27 March 2010

There is no single simple measure to defeat hunger

Taking a break from preparing for my presentation for the GCARD conference, I was surfing the BBC site and found an article by Richard Black, citing Uma Lele, one of the authors of the GCARD cornerstone paper.

I have not read the latest paper, but given that Uma is a colleague and an IDS Board member and that I work with another co-author, Jules Pretty on a Foresight project on the Future of Farming and Food, I have seen earlier copies. (Also another author, Yvonne Pinto, is the Director of ALINe, which IDS and Keystone Accountability support.)

What caught my eye was a quote from the article:

"There was no single, simple measure, she said, that could bring about the yield increases needed in poorer countries, and make sure that the increases were sustainable."

Brilliant. This is, in fact, the single simple message that should come out of the GCARD conference: there is no single simple measure to defeat hunger.

Is this a sign of despair? Absolutely not. It is a rallying call. For what we are all saying is that we need a sustained cross-society approach to dealing with the seemingly intractable problem of low productivity in farming in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Technology, infrastructure, knowledge, institutions, incentives, leadership. We need all of this, but only a driven collective effort can deliver it. Neither the private sector, the state or civil society can do it on their own--they need to work together.

But how? I hope much of GCARD is about how to build the irresistible force that makes the existence of hunger too uncomfortable to bear. At the moment, the discomfort does not extend too far beyond those directly affected by hunger.


Unknown said...

While others are attending the GCARD, are we in the process of designing the impact measurement system around an agricultural program in Cambodia and Vietnam that precisely will try to do that in the course of the next 10 years: Making governent departments at various levels, civil society, small-scale rice farmers and their organizations, research institutes and PS actors better work together for creating an extension and knowledge system that is empowering farmers to innovate and adapt and influence the system. This is a conditio-sine-qua-non for assuring "sustainability" in multiple ways (environmental, socio-economic, institutional, technological). Empowerment is measured not by one single but rather a set of indicators that, together, can capture the systemic changes in farners' ability to purposefully choose and act and innovate, the relationships and networks they need for defending their interests and influencing the system, the institutions that enable them to do so, and their livelihood status or basic conditions such as food, income and health. Clearly without the necessary conditions and needs fullfilled it's pretty hard to gain the power to influence the system (though there are beautiful examples in history that show how empowerment as a spontaneous social movement indeed can be extremely powerful).

Lawrence said...

Adinda this sounds fascinating....email me at l.haddad@ids.ac.uk ifyou want to tell me more -- or share it here. I completely agree, famers will not be empowered until funders and implementers HAVE to respond to them.

Siena Anstis said...

You might be interested in checking out (or following) a new project under the Aga Khan Foundation East Africa called the Costal Rural Support Programme (Tanzania). It was just starting when I was there, but I do remember it put emphasis on the MIAD (multi input area development) approach.

My grainy memory recalls the following key components, among others:
1. Helping farmers improve seed quality (rice/sesame);
2. Attaching farmers to partners/microfinance institutions who might invest in value-add technology to diversify products (sesame to tahini etc.);
3. Implementing a Mama na Watoto (Mother & child) health monitoring program;
4. Building on and strengthening community leadership and decision making (this is basically key to any AKF program).

Might be worth checking out. I would love to know what kind of impact this has ten years down the line.