulsions of regional turmoil: the rioting that hit dozens of countries during the food crisis of 2007-08 and the street uprisings that were a prelude to the Arab Spring last year.
As for promoting global peace, agriculture development is one issue that should bring all countries together – be they friends or enemies. For every country is impacted by strains on the global food chain; the challenge of doubling food production is not an issue for one country but for all. It is an equally pressing matter for the U.S. and its NATO allies as it is for China and the countries of the Middle East. When it comes to food security, the tensions of other issues should ease, inequalities should be erased. On this front, the developed world needs the developing world; long neglected, the smallholder farmers of Africa are now indispensable to securing the food chain.
President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative and other programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are central to the administration’s National Security Strategy. Feed the Future, which seeks to increase investment in agriculture development and create the conditions for poor smallholder farmers to be as productive and prosperous as possible, is a key weapon in the deployment of American “soft power.”
I have said here before that a legion of well-equipped farmers can be mightier than a battalion of tanks. Even those who command those tanks tend to agree. Here are several statements from members of the U.S. defense establishment over the past two years, compiled by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
- “In many respects, USAID’s efforts can do as much – over the long term – to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force. … While the hard power of the military can create trade, space, time, and a viable security environment, the soft power of USAID and the development community can deliver strategic effects and outcomes for decades, affecting generations.” – Lieutenant General John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, May 2011.
- “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” “Development produces stability and contributes to better governance.” – former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, September 2010.
- “National security is not just dependent on military power. It’s dependent on diplomatic power. It’s dependent on the State Department being able to provide foreign aid, being able to work with countries, being able to provide development money, being able to provide education money.” – Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, December 2011.
- “Development and diplomacy keep us safer by addressing threats in the most dangerous corners of the world and by preventing conflicts before they occur.” – 70 top military leaders in USGLC National Security Advisory Council’s letter to Congress, March 2011.