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To Prevent Famines, International Community Must Recognize Role Of Markets

“One of the major lessons in agricultural development over the past decade is this: markets matter,” Roger Thurow, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog as part of a series marking the occasion of the council’s annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C. He recollects the Ethiopian famine of 2003, “when international food aid rushed in to feed 14 million people,” noting the “famine tragically, and incomprehensibly, followed two years of bumper harvests in Ethiopia. The surplus production overwhelmed the country’s weak and inefficient markets. … Then the drought hit, and feast turned to famine. The markets had failed before the weather did.” However, “[i]n the past decade, science and research geared toward improving the work of smallholder farmers (who produce the majority of the food grown in the developing world) have been reinvigorated; so too have trade and business efforts accelerated to provide greater market incentives and opportunities for the farmers.”

“Prior to 2003, boosting agricultural production — growing more food — was the primary focus and developing markets was considered to be a ‘second-generation problem.’ Now, markets share top billing with production, as it should; markets provide incentive to produce more,” Thurow continues. He highlights Sidama Elto, “one of 16 cooperative unions in Ethiopia that have signed forward contracts with the [World Food Programme (WFP)] for the purchase of more than 28,000 metric tons of maize grown by their smallholder farmer members,” noting the program, implemented with the help of the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), is part of the Purchase for Progress (P4P) program, “which uses the WFP’s purchasing power to create markets for smallholder farmers.” He states, “These public-private ventures bring both maturity and modernization to markets that hadn’t changed much for centuries,” adding, “Above all, says Khalid Bomba, the chief executive officer of ATA, ‘Smallholder farmers need confidence that there will be buyers for what they grow'” (5/13).