CHICAGO— Last month, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a bold initiative to end malnutrition. The agency believes that advanced technology can vastly improve farming techniques in developing nations and consequently help millions who suffer from malnutrition across the globe.
USAID is not undertaking this mission to end malnutrition alone. Philanthropic organizations and powerful corporate sponsors are coming together to help fund this enormous endeavor. The agency has also partnered with 31 universities to employ the brightest minds across the country.
Although ending world hunger is a lofty ambition, USAID has an impressive track record of developing technological solutions to fight poverty. Working with the University of California Berkeley, USAID engineers produced an iPhone app that can identify water borne diseases such as Cholera and Botulism. A similar partnership with Stanford Graduates facilitated the development of eco-friendly, inexpensive light sources that are currently being shipped across the Atlantic.
USAID believes that focusing on agricultural technology will yield remarkable increases in crop productivity and, thus, provide greater nourishment to those in need. Former Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Rajiv Shah is optimistic that all aspects of farming can be improved to realize this goal.
“I said, look, if we could get and invent new seeds, new mobile technology and open new data centers to help farmers connect their crop prices and understand weather variability we can do something transformational against hunger,” Shah told Time Magazine.
Although the mission statement of USAID’s new campaign cannot be accomplished any time soon, the agency is setting concrete, attainable goals for the near future. By working with a truncated time frame to produce smaller results, USAID hopes to build off initial success to eventually end hunger by 2030.
“Over five years Feed the Future aims to reduce the prevalence of poverty by 20 percent and the prevalence of stunted children under five years of age by 20 percent in the areas where we work.”
Yet, with powerful allies, Shah and other USAID officials believe these objectives are realistic. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided the keynote address for the unveiling of the Global Development Lab, an impressive facility that will serve as the main hub for this technological research. Coca-Cola has pledged to help the initiative, and the Gates Foundation recently signed on as well. With these powerful partners, USAID hopes to raise $30 billion to attain these new technologies.
However, the Feed the Future program has not operated without criticism. Michael Spencer, CEO and founder of SmartMoney, believes USAID’s past inability to work with local populations does not bode well for the future. In his HuffPost piece “How Not to Start a Revolution,” he recounts one instance in Tanzania wherein citizens’ legitimate concerns with a USAID greenhouse were blatantly dismissed by American officials.
“The women tried to explain that tomatoes and peppers do not grow in the area, but who was listening? The Americans had proclaimed the start of a green revolution in Africa and all attention was now focused on Hillary Clinton’s exciting new technology and innovative western ideas.”
Consequently, Spencer is pessimistic about the program’s outlook, believing the exorbitant amount of money attached to this project would be better directed elsewhere. The CEO is also wary of politicians’ involvement with the Campaign, as he worries that U.S. officials may be more invested in improving their political image than producing tangible results.
Spencer raises valid points about the implementation challenges facing USAID and its partners. However, with transparent fixed goals, the international community will be able to monitor whether the Agency will be able to meet these demands and assist those in need. By 2030, hopefully Spencer and other critics will owe them an apology.