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Elliott was with the Peterson Institute for many years before joining the Center full-time. Her books published there include Can International Labor Standards Improve under Globalization? (with Richard B. Freeman, 2003), Corruption and the Global Economy (1997), Reciprocity and Retaliation in US Trade Policy (with Thomas O. Bayard, 1994), Measuring the Costs of Protection in the United States (with Gary Hufbauer, 1994), and Economic Sanctions Reconsidered (with Gary Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott, 3rd. ed., 2007). She served on a National Research Council committee on Monitoring International Labor Standards and on the USDA Consultative Group on the Elimination of Child Labor in US Agricultural Imports, and is currently a member of the National Advisory Committee for Labor Provisions in US Free Trade Agreements. Elliott received a Master of Arts degree, with distinction, in security studies and international economics from the Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (1984) and a Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors in political science, from Austin College (1982). In 2004, Austin College named her a Distinguished Alumna.
Are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) likely to play a significant role in tackling malnutrition and reducing poverty in Africa? Our short answer is "it depends." In a new CGD policy paper and brief, we examine the evidence and conclude that currently available GMOs are of limited relevance for most developing countries, especially in Africa. And while new crop varieties under development could do far more to address global poverty and hunger, technological and political obstacles may stand in the way of GMOs advancing a new green revolution in Africa.
Multinational companies developed today’s GM varieties primarily for large-scale commercial agriculture. Plants engineered to tolerate herbicides like Glyphosate comprise more than half of the global acreage planted with GMOs. This trait is helpful for farmers with ready access to affordable, chemical inputs. But buying improved seeds and herbicides may be out of reach for many smallholder farmers. Soybeans and maize, grown primarily for livestock feed and biofuels in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, account for a majority of global GM cultivation. Only insect-resistant varieties of cotton have been widely adopted in developing countries, mainly in India and China.
But even if the current generation of GM crops are of limited value to smallholder farmers, a new wave that could more directly address developing country challenges is under development. Disease-resistant bananas, rice enriched with Vitamin A to prevent blindness, and staple grains more resilient to drought are a few examples of crops in the research pipeline. And the balance could certainly shift if genetic modification is proven capable of producing new, more effective varieties faster than conventional breeding. But scientists producing these varieties are encountering technological difficulties. Conveying drought tolerance, for example, involves manipulating multiple genes, which is more complicated than the techniques used to produce insect-resistant or herbicide-tolerant varieties.
But perhaps the real question is this: how many African governments will be in a position to take advantage if a new breakthrough GMO comes along that holds promise for reducing food security or alleviating poverty? At the moment, not many. In addition to long-standing obstacles to agricultural investments in general, such as inadequate infrastructure and high input costs, a number of African countries have not yet developed national biosafety policies or passed legislation to regulate growing or importing GMOs.
To help prepare the ground for a new green revolution in Africa, and leave the door open for GMOs to play a part, we offer five recommendations for African governments and donors:
Increase public support for agricultural R&D without precluding GMOs.
Develop cost-effective regulatory policies for GMOs, regionally where possible to reduce costs.
Promote information exchange among developing countries about environmental and other experiences with GMOs. The open access Biosafety Clearing House is one possible platform.
Pursue South-South cooperation on GMO trade and regulatory policies to prevent trade disruptions.
Donors, including the European Union, should provide technology-neutral support for R&D for food security, as well as capacity building to facilitate trade in GMOs.
Africa’s agricultural challenges are heterogeneous, requiring investments in rural infrastructure, seed and input markets, as well as access to credit. Therefore, the continent needs an all hands on deck approach that draws on a range of technologies to address lagging agricultural productivity. And it would be unfortunate if an overly cautious approach foreclosed the opportunity to use GMOs where they can contribute to reducing poverty and malnutrition.
Most antibiotics around the world today are fed to farm animals to promote growth and prevent diseases fostered by crowded conditions on factory farms. There is an urgent need to find alternatives to keep animals healthy, and preserve crucial antibiotics for human health. One way to do that would be to create an international treaty not to use antibiotics in livestock feed — and probiotics, like those found in yogurt, may be a stepping stone toward that goal. The benefits in terms of slowing the evolution of antimicrobial resistance could be large, while the likely costs are small and manageable.
Using (and especially misusing) antibiotics gives bacteria the opportunity to evolve antibiotic-resistant strains. As the drugs kill off the more susceptible bacteria, those that are left are the ones more capable of resisting the treatment. If they go on to infect another victim, those bacteria will not respond as readily to antibiotics. The death toll in Europe and the US from antimicrobial resistance is already around 50,000 a year. As many as 58,000 infants died in India in 2013 because antibiotic treatments failed due to resistance. Absent new antimicrobials, death tolls are forecast to explode as more resistance develops.
This was the topic of a CGD event last week at which George Osborne, UK chancellor of the exchequer, Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, and Larry Summers, chair of CGD’s board of directors and Arvind Subramanian, India’s chief economist talked about mechanisms to increase the supply of new antibiotics to replace those losing effectiveness against infection. But they also emphasized the need to limit low-value use of antimicrobials to preserve their lifespan. Less use means less chance for bacteria to evolve resistance.
Only 20 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are used on humans; 80 percent are used in animal feed, mainly to speed growth. China may consume as much as 200,000 metric tons of antibiotics each year — ten times the US consumption — again, nearly all on farms. Most of these drugs are exactly the same ones used to treat sick people. Nearly two-thirds of the drugs used in animal feed in the US are medically important for use in humans.
Using antibiotics in livestock feed is linked to the emergence of resistant bacteria in people. Chickens fed antibiotics start excreting E-coli resistant to a range of those antibiotics after a short time. Chicken farm employees subsequently develop populations of E-coli resistant to the same range of antibiotics. US government tests of meat sold in supermarkets suggest that 50 percent of chicken samples had campylobacteria resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline and that half of the salmonella found in chicken samples was multidrug-resistant. In November 2015, Chinese scientists found a mutation in bacteria, including E. coli, present in both pigs and humans that provided resistance to colistin, a drug of last resort.
Conserving Antibiotics for Human Health Doesn’t Have to Be Bad for Farmers
The good news is that ending the use of antibiotics in feed can help reverse resistance trends. In 2005, chicken farmers in Quebec stopped using the antibiotic cephalosporin. Tests of supermarket chicken tracked a decline in cephalosporin-resistant salmonella from 60 percent to 10 percent of samples in the first year after the ban. Tests of resistant bacteria in humans suggests they dropped from 40 percent to near zero over two years. Still, resistance crosses borders: Denmark still finds that poultry raised in the country is frequently infected with E-coli resistant to the antibiotic cephalosporin despite the fact it is never used on Danish farms. The reason is that the grandparents of many of the infected birds were imported from Scotland, where the antibiotic is used in chicken feed. Given the cross-border implications, control of antibiotic use in animals is a global public good.
The even better news is that, ending the use of antibiotics in feed can have minimal impact on agricultural productivity — at least in in rich countries. Denmark banned all use of antibiotics in animal in feed or water and overall agricultural antibiotic use halved. But total pig production is a little higher than it was ten years ago. Economic analysis suggests the slightly slower growth of pigs taken off antibiotics raised farm-gate meat prices in Denmark by perhaps 1 percent. The impact on production is likely to be larger in developing countries where overall sanitation in factory farms is lower, so there may be need for transition support to other approaches. But how much the impact would be in developing country settings, and what alternatives work to keep up productivity, is something that requires a lot of urgent additional research.
A Pragmatic Proposal to Conserve Antibiotics
We’ve dealt with a similar global problem before. In the 1980s, concentrations of ozone in the upper atmosphere were declining, with the potential to dramatically increase the risk of sunburn, cataracts, and skin cancers. A major cause was aerosol sprays, alongside refrigerator coolants. These utilized chlorofluorocarbons which, when released, react with ozone to make oxygen. In 1987, representatives from the world over met in Canada to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The treaty mandated dramatic reductions and the eventual elimination of chlorofluorocarbon production, a goal that has been almost completely met. Atmospheric ozone concentrations began to recover by around 2006.
The livestock antibiotic issue is similar to the chlorofluorocarbon challenge. It presents an immediate global health threat that dwarfs any economic benefit from antibiotic use in feed. And like CFC producers, there are relatively few antibiotics producers worldwide. In the United States there are only 26 major manufacturers of antibiotics used in farm animals, for example. That makes national control more straightforward and global compensation easier to provide.
A Montreal Protocol on the Use of Antibiotics in Animals would as a first phase mandate the rapid reduction of the routine use of antibiotics in livestock feed or water that are also used for human health. OECD signatory countries would provide compensatory transition support to drug manufacturers. As a second phase the treaty might ban the use of all antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease.
The cost of any compensation to pharmaceutical companies would be limited. The global antibiotics market is $42 billion in total but the considerable bulk of that market value is made up of antibiotics for human use. The animal antimicrobials market is valued at $3.3 billion, around 60 percent of which was accounted for by the United States and Europe. This suggests transition compensation payments to producers would be in the low billions at maximum, mostly provided to OECD producers. The global cost of lost antimicrobial effectiveness has been estimated at between $2.1 trillion and $124.5 trillion. If the Protocol’s benefits were 0.5% or less of the lower bound costs of lost antimicrobial effectiveness, it would be economically justified.
More Yoplait, Less Penicillin
But a nontreaty compensation agreement with national agricultural industries may be necessary to make such a protocol politically viable. To help deal with the transition to antibiotic-free production in places where farm production may benefit more from their use, we’d need to support alternate approaches — that’s where the yogurt comes in. Farmers feed antibiotics to animals in an effort to produce healthier, fatter pigs and chickens. Ironically, feeding livestock bacteria can have the same effect. Feed pigs and chickens probiotics, the “good bacteria” of the sort you find in yogurt, and they are less likely to be infected with bad bacteria, will grow faster, and will need less feed. Perhaps the negotiations toward the treaty could involve side agreements to help developing countries roll out less globally harmful approaches to increase livestock productivity. More Yoplait, less penicillin — it’s a rule for life, livestock, and the preservation of a vital global public good.
When it comes to the challenge of ensuring access to medicines in developing countries, three distinct issues often get conflated: innovation, availability, and affordability. Recent research from CGD alums offers new insight into the complicated dynamics at play at the core of a hot debate.
Pharmaceutical companies argue that the temporary monopoly provided by patents is the only way they can recoup the costs of researching and developing new drugs. Critics contend that patents are ineffective in stimulating research in diseases that afflict lower income countries, and forcing those countries to provide patent protection leads to high prices that deprive poor people of essential medicines. These difficult trade-offs, with important ramifications for the lives of the global poor, are just the kind of dilemma former CGD fellow Jean (Jenny) Lanjouw tackled. Now, 10 years after her much too early death, we have another important contribution from Jenny and her coauthors, Iain Cockburn and Mark Schankerman. Their long-delayed article on patents and drug availability was published in the American Economic Review (gated) in January. Here’s why it matters.
Affordability ≠ access
It is generally accepted that patents alone are not very effective in spurring research on drugs for tropical or other neglected diseases in developing countries. The markets are too small and too poor to attract sufficient private sector investment. Jenny’s creative proposal for globally differentiated patents was one response to that problem. CGD’s detailed proposal for an advance market commitment was another.
For diseases that affect lots of people in all kinds of countries, pharmaceutical companies have ample incentives to invest in innovation. The problem is not a lack of innovation but rather affordability, given patent-protected drug prices are often too high for many in poorer countries.
What the new AER article demonstrates is that prices don’t matter if drugs are not available at all. The authors analyze 20 years of data (1983-2002) on new drug launches in 76 countries. They show that there are often long lags in drug launches, which tend to be worse in countries with smaller markets, weak patent systems, and price controls. Even if sales in richer countries cover the costs of research and development for a new drug, drug companies still have to foot the bill for the local costs of launching a new drug—running clinical trials and navigating the regulatory process, setting up distribution channels, and more. Where that proves difficult, it can take years to introduce a new drug.
Jenny and her coauthors show that extensive price controls delay the launch of new drugs, even in countries with strong patent systems, which creates an obvious dilemma for resource-constrained governments and consumers. Although they did not have the data to explore the price effects of these policies, they note that finding ways to “mitigate the adverse effects of this tradeoff remains a major challenge.” They suggest that developing countries consider ways to lower launch costs such as creating mechanisms to conduct clinical trials at the regional level rather than country by country.
Stronger IPRs ≠ higher prices?
Interestingly, recent research by another CGD alum, Thomas Bollyky, suggests that the price effects of stronger patent protection may be less of a problem for access than previously thought. In a Foreign Affairs article (gated), Tom examines data on drug expenditures before and after countries signed trade agreements with the United States that required stronger intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. He finds that overall drug spending, as well as prices for drugs that could have been affected by the terms of the trade agreements, stayed flat or declined in most cases. This does not prove that the trade agreements had no impact on the affordability of drugs, but it does suggest that they may not be the major factor.
I am still not convinced that the US approach to intellectual property rights is optimal—either for Americans, or for the citizens of developing countries that sign trade agreements with the United States. But Jenny’s research is, thankfully, still helping to enrich the debate and make us all think harder about how the world works and how to make it better.
The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been raging for twenty years and there is still more heat than light around the topic. While some developing countries have embraced the technology, much of Africa has followed the European Union’s precautionary approach. While not a panacea, GMOs could be part of a new green revolution in Africa if governments address the policy and institutional weaknesses that prevented Africa from participating in the first one, and if GM technology continues to develop.
The world will struggle to achieve the goals of ending extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 unless there is a sharp increase in agricultural productivity in Africa. Across sub-Saharan Africa, most people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihoods; most of them are poor and many are hungry. Could genetically modified organisms (GMOs) help to address some of the causes contributing to Africa’s lagging agricultural productivity? Our answer is a qualified maybe.
There is no question that the “mega-regional” trade deals in the Pacific and across the Atlantic are big. If completed and implemented, they will cover a large portion of global trade and investment. This paper examines the TPP text to identify provisions that are more or less development-friendly, especially for Vietnam, which is the poorest signatory to the deal by far. It concludes with with recommendations for US and EU policymakers that would mitigate potential negative effects for developing countries and for the multilateral trading system, including rules of origin that minimize trade diversion.
The recent collapse of a factory building in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of people making clothing for export has shined a harsh spotlight on the lack of worker protection in such low-income developing countries. But my guest on this week’s show, CGD senior fellow Kimberly Elliott, says that the disaster is unusual only in its magnitude.
Workers engaged in the production of goods for rich country markets endure dangerous working conditions daily, suffering countless smaller, yet nonetheless fatal accidents, as well as illnesses and deaths caused by poor ventilation and exposure to lint, soot, and dangerous chemicals, Kim says. Manufacture of garments is especially prone to such abuses, she adds.
“This is an industry that’s very low wage, very low skill, highly mobile, and highly competitive, so the incentives are for factory managers to cut costs as much as they can,” she says.
“Buyers are looking around the world for the lowest prices they can find, and unfortunately we as consumers are complicit, because we’re looking for the cheapest clothing we can find.”
The collapse of the factory building in Bangladesh killed hundreds of people.
Kim, an expert on global trade and labor standards, says that consumers alarmed by these practices can exert some pressures for improvement, by writing to manufacturers, participating in protests, and joining campaigns for better working conditions. But avoiding garments from Bangladesh would hurt the very people that such efforts are meant to help.
“I think the worst thing consumers could do is overreact – that is, look for a Bangladesh label and say, ‘I’m not going to buy this at all.’” Kim says.
Yet this is exactly what some retailers are doing. Disney pulled out of Pakistan after a factory fire last September killed more than 200 people. News reports say that Disney is now preparing to stop buying garments in Bangladesh. Kim says that Disney’s action alone may be a useful “shot across the bow” – a sort of wake-up for Bangladesh to begin enforcing its own labor laws—but it would be terrible if the rest of the industry followed suit.
“This is three million jobs – a huge part of manufacturing in Bangladesh. It’s primarily female workers who are in these factories and they’re taking these jobs by choice – this is not forced labor – because it’s better than any other alternative they have,” she explains. “The alternative is getting married at 14 or 15 and starting to have kids at a very young age. So you don’t want to lose all these jobs.” (See also NYT Room for Debate).
A better approach, Kim says, would be for the United States and other countries that import Bangladeshi garments to encourage Bangladesh to join the Better Work program, a joint effort of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank.
“The program is really aimed at being a win-win. It’s trying to improve labor conditions in factories by working with governments and industries in a way that improves labor conditions and – simultaneously – the productivity of workers. Healthier, happier, better-rested workers are also more productive workers,” she says.
In Cambodia, for example, a Better Work program has helped to improve enforcement of labor standards while keeping the country competitive. Cambodia has used the Better Work program to attract buyers who hope to avoid the public relations fallout of workplace disasters such as those that occurred in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Kim says that the United States could encourage Bangladesh to start a Better Work program and otherwise strengthen the enforcement of labor standards by offering duty-free, quota-free access to US markets in exchange. While the US has extended preferential trading terms to many developing countries, garments are often exempt. Some 90 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to the United States are apparel and these face an average tariff of 15 percent.
Offering to eliminate the tariff is potentially “a big carrot,” Kim says. “My proposal is to offer Bangladesh and the other poor Asian countries duty-free, quota-free access to the US market contingent on taking some serious steps – like the Better Work program – to improve working conditions.” (African countries already have such access under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Individual firms might have a hard time exerting this kind of pressure on garment factories, because they’re all competing against each other. But an across the board offer from the United States would be extremely appealing. I suggest it seems like a no-brainer.
“That’s right,” Kim said. “And this would create an immediate 15 percent reduction in the factory’s costs because they wouldn’t have to pay the tariff.” That cut in production costs could help to cover the costs of improving worker safety, she says.
Other high-income countries – like Japan and members of the EU – have already instituted similar duty-free, quota-free preferences for developing countries, she says.
The stumbling block in the United States so far has been opposition from the US textile industry, Kim says.
What’s needed, she adds, is strong leadership from the US president, the office of the US Trade Representative, and particularly from Congress – which has the authority to write the legislation that would allow for duty-free, quota-free access for developing countries in exchange for better labor standards that could finally make disasters like the Bangladesh factory collapse a thing of the past.
My thanks to Catherine An for providing a draft for this blog post, and Alex Gordon for editing the Wonkcast.
CGD is pleased to announce the first screening of its annual summer film series, Global Development Matters. Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for a documentary at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, A River Changes Course follows three families living in contemporary Cambodia as they cope with the effects of rapid development and struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life. These families and others like them witness the forests surrounding their rural communities being cleared, land becoming scarce and costly, and fishing stocks rapidly disappearing. No longer able to provide for their families, and often accruing massive debt in the attempt to do so, many Cambodians have been forced to leave their rural lives behind to seek employment in the industrial factories of Phnom Penh. While these changes are part of “development,” they are often more painful than they need to be because of weak institutions and poor governance.
Kimberly Ann Elliott is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and her research interests include the role of the garment sector in development and issues around trade and labor standards. Blake Ratner is the program leader for governance at the WorldFish Center, and visiting senior research fellow at International Food Policy Research Institute. He previously served for five years as regional director, Greater Mekong, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. An environmental sociologist, his research focuses on natural resource governance, conflict, and cooperation from local to regional scales.
Here we are, deep in the throes of summer, which hopefully means you have finished your planned holiday books and are in need of another good read or two! But what should you choose? We asked CGD experts to share their recommendations. Check out the list below to find what fits your mood, whether that's a deep dive into migration policy, a surprising look into Machiavelli's life, or a techno-utopian, time-traveling adventure (I know what gets my vote!).
If you'd like to get more reading recommendations from CGD, you can also sign up for our weekly Friday "What We're Reading" newsletter.
"A love story set amidst the colonial evils of Dutch-ruled Indonesia. Transcribed from stories the author told his fellow inmates while a political prisoner in the 1970s, and beautifully translated. At once vivid historical fiction and haunting social commentary." – Jonah Busch
"This book makes the migration policy crisis comprehensible through the epic journalistic feat of personally accompanying one Syrian man from Egypt all the way to Sweden. If you have policy ideas about how to address the crisis, see if they survive reading Kingsley's deeply engaged account." – Michael Clemens
"Beckert explores the early stages of globalization and the industrial revolution through the lens of the cultivation, processing, and trade of cotton and cotton textiles. He also focuses on the links to the slave trade in the early days of the cotton trade, and the changing fortunes of India, China, and other developing countries as their roles in the 'cotton empire' shifted over the centuries." – Kimberly Ann Elliott
"I'm not normally a fan of sci-fi, so I wasn't expecting to get into this time-travel/alternate-reality book, but I did. In this novel, Tom Barren runs into a time-travel mishap when he leaves his techno-utopian, idealistic 2016 world of flying cars and moving sidewalks behind and changes history so that he ends up stranded in our 2016. Mastai's piece is a thought-provoking, funny, and entertaining novel that's a perfect read for any vacation." – Rebecca Forman
"Fictional short stories about people haunted by abrupt failure in the wake of rapid success. The most famous story concerns Lonesome Rhodes, who rises from itinerant Arkansas guitar picker to local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and political king-maker. Whether you read the book or not, you must see the movie, A Face in the Crowd, directed by the amazingly talented Elia Kazan, which underscores the role of the media in electing our most prominent politicians and invites viewers to draw parallels to the current situation in the United States." – John Hurley
"Alexievech documents ordinary Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and their experience with revolution, capitalism, and Putin. It reads less like a history book and more like an oral history—unassuming, frank, and raw. It's a fascinating investigation into modern Russia, and it contains all these insightful nuggets on democracy, capitalism, and revolution that are surprisingly relevant for American politics." – Jared Kalow
"A fascinating account of Machiavelli's life and lifelong struggle to restore Florence as a republic. He emerges as a more complex figure than you might think from reading The Prince—as interested in justice, freedom, and the rule of law as in power. On his deathbed, he is said to have claimed he'd rather be in hell with Plato, Plutarch, and Tacitus than in a heaven that banished them." – Nancy Lee
"The late-night TV host tells the stories of his childhood in the slums of Johannesburg where, being racially mixed, he belonged to no group. He finds his way through to his teenage years through tenacity, the unwavering support of his mother, and a preternatural sense of the absurdity of societal norms. It is a very funny and touching book. I listened to the book, rather than read it. Noah himself narrates and his theatrical vocal presence was the icing on the cake. Great for a long car trip!" – Mark Plant
"Haasse tells the remarkable story of Charles d'Orléans, a celebrated medieval French poet and prominent nobleman. Head of a family caught up in bitter dynastic strife at thirteen, English prisoner of war at twenty-one, Charles spends much of his life struggling against forces far beyond his control. And yet, even as his life's joys are snatched from him and his freedom denied for 25 years, the poet finds a way to live his life with dignity and grace. A stunning meditation on nothing less than the meaning of life itself, Haasse's work presents the vibrant, tumultuous world of the later Middle Ages with rare compassion and understanding." – Mallika Snyder
The first three pilots under the AgResults initiative announced at the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, last year are about to become operational. This initiative, with support from Australia, Canada, the UK, US, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to use results-based aid – in the form of “pull mechanisms,” – to spur innovation and technology adoption to promote agricultural development and food security. The use of pull mechanisms is part of a broader effort by donors to make aid more efficient and effective by using incentive-based approaches that pay ex post for results, rather than ex ante for inputs.
The pull mechanisms that donors are testing with the AgResults initiative have two additional features that set them apart from other incentives-based approaches:
They are focused on missing technologies and the markets failures that prevent the development or adoption of technologies that could improve lives.
They aim to engage the private sector and, ideally, to create sustainable markets.
The goal is to create or bolster demand for innovation in order to unleash the creativity and the resources of the private sector in responding to that demand. They can take the form of various types of prizes, patent buyouts, or advance market commitments, such as the one for pneumococcal vaccines.
Since I have been writing about and following the development of pull mechanisms and the AgResults initiative for a few years, I was thrilled to see concrete projects being launched and eager to learn how they – and the initiative more broadly – is progressing. So I recently hosted a CGD discussion with some of those involved to get an update. The panelists—who included officials from two donor governments and the World Bank (expressing their own opinions and not necessarily those of their institutions)— provided insight on where things stand for the AgResults initiative, challenges in getting the pilots up and running, and where the donors hope to take the initiative in the future.
Where things stand: The three pilots announced in Los Cabos were selected after a year-long process of consultation with four thematic groups of experts—on inputs and increasing yields, postharvest management, livestock, and nutrition—overseen by an expert advisory group that narrowed the list of candidates. The donor steering committee then made the final call on the first round of pilots (from the launch press release):
Incentivizing the adoption of on-farm storage technology for smallholder farmers [Kenya];
Encouraging innovative distribution of a breakthrough technology to reduce aflatoxin contamination [in maize in Nigeria]; and
Building a market for new vitamin A-enhanced varieties of maize [Zambia].
The World Bank, which is serving as acting secretariat for the initiative, is selecting an organization to take over as the permanent secretariat. Implementation of the pilots is set to begin shortly after that.
Challenges: Among the challenges mentioned by the panelists, two stand out. First, while everyone agrees that innovation will be necessary to meet the challenge of ensuring food security in coming decades, many agricultural and food technologies are sitting on the shelf because of market failures that impede adoption. Convincing millions of risk-averse smallholder farmers to spend scarce resources on a new technology (or consumers to eat bright orange maize) is not easy. For that reason, the first round of pilots is mostly focused on encouraging the dissemination of existing technologies. A second challenge was finding potential private sector partners with sufficient expertise and access to capital. If successful, the pilots could be scaled up and have significant benefits for many people, but they are starting out small.
What’s next: One of the panelists declared that the goal for the next round of pilots is to find a “game changer.” Among the ideas that were considered but not pursued in the initial round was a more efficient type of fertilizer that would boost yields while cutting water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Also to come are rigorous impact evaluations of the first three pilots so donors can learn what works and what doesn’t. The donors expect to fail with some of the pilots under this initiative: that is exactly the right attitude, as long as they learn from it.
To learn more, check out the event video and my new brief on innovating for food security and smallholder livelihoods that summarizes two of my earlier working papers on the topic.
During preparation of the first of those working papers, we posted a draft and solicited comments and ideas about how and where pull mechanisms could be used for agricultural innovation. We got a lot of interesting feedback, which you can find here, and the donors would love to hear from our readers again. So share your thoughts on where AgResults should go next in the comment section below. I’ll be sure they see it.
If the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is to remain as a key part of US development policy in Africa, it needs to embrace the sector on which so many of the poor in Africa depend. According to World Bank data, more than 60 percent of Africans live in rural areas, and they are more likely to be poor than their urban counterparts. Yet, while almost all manufactured goods enter duty-free under AGOA and other trade preference programs, US policy (unintentionally) discriminates against agricultural sectors in which Africa could be competitive.
Leaders from around the world meet in New York City next week to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, a list of development targets set in 2000, after a decade of UN conferences and summits, for achievement by 2015. Ahead of the MDG Summit, I spoke with Michael Clemens and Todd Moss, senior fellows at the Center for Global Development and outspoken critics of the design and implementation of the MDGs. On the Global Prosperity Wonkcast, we discuss where Todd and Michael think that the MDG effort went wrong, and how it could be better going forward.
Undoubtedly, the MDGs have achieved one objective: they have provided a focal point for development advocates to make the case for increased foreign aid in rich country capitals. The MDGs have “been tremendously successful at getting the aid budget up,” Todd allows. What they have not done, he says, is to “focus development goals in a way that’s useful for countries.” Both Todd and Michael say that applying global targets—such as 100% school enrollment and universal access to AIDS treatment—to individual countries is a recipe for failure.
What’s wrong with aiming high? “I can see the benefits of aiming for the stars and maybe you’ll hit the barn, but I see drawbacks to those goals as well,” Michael responds. Already, there is the perception that Africa is a place where nothing is going right, he laments. “By constantly portraying failure, even in cases where countries are making enormous progress…we contribute to that vision of inevitable disaster.”
Another major flaw with the MDGs is the question of how (and even if!) they’re being measured. For many indicators, because data is so poor and collection so spotty, Todd says, even when we reach the finish line in 2015, “We will have no idea if we’ve met them.” Going forward, Todd and Michael recommend carefully separating goals that are to be used as global symbols (“eradicating poverty”) from those that are used to measure progress at the country level. Towards the end of our conversation, we discuss how this might work and lay out a few metrics (Todd likes a jobs indicator, Michael wants an economic growth indicator) that might be added to a future set of MDGs.
Listen to the Wonkcast, then write to me to tell me what you think, or post a comment below. If you use iTunes, I invite you to subscribe to get a new episode delivered to your computer every week.
My thanks to Wren Elhai for his very able production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for drafting this blog post.
Kimberly Ann Elliott encourages new US Trade Representative Michael Froman to seek congressional approval for duty-free, quota-free market access for all least developed countries and to push ahead on food aid reform