Worldly political insight

Worldly political insight

MOST people were probably exasperated with the "compromise" to reopen the government so it can do its job.

President Barack Obama hit the nail on the head in a speech when he said, "We know that the American people's frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That's not a surprise that the American people are completely fed up with Washington."

As I spent time last week at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, however, it was blatantly obvious that politics go much further than down our streets. Policy decisions both here and abroad can make the difference in truly pulling millions, maybe billions, out of poverty.

The forum brought together some of the greatest minds on improving the lives of the 70% of the world's population who live in rural areas by advancing agricultural productivity and empowering tomorrow's global agricultural leaders.

I heard about some great success stories. Take Nigeria, for instance. Dr. Akin Adesina, Nigeria's minister of agriculture and development, has made some significant policy reforms that are private sector driven yet government enabled.

"The future of Nigeria is not in oil but in agriculture as a business. If we're going to lead our country out of poverty, we need to make a business that does that, and not just as a way of life," Adesina said.

One year ago, Nigeria made a pledge to be self-sufficient in rice. In one main season and dry season, the country was able to meet 50% of all its rice needs.

It also was able to revolutionize the cassava sector with a goal to be the largest processor in the world. Policies helped create a competitive edge to transform cassava into a high-quality starch to replace some of the wheat the country imports and also for use in ethanol production. Last year, Nigeria saw an estimated $843 million in additional income because of it, Adesina noted.

Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain, has seen firsthand the conflicts of governments being unable to accomplish the lofty goals the world wants out of them. Today, he spends his time advancing the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative to support governments in building the institutions, processes and skills they need to bridge the gap between a vision and real change.

"Part of the problem with our government systems is that although aid does work, if you want to take countries to the next stage of development, you need to empower them to be less bureaucratic," Blair said.

He added that his initiative doesn't tell countries what it thinks they should be doing but instead listens, offers assistance and encourages them to try new ideas on a smaller scale.

On the home front, the U.S. is one of the most generous donors of foreign food aid, but how that is delivered and carried out may require new approaches in today's changed world.

Meanwhile, our stagnant and even declining agricultural research budgets are not only hurting domestic farmers but everyone around the world. The current farm bill eliminated $4-5 billion per year in direct payments.

Chris Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said an idea was proposed to set aside a small percentage of money and reinvest in basic agricultural research. "We got zero support for that," he said. "We've got a challenge."

Policy matters, but it takes the foresight and initiative to see what's working and what isn't and then to take actions accordingly. Somehow, we seem to be missing more than hitting that mark.

Volume:85 Issue:43

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