Monday, September 28, 2009

Some links

Greeting from Nicaragua. trying to find some time to dedicate to the blog but right now, time is a scare commodity. Plus i've been spending my time in Managua, Nicaragua's capital, where there isn't much to talk about relevant to Agdes.
I did, however, wanted to share with you a couple of good articles and links:
stay tunned for more on Nicaragua

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Living in DC looking for a bed in Monticello

In a letter to his dear Maria Cosway, Jefferson complained that 'All is politics in this capital.' 220 year later, that characterization remains more valid than ever.

The political fronts were clearly aligned yesterday at the first symposium of the Global Harvest Initiative. Even though not many people knew about this event, (except those inside ag circles in DC) the online debate is heating up.

The Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) "is dedicated to spurring the development and sharing of agricultural innovations with those that need it most. It is underwritten by funding from the Archer Daniels Midland Company, DuPont, John Deere and Monsanto."

Have you seen Matt Damon latest movie The Informant? you should. In the movie, Damon plays the role of a ag technician promoted to senior management that releases secretive information to the FBI about the sketchy business deals of ADM or Archer Daniels Midland, yeah, one of the sponsors of GHI.

There are tons of documentaries and movies about the 'evil' work of Monsanto and DuPont. The point is that all these brand names, working for those that 'need ag innovation the most' should, at the very least, spark some ekeptisim about the real motives behind this iniciative.

So I wasn't surprise when i read the news release from the ad-hoc US Working Group on the Food Crisis, describing how GHI:
"continues to advocate a failed approach to feeding the world and addressing global hunger. The September 22 Global Harvest Initiative Symposium on “Agriculture at a Crossroads”—featuring Senator Richard Lugar—claimed to have some of the “best thinkers” in agriculture, food security and hunger. However, it relied heavily on panelists who have consistently pushed chemical-intensive production; unproven biotechnologies that have been linked to farmers’ loss of land, suicides and environmental contamination; and “free trade” in agriculture as the solutions to feeding the world."
This criticism has merit, after all, these organizations carry a heavy baggage of past corruption and abuses. However, in an already polarized city, critics fail to recognize that fertilizers and biotechnology must play an central role in feeding our current population and the many more to come. Investing in agroecological sciences and biodiverse farming is essential but it won't guarantee the massive production of staples needed to satisfy the demand of a world moving to cities. So rather than focusing on vilification we could promote constructive dialogue by recognizing the validity of some aspects of GHI and work towards an agenda that promotes ag development, safeguards the environment and protects crop diversity....

I know, I know, i'm starting to sound like a politician, well i happen to live in DC, but i wouldn't think twice about moving to Monticello.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New publication from Action Against Hunger of global food crisis

Check out Action Against Hunger's latest publication: Feeding Hunger & Insecurity: Field Analysis of Volatile Global Commodity Food Prices, Food Security, & Childhood Malnutrition,

According to the press release the report offers an assessment of the global food crisis and its impact on vulnerable communities. It's based on a series of in-depth surveys that ACF carried out in the wake of the global food crisis, targeting households in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. While the inflated food prices did not have an immediate impact on malnutrition rates, the findings suggest a significant, persistent impact on livelihoods and dietary diversity, which are key determinants of malnutrition.

A welcome addition to the recent collection of literature on the global food crises.

PS. Agdes is leaving for Nicaragua tmrw. Not sure how much time it'll have for blogging. stay tunned

The Nation on Africa's Green Revolution; Gates opening slowly

Somewhat different view from the optimistic goals of the Gate's foundation agricultural strategy in Africa. Although The Nation recognizes there is validity on some of Gates' objectives, they criticized the overall approach, in particular the entrenchment of corporate seed makers as an essential component for the so-called 'African green revolution.' According to the Nation, Gates, "actively promotes an agenda that supports some of the most powerful corporations on earth."

In my view, that statement ignores the fact that the foundation, as any other grant-maker, makes its funds available through a competitive bidding process, transparent and open to all sorts of organizations such as NGO's and university.  Just take a quick look to the grants given so far and you'll recognized organization doing excellent work such as WFP, IFPRI, CMMYT, Heifer, Cornell University, GTZ, etc.

One of Gates' recent grantees is CIAT (Centro International de Agricultura Tropical). I had the fortune to visit CIAT earlier this year on my trip to Colombia. Set in the fertile soils of Valle del Cauca, and surrounded by endless hectares of sugar cane, CIAT has produced a massive record of research on neglected crops, hilly agriculture, participatory approaches etc.

Unfortunately, the current staff is only one quarter of what it used to be in their heydays. Walking through their facilities -a university like setting- you could see the financial struggles they are going through: high pastures as funding for overhead is almost non existing and abandon building and research sites. Budget cuts and lack of donor interest in agricultural research, extension, and education, have curtail the availability of CIAT and other CGIAG research center to maintain the level of work they had in the 70s and 80.

We should loudly applaud the recent boost Gates is given to CIAT and other research efforts. Instead of critizining their effort, we Nation should participate on a constructive dialoge on the most effective mechanismins to lift African farmers out of poverty.

McArthur Genious and the work of Esther Duflo

This week, the MacArthur Foundation named the 24 recipients of the Genius Awards -half million dollars no string attached- for each. As i was communing back to my house this evening, I listened to a NPR report on two of the winners, a mathematician from Harvard and a poet from University of Washington. Both have impressive credentials and do innovative work. This post, However, is about another genius: Esther Duflo, an economist at MIT.  

The cacophony of macro-economist debating on the future of their profession has muted many vanguard forces trying to shift the economic paradigm that has remained freshwater-shipwrecked for the past few decades. The work of proffessor Duflo is a prime example of how finally we are starting to see alternative views that challenge neoclassic economic theory. Following the footsteps of great minds like Kenneth Boulding, E. F. Schumacher (yes, buy Small is Beautiful), Howard Odum, and Herman Daly, Duflo, and a new generation of economist, are finding inspiration on psychology, environmental science, design, and philosophy, to move away from economics as a mathematically driven exact science.   

Take for example her work on Fertilizer in Kenya. She tries to understand the underlying motives behind the low use of fertilizer among Keynesian farmers, even when the returns on investment are extremely evident. The culprit? procrastination.  "Behavioral biases limit profitable investments in fertilizer by farmers in developing countries." Or in other words, farmers, just like voters and individuals, not always make rational decisions.

What is remarkable about her work is the use of other social sciences, to explain economic behaviors. Not that other researches aren't doing it, but rather we aren't hearing about them. Their voice and their research remains secluded to small circles behind the wall of coastal universities. We need more Duflo's in the econ departments of our colleges and universities. We need a more comprehensive development economics that values and understand our flaws and virtues and gives real solutions to the millions still undeserved. Tell me, if you know where they are.

Friday, September 18, 2009

African Leafy vegetables -keep them in the pot-

Traveling abroad? visit the three Ms: Markets, Match (soccer preferably) and Mass (or any other religious celebration). This is what i tell my friends when they ask me how to get to know a country in their two-weeks field visits. And this BBC special really brought back some great memories about African Markets and the diversity of greens and vegetables they offered. More importantly, the report emphasizes how these greens have been somewhat neglected by the current ag development strategy, even though they are rich in micro nutrients and resistant to local pest.
Special thanks to Jeremy over at the Agriculture Biodiversity Weblog for bringing this article to our attention.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The case for Investing on Agricultural Development according to Gates

Excellent read to understand the need for increased attention for ag development on foreign aid circles. From Gate's Agricultural Development Strategy
  • What issues affect the most people but receive the least attention and resources?
  • What are the most effective ways to help large numbers of people overcome hunger and poverty?
  • Where can we have impact over time that is scalable and sustainable—environmentally and economically?
Time and again, the answer was agriculture.

Ending hunger and Obama's Administration

Two bullet points about important to curve the amount of hunger in the world. Make sure you check out the report.
  • The Roadmap to End Global Hunger and Promote Food Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2817) has been introduced, which describes the elements of a comprehensive strategy to address global hunger, based on the Roadmap to End Global Hunger report developed and endorsed by  a coalition of more than 40 organizations.
  • President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton have announced the administration's intention to strengthen and expand U.S. international hunger alleviation efforts

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug dies at 95

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, died today at age 95

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Obama Signs off on Review of Global Development Policy

Another big initiate is taking shape in the White House. We'll see
what town hall goers will have to say this time. r

From FP:

In new directive, Obama signs off on development review

President Barack Obama has signed a Presidential Study Directive
authorizing a U.S. government-wide review of global development
policy, according to sources briefed on the review by the White House.
The review, expected to be completed by January, is being formally
co-led by National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and chairman of the
National Economic Council Larry Summers.

Development hands say the new PSD is important because it signals the
intent to reach across government agencies to think through a more
coordinated and strategic approach to development policy, to include
(beyond the State Department and USAID) the Defense Department,
Treasury Department -- which handles U.S. assistance to multilateral
assistance organizations, the Overseas Private Investment Corps,
agriculture departments, etc.

The State Department announced in July that it was launching its own
major development strategy review, in the form of a Quadrennial
Diplomacy and Development Review process, co-led by Policy Planning
chief Anne-Marie Slaughter and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew,
with assistance from acting USAID coordinator Alonzo Fulgham.

The NSC's senior director for development issues, Gayle Smith, who
reports to both Jones and Summers, is supposed to take a key role in
the development review authorized by the new Obama Presidential Study
Directive. Smith has recently been joined at the NSC by Jeremy
Weinstein, who came on earlier this month as the NSC's director for
democracy. Weinstein, previously at Stanford University (along with
the NSC's Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul and NSC Senior
Director for Europe Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall), assisted Smith in
coordinating the Obama campaign's expert advisory group on development
and democracy issues. The White House didn't immediately respond to a