(The Meeting is over - information is provided for reference)
11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
January 31, 2007
Purpose of the Forum
"Foreign assistance is no longer just about helping poor people; it is an issue of national security . . . and rising incomes and declining poverty in agrarian countries can help dampen local motivations for violent conflict," said Deputy USAID Administrator, James Kunder. Mr Kunder's words stated succinctly the motives for the January 31st Capitol Hill Forum, "Agriculture in a World of Conflict and Violence: Investing in our Future Security."
This mid-day meeting, held in the Rayburn House Office Building and attended by 180 people, including 28 Congressional staffers, was hosted by the Idaho Congressional Delegation and the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD) and generously supported by 14 other institutions . Dr. Susan G. Schram, Vice President of ACDI/VOCA and an AIARD Board member led its preparation, and Dr. G.M. McWhorter of Texas A&M University, an AIARD past President, presided for President Bob Haggerty of the University of Idaho, who could not participate due to a family emergency. Similar events have been held over the last decade by AIARD to acquaint the Washington policy community with the critical role of agriculture and rural development in developing countries.
Improving agriculture fights poverty, which quells conflict
The causes of conflict, violence, and terrorism have not been convincingly identified and disentangled. However, AIARD members have found that in conflict countries, before the outbreak of conflict, poverty indices are higher, child mortality is higher and there is more undernutrition than in countries without conflict. Poverty seems to be a root cause. With fully 75 percent of the world's poor living in rural areas of developing countries and depending significantly on agriculture for their well-being, the betterment of agriculture appears to be a pathway to the reduction of poverty and conflict.
But research is lacking
Regrettably, the secondary data sources available to demonstrate these propositions are spotty and incomplete, and few case studies have been conducted to try to understand the situation at the local level with freshly minted primary data. For this reason, many observers, as Mr. Kunder pointed out, simply do not associate conflict with agriculture, when, in his words, it has a ". . .key role. . .in conflict and fragile states."
Dr. McWhorter pointed out in his opening remarks for the Forum that Secretary Gates had made some similar propositions last Fall at the World Food Prize Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium (www.worldfoodprize.org/symposium). In Dr. Gates' experience as former Director of the CIA, sophisticated satellite and analytical techniques have been used to assess food supplies and the availability of water resources, even though agriculture and rural areas are not thought to be intelligence and national security targets. But they are, in his view-and much more needs to be done along these lines--because hunger, poverty, and despair " . . . are the breeding grounds of instability and terrorism."
Stemming conflict could reduce its economic burdens on the U.S.
Ambassador Christopher E. Goldthwait explained that conflict imposes costs on the U.S., its consumers, exports, and aid resources. His take home message was that this country has major economic reasons to prevent conflict in foreign countries, if the causes for its occurrence can be eventually identified and disentangled. For example, agriculture in a country in conflict is affected adversely. This can reduce its supply line to U.S. consumers, as occurred with cocoa when conflict broke out in Cote d'Ivoire in 1997. World supplies plummeted and prices increased by over 60 percent. Also, U.S. exports can be adversely affected by a conflict overseas. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, U.S. exports to Iraq went from US$783 million in 1989 to zero just two years later. Finally, conflict can increase the demand for food aid by the conflicted country. To meet this need, the Bush administration found itself having to divert resources that were to be deployed to long-term food security and agricultural development to humanitarian relief.
Training for small holders: A centerpiece for sustainable rural poverty reduction
Karl Walk, Cocoa Department Director of the Blommer Chocolate Company and Vice Chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), demonstrated a practical approach to raising incomes of small holders, keeping them sustainably from the sort of anger, hopelessness, and from enjoying economic and social justice, which are inimical to peace in the countryside. The approach involves formation of "farmer field schools" (FFS) that provide critical training in crop husbandry and how to access the world market. Such schools have been launched now in West Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America, and over 300,000 small holder farmers have successfully graduated from FFS programs.
Rural women must be part of the equation
Indira Ahluwalia, Founder and President of Development and Training Services, Inc., issued a counterpoint and caveat: poverty and conflict reduction through agricultural betterment programs cannot succeed without sensitivity to the pivotal roles of women in rural areas. Ms. Ahluwalia told participants that women handle 60 to 80 percent of food production as decision-makers, employers, and employees; and they feed 90 percent of the rural poor. What's more, even where the agricultural labor force is decreasing as a share of total employment, the participation of women is increasing. Major causes are the toll on male farmers resulting from conflict and wars, as well as from illness from the HIV virus and death from AIDS. Unfortunately, women thrust into larger roles in agriculture tend to be younger, less educated, less skilled, and have fewer resources. Furthermore, rural institutions and policies, including rights to land and to inheritances, frequently evidence strong gender discrimination.
Ahluwalia, however, emphasized that, in spite of the obstacles they are presented with, for example, by credit institutions, women have been found to repay their loans and use money wisely in microfinance programs. Through her experience, Ahluwalia has witnessed that women benefit as much or more than men from knowledge and skills training, the acquisition of financial tools and technological improvements, and instruction concerning market access.
Participants' positive assessment
Participants were invited to submit a post-event survey and respond to three questions:
- What did you enjoy most about this Forum?
- What could have been improved?
- What topics would you suggest for future Capitol Hill Forums?
Those attending the Forum applauded the speakers, the relevance of the subject matter, the organization of the agenda, and the location for the Forum. Improvement was called for in increasing representation from Members of Congress, expanding Q/A sessions, and increasing the amount of data presented on conflict and agriculture's role. The largest number of respondents suggested that a future forum might focus on how U.S development assistance programs have changed and evolved, and the reforms needed in them.