By Jessica Schlager
DES MOINES, Iowa — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, president Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide and philantropist-farmer Howard G. Buffett offered a range of possible solutions to the challenges of agriculture in Africa at a panel discussion on Thursday at the World Food Prize. Betty Liu of Bloomberg Television moderated the panel. Below are the main points each panelist made.
Blair noted four main challenges that remain in Africa: electricity, infrastructure, making the right type of investment and delivering improvements in agricultural output. Blair said farmers must be empowered to make good decisions and decisions they can afford to make. “Our governments need to be creative in the solutions we put forward,” Blair said. “We need to be smarter, quicker and far more attuned to what the people in the country are saying because they just might know better than we do.”
Sharma stressed the importance of women in the community, but more importantly the underlying issues that prevent women from helping more. If women are taught new techniques that would improve their farms, they have a lot of access to make changes because they have a central role in their families. But women don’t often own the farmland. “A woman can make changes to a piece of land that would make it thrive, but too often a man (the owner) will see these great changes and take the land for himself,” she said. If these underlying issues are not addressed, women will have no motivation to apply new knowledge to their land.
Buffett said agriculture should be as important as the Department of Defense. There cannot be strength without food. The problem in Africa, he said, is that often road conditions are poor and prevent farmers from getting food to the market. That goes hand in hand with food preservation, which Buffett said is the easiest place to attack hunger. But transportation infrastructure is one of the hardest problems to solve due to resources and government will. Buffett thinks the solution lies with awareness in developed countries. “Everyone is in their own little world and we are learning that it’s bigger than that. We need to take people somewhere and show them the world. I guarantee you it will change their mind.”