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Making Global Development Aid Effective

This article originally appeared in the Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring 1994.

by Jimmy Carter
Former President of the United States

Enough food is produced to feed the world's population, yet people in developing countries continue to starve. The average African now has 70 fewer calories per day than 20 years ago, even though per capita food production in Africa has increased. During that time, the number of hungry people in Africa almost doubled, while remaining about the same in the Near East and in Latin America.

The failure of international and national agencies to adequately address the problem of hunger is a dear example of the historical inadequacies of development aid delivery and application. After many years, the reasons for this waste and inefficiency are becoming clear and point us to new, creative solutions.

Even in the face of failure, major agencies have been reluctant to change basic policies or to collaborate with one another. Almost all international agencies jealously guard their and turf and hesitate to admit failure or that the participation of others could improve their effectiveness. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as The Carter Center, are usually excluded from participation in a comprehensive app-roach to alleviating hunger, either in its conception or consummation.

Like many NGOS, The Carter Center is free to try new ideas and eager to cooperate with others. We have almost unequaled access to top leaders in the news media and in nations worldwide. Through our projects to increase food production in Africa, we have had unlimited opportunities to visit farms and villages afflicted with poverty or disease. Yet despite these advantages, our organization is inadequate to resolve major problems when forced to work alone. Most international agencies have not learned this lesson.

There are also too many fragmented, uncoordinated, even competitive international aid programs within a given nation. Some countries, such as Kenya, which has pleasant living conditions in Nairobi, are flooded with hundreds of agencies devoted to health and speaking with conflicting voices. Other more destitute nations are almost bereft of assistance.

Local leaders, often first or second generation guerrilla fighters with little training in economics, health, agriculture, long- range planning or management, are confused by the cacophony of advice, entreaties, threats, and offers of assistance, and tend to grasp at straws. Sometimes isolated from the voices of their own people, they are induced to make poor decisions in order to receive desperately needed grants or loans.

Further fueling this poor communication is the frequent turnover of program managers. I know of no country in which one person is responsible for the long-term success or failure of an aid project to reduce hunger.

In the evolution of any major project, a top priority should be developing the local people's s sustained capacity to meet their own needs. Too often, major assistance projects do not focus on this. Related to this is the inadequate relationship between research emphasis and practical needs in the developing world.

Research centers are now concentrating excessively on basic research and less on applied research. Partially because of this, many agricultural programs in developing countries are weaker now than a decade ago and are getting worse.

Programs also need to be country-specific and comprehensive, interrelating such disparate factors as soil fertility, government subsidy policies, food distribution systems, and imports. But there are few, if any, mechanisms in place to integrate these elements. There needs to be a cooperative task force approach-both among donors and within the recipient country, involving official agencies, NGOS, and representatives of women, farmers, and environmentalists. This is difficult, but not impossible.

There are other generic problems as well: In health care, malnutrition continues to be the greatest cause of disease, and there is inadequate emphasis on nutrition. In the global economy, protectionism in rich nations is a cruel and often ignored affliction on starving people. The value of production and trade opportunities lost in developing countries due to profectionism far exceeds the total global budget of foreign aid they receive.

In the environment, deforestation is rapidly becoming one of the most critical issues in many poverty stricken areas. More and more time each day is required for a mother and her children to find enough wood for cooking, and in many communities the trees are being cut down for fuel.

Perhaps overriding all other issues in the long run is population growth. Even if a 2 percent annual increase in food production can be sustained in a country, continuing starvation is almost inevitable with a 3 percent growth in population. Women must be educated, infant mortality lowered to convince parents they will have support in their old age, family planning programs put forth, and contraceptives made available. There must be some better coordinated worldwide approach to this highly emotional subject.

We at The Carter Center have tried to address the crucial problem of hunger in our own way. In 1986, under the technical leadership of Dr. Norman Borlaug and financed by private donors, notably the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, we launched a program to increase the quantity and quality of food grains produced in a few countries in Africa. While necessarily narrow in focus and limited in scope, this effort has been successful, growing to include150,000 farm families in seven nations.

One of the lessons we learned is that national leaders must share responsibility with donors. We meet personally with the nation's president and ministers of finance, transportation, agriculture, health, and education. A memorandum or understanding negotiated and signed, specifying the roles that we and the local Government will play.

On subsequent visits by me and Dr. Borlaug, these officials are invited to visit the fields and agricultural test plots with us. Local people are given maximum credit for successes.

Self-reliance is always emphasized. Our organization provides only one or two agricultural experts per country, while the government furnishes dozens of extension workers who are then trained to work with assigned groups of farm families. We place a time limit on our participation and require that farmers graduate from the program after a couple of years to permit our limiting the scope of our effort while extending its coverage to more and more communities. The poor people are directly involved and do more than any others to shape the final program in their villages. The degree of participation has been amazing. I went to one Sudanese community south of Khartoum for a two-hour sorghum production workshop where about two dozen farmers were expected. More than a thousand came, some having walked twenty miles, and they insisted that the session be expanded to an entire day.

We try to have minimal impact on the local culture. Most families still plant their small crops with sharpened sticks and cultivate with hoes. Only as a community group are they likely to advance even to a few oxen for breaking land. Advanced technology is introduced however when appropriate, with the finest seed available, the planting of high numbers of plants in contour rows to control erosion, a moderate amount of the proper fertilizer, and adequate storage of harvested crops using local materials. In Ghana, we helped to introduce Quality Protein Maize, a high yielding variety developed in Mexico that is tasty, has a good texture, and contains the amino acids missing in other maize. Hundreds of acres have now evolved from the few pounds first provided. It is our hope that these seeds will be distributed to all nations.

In annual meetings involving top governmental officials, agricultural experts, farmers, and others, we frankly assess our successes and failures. There have been some tangible results. On the average small farm, yields have been tripled. In Sudan, despite the on-going war, wheat production was increased from 150,000 tons in 1987 to 80'0,000 tons in 1992. In Tanzania alone, 437 extension workers were trained along with 32,691 farmers.

By requiring maximum local responsibility, limiting our bureaucracy to one agricultural expert in a country, using modest quarters, and exercising tight control over vehicles and supplies, we have minimal costs of about $800,000/ year per country.

Despite these successes, it is impossible to expand our results appreciably without greater correlation of our efforts with other Official agencies and NGOS. There must be greater cooperation and collaboration among everyone in the development system.There needs to be a comprehensive approach to aid in each country, a task force both among the donors, who must cooperate thoroughly with one another, and among the recipients in a country, who must also work with each other.

This new approach already is being tested in Ghana and, eventually, will be tested in one or two other countries, where we will attempt to forge closely coordinated task forces of donors on the one hand and recipients on the other. Called the Global Development Initiative, the idea resulted from a conference co-chaired by me and the U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali to assess how we might make development aid more effective.

It is hoped that the lessons learned from the Global Development Initiative can help us alleviate hunger. We are eager to cooperate with the World Bank and other international organizations, adding our small capabilities to the overall effort. Success or failure in reducing hunger worldwide will depend on all of you - and on me.

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