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Feeding the world via policy into action

Jeff Caldwell 10/17/2013 @ 11:19am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

In much of the developing world, it takes a lot more than just land, seed and inputs, water, and labor to raise a crop. In many parts of the world where hunger and food scarcity are most common, it sometimes starts from the top down. And working in the halls of high government in a developing nation -- at least when food and agriculture is concerned -- is no easy task, even for a former head-of-state.

"The most surprising thing is how little political leaders are qualified and educated about what could be out there to help them. Again, this is not actually something of a problem for African leaders. One thing I find shocking about my own time in office is how much I learned. There's so much innovation happening around the world," says former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who during and since his role in the U.K. government has placed high priority on sustaining African populations, much of that coming in the ag sector. "One of the things we find with some presidents now is we say to them 'Look, I don't know whether this can help or not, but why not try it in a limited way and let's see what we can learn from it?' Instead of thinking we're going to change the whole of agricultural production, let's take a segment of the country where people are interested and try it."

Blair currently operates the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), an organization dedicated to working with that continent's developing national leaders to foster greater understanding of -- and more importantly, willingness to act on -- critical issues for their growing populations. Blair told World Food Prize attendees Thursday that the bulk of AGI's work comes in education, health care, and renewable energy, most of that relating to smaller-scale projects on the ground level. That work comes first through cooperation between a group like AGI and the leaders of a developing nation, Blair says, but it starts with the latter. Typically, it's the other way around in many situations where aid for a sector like agriculture in the developing world is concerned.

"The fascinating thing is there is a huge amount of information and ideas that are out there that you can use. I think it's absolutely right you have to interact with local people to see which ideas are most beneficial," he says. "The fact is someone, somewhere in the world is getting it right. Someone will say, 'Our problems are very much different.' Yes, they have local characteristics, but the basic processes are the same."


Setting the right goals

Creating sustainable food and agriculture systems utilizing local innovation is a lofty goal, especially in areas where there may be logistical or cultural logjams to progress. That's why it's important to set not just surgically-specific goals, but also make them realistic in scope and number, adds Howard Buffett, founder of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which works to end hunger around the world. The right context is critical, but so too is the creation and accomplishment of goals within that context. Trying to do too much, in other words, can often undercut any progress when trying to end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries, Buffett said at the World Food Prize on Thursday.

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