Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Africa Leading the Way

May 02, 2013

Events leading up to the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland this June will focus, in part, on the intersection of hunger, food, nutrition, and the need to transform the agricultural development sector in Africa in order to lift families out of poverty. As our global leaders draft agendas and assemble working groups, however, it is critical that they also seek out and listen to the voices of those who know what it will take to succeed in this effort—farmers and community leaders on the ground in Africa and in the labs, marketplaces, and government offices throughout the continent.

African leaders are making their voices heard—earlier this week, African civil society groups and farmers organizations together sent a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling upon the G8 to align their investments in agriculture with the priorities of African governments and their smallholder farmers, as laid out in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme—more commonly known as CAADP plans. African-owned and African-led, the goal of CAADP is to eliminate hunger and poverty through agricultural development. The signees acknowledge that together they hold a diversity of opinion on African agriculture.  And rightfully so—there is obviously no single way to address agricultural development on the continent—but the point they make is important and profound. CAADP plans provide a clear and comprehensive framework in Africa for delivering nutrition and food security progress within the next five years. They are supported by the African Union, local governments, and the farmers themselves and all donor activities and investments should align under these plans.

My recent trip to Dublin is another great example of the importance of listening. I attended the Hunger, Nutrition, and Climate Justice Conference hosted by the Irish Government and the Mary Robinson Foundation, the purpose of which was to highlight the links between climate change, hunger, and poor nutrition. The organizers also did an incredibly sensible and yet remarkable thing not often done by conferences of this kind (“Take it to the Farmer” at the 2010 World Food Prize being one notable exception).  They invited over 100 representatives and community leaders from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere “…to ensure that those who are most vulnerable… are at the center of our efforts to address these challenges”. The result was a richer dialogue wherein farmers and other community leaders set the priorities and the tone, rather than just the “experts”.   

I applaud this effort and it is high time we in the broader development community did more of this—listen more than we talk and orient ourselves and our work around the needs and wants of families and communities on the ground. Their voices should be at the center of the conversation.   

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