Thursday, September 23, 2010

African Food Security essay contest

Here are the two winners of the World Policy Institute's African Food Security essay contest. The prompt was to offer an innovative initiative to improve food security in rural Africa. One essay suggests the promotion of Moringa oleifera- and peanut-derived food products to improve nutrition. The other prescribes micro-insurance as a help for Africa's ills. I submitted an essay to the contest as well, but it was not selected.

I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed by the winning essays. They are both technical fixes to hunger, which is fine, but I'd expect a little more creativity and complexity in such a competitive contest. More importantly, neither is a new concept.

Peanut-based and moringa-based nutritional supplements are nothing new. In fact, NGOs like Partners in Health in Haiti, as well as socially-responsible private companies like Valid Nutrition, have taken this model of RUTF (ready-to-use-therapeutic food) to the next level, so that it not only helps the families and children consuming it, but creates local industry and demand for local farm produce.

Crop insurance has been recommended for small peasant farmers for a long time, and indeed the essay here points to pre-existing programs. I wrote about crop insurance (citing two original articles on the topic) a few months ago.

Anyway, I guess it's understandable that the contest, co-created by a Peace Corps alumni group, would go more for simple technical fixes. But it seems to me that outsiders have been trying quick technical fixes for a long time now in Africa, and they never gain much ground. I would have liked to see winning proposals based on systems thinking and use of existing indigenous resources.

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