Events

Enough! Emerging U.S. and African Leadership on Food Security

July 29, 2009 // 3:00pm5:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program
Maternal Health Initiative
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"Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes the disease of the soul," remarked Roger Thurow, one of the authors of Enough! Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. On Wednesday, July 29, Thurow was joined by co-author and fellow Wall Street Journal Reporter Scott Kilman, as well as Franklin Moore of the US Agency for International Development's Africa Bureau and Ambassador Bockari Stevens, the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the United States, for an engaging presentation and discussion centered on food security and agricultural development in Africa.

Deemed a "seminal work in a particularly pertinent moment in food security" by Marshall Bouton, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who co-moderated the event with Africa Program Consulting Director Steve McDonald, Thurow and Kilman outlined some of the key points of Enough! throughout a montage of anecdotal photos and criticisms of both U.S. and African agricultural policy. Bouton described the duo as an exceptional team not only because both are accomplished and distinguished journalists, but also because their areas of expertise complement and overlap with each other's in ways that provided a perfect team to write a book he qualifies as exceptional. Also included are descriptions of extraordinary individuals chronicled throughout the book which have had a significant impact in the struggle to maintain food security worldwide.

Following their presentation, Franklin Moore emphasized recent U.S. food security developments, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's Seven Principles of U.S. Food Security Strategy, while Ambassador Stevens echoed the need for Africans "to be able to feed themselves."

"We hope to provide both an instructional and inspirational tale, to show that hunger today is largely man-made, that so much is also caused by policies and decisions that span the political spectrum, and to inspire by showing hunger is truly achievable to conquer."

To start, Thurow underlined the overarching purpose of the book: to scrutinize food security and American agricultural aid policy. Using examples from his time spent as a foreign correspondent all across Africa and Kilman's experience covering the worldwide effects of U.S. agro-industrial policy, the book gives an in depth description of international food aid and agricultural aid policies. By means of personal interviews, vivid photos, and the stories behind them, he and Kilman illuminate the significance of many of the phrases they use to describe food security and agricultural development in the region—neglect, hypocrisy, and good intentions gone bad. For example, his first photo was taken at an emergency feeding tent in the southern region of Ethiopia filled with 166 children dying of starvation at the time. He tells the story of the Ethiopian famine of 2003, how two years of bumper harvest prior had made farmers cut back on expenses like buying fertilizer and high quality seed, and also compelled them to shut irrigation systems to save money. However, at the end of 2002, after two years of bumper harvest, markets collapsed, drought hit, and famine spread. Fourteen million Ethiopians had to be put on food aid, but Ethiopian farmers with stockpiles of grain were given no chance to sell their product, which began going bad in their warehouses as American food aid drowned their sales. Inserting the phrase "American farmers need starving Ethiopians to sell their grain," Thurow came down hard on U.S. aid methodology.

Thurow went on to talk about discrepancies in access to water throughout Ethiopia, elucidated by a photo of lentil farmers near a robust river which feeds into the Blue Nile. He cited that 80 to 85 percent of the water in the Nile comes from the highlands of Ethiopia, yet water rights laws dictate that Ethiopians are not allowed to utilize this native water as it is tributary water to the Blue Nile. As a comparison between a developed country's methods of farming and those of a developing country, Thurow showed the pictures of a young cotton farmer in Mali with an ox in the background preparing for manual labor, and of American farmer Ken Hood in the Mississippi Delta cotton fields. Ken is an older man with expensive machinery to aid him with the cotton, yet Thurow points out that somehow he gets an agricultural subsidy while the young boy in Mali does not. In fact, most international agricultural policy and aid policy related to Africa interdicts the use of subsidies for farming products or supplies such as fertilizer or seed.

Scott Kilman mostly addressed the theme of the second half of Enough! —individual people trying to make a difference in the field of agricultural development. He highlighted a picture of a little girl sprawled out on a small bed, starving to death, who died shortly after the picture was taken. Kilman took this time to focus on Howard Buffet who after observing poor farmers degrade the land and push wildlife away in Ethiopia, became highly active and influential in the fields of conservation and agriculture in developing countries. "Every story needs a reason to be told," said Kilman. "Nobody should have to die of hunger. That is the reason to keep telling the story."

Franklin Moore, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the USAID Africa Bureau, responded briefly to the authors' presentation and laid out a few key and recent initiatives of the Obama administration tailored towards agricultural development and aid. To open, Moore stated, "You don't have to go to Ethiopia to see people with water pass their feet without rights to it." He also emphasized that the effort to raise agricultural productivity is not an either/or situation with emergency food. "There will be natural disasters. Even if we engage in buying local food for aid, food will still need to be shipped from the United States," Moore proclaimed in response to the authors' criticism of American food aid policy.

In addition, other advancements in global agricultural development policy have been made since the G-20 summit in London. There, President Obama called for a doubling of U.S. agricultural development assistance in 2010, acknowledging the need to help farmers in developing countries. Moore stated that seeking a world without hunger entails three elements, and it is difficult to have an impact on one without impacting all three. These include:
• Reversing hunger
• Reducing poverty
• Reducing malnutrition

Furthermore, Senator Clinton has delineated a comprehensive seven-point U.S. Food Security Strategy in order to raise agricultural productivity:
1. Expand access to quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation tools, and the credit to purchase them and the training to use them.
2. Support agricultural research and development in order to learn to raise productivity in conditions different from those conducive to good agriculture
3. Maintain natural resources
4. Focus on women and female education since seventy percent of agricultural work is done by women
5. Improve post-harvest storage processing, and transportation. On average in Africa, about 40 percent of produce does not make it to the consumer.
6. Increase sub-regional trade
7. Support good governance in the agriculture sector

"The food crisis has energized Africans," proclaimed Ambassador Stevens. "We can do it if we have the will power, private investment, and the partnership to empower and produce by ourselves."

Visit the book's website for more information or to buy a copy.

 
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