In less than two weeks, I’ll be moving to Ghana to work as a consultant with an organization called Technoserve. It is my first time to visit West Africa and am excited to learn about the region. Technoserve works to strengthen the economies of the countries it serves by making the industries more efficient and profitable. Founded in the 1970’s, Technoserve began in Sub-Saharan Africa and has since expanded to Latin America and India. Most projects involve agriculture, since the majority of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers, though some focus on tourism, energy, and other sectors. The CEO, Bruce McNamer, explains Technoserve’s approach to economic development in a recent article from the McKinsey Quarterly:
There are significant possibilities in Africa to unlock value in different industry sectors, and these possibilities will grow over time. Success, however, will require the government and business to adopt a strategy based on an analytical and market-oriented approach, customized for the sector and focused on helping enterprises and people make money. While ultimately reliant on commercial incentives and viability, this strategy will probably require up-front, subsidized investments to seed the market, as well the coordination of stakeholders and interventions across the value chain.
In this essay, the author discusses the right approach to combating the problem of hunger – an attribute shared by closed to 900 million people worldwide. He takes issue with the arugula-eating liberal elites, like Food First, a California-based organization that opposes the technological advancements of the Green Revolution. Modern improvements in agricultural technology and sciences create higher crop yields. When land ownership is limited to a few hectares, it is critical to maximize the output on these small plots, which is what industrial improvements in agriculture enable. It is true that there are downsides to the Green Revolution, including further marginalization of subsistence farmers and, in some regions, a widening of the income gap in the agricultural community. But what cannot be said about this approach is that the food it produces is either inferior to organically-grown crops or that the process is any less sustainable. Industrial technologies, chemical fertilizers, and improved seeds generate more food, feeding more mouths, reducing malnutrition and generating income.
Poverty — caused by the low income productivity of farmers’ labor — is the primary source of hunger in Africa, and the problem is only getting worse. The number of “food insecure” people in Africa (those consuming less than 2,100 calories a day) will increase 30 percent over the next decade without significant reforms, to 645 million, the U.S. Agriculture Department projects.
What’s so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid. Continue reading