Thoughts from the World Food Prize: The need for innovation + cooperation

23 Oct

CTI recently attended the 2012 Norman Borlaug Dialogue, sponsored annually by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, IA. Researchers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations came together to discuss the challenges of the global food system, and to explore partnerships that can make a positive difference. United Nations Secretary General presented this year’s World Food Prize to Professor Daniel Hillel, the Israeli scientist who is responsible for inventing drip irrigation, a practice which has greatly improved food production in arid areas around the world. Drip irrigation is a technology that has allowed farmers to use water to plant roots through small holes in pipes with a controlled amount of water, a method which reduces water loss and helps plants to absorb water more efficiently.

CTI Advisor Alexandra Spieldoch with Dr. Daniel Hillel, 2012 World Food Prize Laureate; and Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet project at the Worldwatch Institute

From CTI’s perspective, thinking outside of the box to develop comprehensive solutions as exemplified by Professor Hillel is critical. Today, 870 million people are under-nourished and one out of six people are chronically hungry. With current food stocks low and global food prices high, UN officials are warning that there may a major hunger crisis in 2013. We need thoughtful action and we need to act quickly.

At the Norman Borlaug Dialogue, Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), stressed the need to ‘get back to basics.’ Real local solutions are not complicated, but require innovative business models if they are to truly have a positive impact on the rural poor. One major challenge is that the private sector and public institutions are not connected to grassroots farmers. As a result, nutrition suffers among the vulnerable groups who need it the most.

Innovation, including technologies to improve production as well as post-harvest technologies like the ones that CTI is developing, testing and scaling out, is essential. Unfortunately, support for post-harvest work has only been about 3 % of agricultural funding overall. Much of the conversations that took place at this event were focused ways to reduce post-harvest losses for large-scale production. CTI was a lone voice advocating for low-cost, appropriate technologies for reaching the poorest of the poor. We are unique in our approach to reduce loss while empowering farmers who are otherwise off the grid.

CTI’s technology solutions support responsible value-chains that are invested in local and regional markets. Here, the public and private sector at varying levels can play a significant role on ensuring that low-cost appropriate technologies have a positive impact on the rural poor. Better indicators are needed to ensure that market development fits in with a holistic understanding of local leadership in achieving food security and poverty reduction.

Leadership at all levels cannot be stressed enough. We need a coordinated effort among a mix of stakeholders to create an enabling environment that will make a difference. This includes investing in technology solutions through public-private partnerships and grassroots leaders, working closely with women leaders to turn the tide.

Though the obstacles are great, CTI is optimistic because there is more attention to cooperation than ever before. There is also more attention given to working with smallholder producers, particularly women, together to achieve development from the bottom-up. Leaders are recognizing that long-term commitments to agricultural development are what are most needed. And, there is political will among developed and developing country leaders to work more closely together. CTI understands the challenges as well as the opportunities and is ready to do its part.

Alexandra Spieldoch, Senior Advisor – Strategic Partnerships

Alexandra Spieldoch is an independent consultant and a Senior Advisor on Strategic Partnerships with Compatible Technology International with research, advocacy and leadership experience pertaining to gender, food security and sustainable development.

One Response to “Thoughts from the World Food Prize: The need for innovation + cooperation”

  1. Nancy Wagner October 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Excellent article, Alexandra! Now, to move CTI’s efforts forward in the manner you described. Count me in. Thanks for your great work.

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