The NGOs and the Last Mile: Food Security and Nutrition at the G8 and G20

At the May 2012 G8 Summit at Camp David, President Obama led the group in renewing the pledge it had made in L’Aquila in 2009 to improve global food security and in building on that commitment this year with the “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.” This initiative aims to move 50 million people out of poverty over the next decade through agricultural growth and development. The centerpiece of the New Alliance is leveraging the private sector to increase investments and expand agricultural growth. Over 45 companies have committed to investing at least $3 billion in new activities in sub-Saharan Africa. While the goal is to be applauded, notably absent from the New Alliance is the key role that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play in implementing and delivering solutions, often to the populations who need it most.

While President Obama, in his May 18 remarks at the Chicago Council Symposium on Global Agriculture, referenced the important role of NGOs—and several international corporations mentioned their partnership with NGOs—the official statements and commentaries made only occasional and passing references to the community. The plan of the New Alliance will not achieve its goal without the full participation of the NGO community. Local, regional, and international NGOs have been and continue to be the glue that binds national and international companies, governments, universities, and international research centers to the small farmer. The success to date of the L’Aquila initiative has been due in no small measure to the NGO community.

The “last mile”—often the remote and isolated fields of the African small farmer—is the operational domain of the NGOs. They play the essential role of delivering services, technologies, and inputs to these populations—the people who need it most and who are often not reached by the private sector or traditional government services. Without NGOs’ long-term community presence and the local trust they have engendered, many of the private sector’s investments and innovations will flounder.

For many years NGOs have taken a leading role in pioneering the engagement of the private sector in food security. Partnerships between the public and private sectors and NGOs working in the developing world are a key element to the recent success of international food security and nutrition initiatives. For example, Mercy Corps partners with Wal-Mart and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Guatemala to link rural, poor subsistence farmers to commercial markets for fruits and vegetables by providing assistance with organizing farmers, increasing production, and improving post-harvest packaging and shipping. This program helps to increase the income of poor smallholder farmers by enabling them to compete with commercial producers.

In Kenya, One Acre Fund, a small U.S. NGO, partners directly with the private sector to provide inputs and services to their smallholder farmer clients. They work with three Kenyan companies—Western Seed, Kenya Seed, and Pannar—to provide seeds. One Acre Fund assists the companies with the distribution of these inputs to smallholder farmers and provides training in agricultural techniques and the proper use of fertilizers. They are also able to provide crop insurance to farmers through a partnership with UAP (a Kenyan insurer) and the Syngenta Foundation.

Since 2008, CARE and Cargill have been partnering to fight poverty and hunger across the developing world by leveraging their respective strengths and working along the company’s supply chains to provide training, market access for farmers, education and nutritional support for children, and access to health care and safe drinking water for rural communities. DuPont is engaged in a project with USAID and the government of Ethiopia focused on improving profitability across the maize value chain with a special emphasis on smallholder farmers. By collaborating with local NGOs and other partners, they intend to provide training, inputs, post-harvest storage, and improved market access to foster market-led agriculture growth and reduce poverty.

Cutting-edge research and innovation are being conducted and developed by universities and international and national agricultural research centers. However, the benefits of this research will not be reaped unless it can be disseminated and adopted on the ground where it will have real impact improving the lives of the smallholder farmers. World Vision is cooperating with Purdue University and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the Sahel to train African smallholder farmers how to store their crops and reduce post-harvest losses. Through a new CARE–Cornell University alliance, Cornell scientists and CARE practitioners are developing integrated research and programming approaches with immediate feedback loops to refine results quickly and catalyze learning. This partnership is engaging corporations and NGOs to test innovative pilots and scale up proven approaches.

HarvestPlus, part of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is a leader in developing staple crops biofortified with critical micronutrients, aimed at reducing malnutrition. With support from donor governments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, HarvestPlus is developing and releasing seven staple crops that have been fortified with vitamin A, iron, or zinc, initially in nine countries in Africa and Asia. In Uganda, HarvestPlus relies on local NGOs like Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns and Farming for Food and Development Eastern Uganda to push these technologies out to farmers and train them. Similarly, HarvestPlus works with Helen Keller International and World Vision to reach farmers in Mozambique. The success of these innovations is largely dependent on the field level work of the NGO community.

On June 18 and 19, the G20 will meet in Los Cabos, Mexico. One of the five agenda topics is food security. The meeting will likely stress the importance of cooperation and innovation and the critical role of private-sector investment and private-public partnerships. The private sector is an essential ingredient for long-term agricultural development in the developing world and for reducing poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition for tens of millions of people. The laudable commitment of the G8 to raise 50 million people from poverty in the next decade through private sector investment and innovation can only be accomplished with the full partnership of the NGO community. One hopes that the G20 will discuss food security in a more robust way than the G8, with a more comprehensive, whole-of-community approach to reducing food insecurity and malnutrition and recognize the critical role of NGOs in this most important endeavor.

Ambassador William J. Garvelink is a senior adviser with the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Kristin Wedding is a fellow with the CSIS Global Food Security Project.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

William J. Garvelink

Kristin Wedding