It can be very frustrating being on the people side of development.


Whilst we argue for: greater action and support for broader and deeper public debate and dialogue; improved analysis of and support for culturally significant action; the need to address negative social norms; greater rights, freedoms, and voice for those most affected by development; improved behaviour change strategies; a freer and more diverse media; and other such factors as being central to effective development action...


...the technology side of development...


...produces corn that will feed more people, digs wells that will give more people clean water, produces vaccines that ensure healthier children, constructs windmills that will produce clean power, builds roads so that goods can get to market faster, and a whole lot of other practical and useful "stuff" that you can see, touch, and feel.


In the face of that analysis, making the case for wider scale communication and media action, support, policies, and funding is like running the 400 meter hurdles in concrete slippers with giant brick walls as obstacles.


So, I approached reading an article recommended by a friend about the Gates Foundation Green Revolution in Africa initiative with real trepidation. Here we go again I thought: the wonders of technology laid out before me. Another sleepless night wondering if we have got it all wrong. I should have been a genetic molecular biologist (or whatever they are called!).


What a surprise! The article - "Ending Africa’s Hunger: Bill Gates's fortune is funding a new Green Revolution. But is that what Africans need? " by Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Annie Shattuck, published in The Nation - September 21, 2009 is not really about the Gates Foundation. It is about any funder whose strategies are led by technological innovation and application - which would be most funders - and why those strategies will fail.


What it is also about is the missing link in development.


There has always been a great conundrum in development action. With all of this technology, how come things have not improved very much - if at all. The map on the cover of a new booklet from IFPRI shows that all but three States in India have "Alarming" or "Extremely Alarming" hunger issues - the booklet itself backs this up with detail. Child immunisation rates in West Africa seem to be heading backwards. The DFID/UKAID White Paper showed that there has been an increase in the number of people in Africa living on less than USD 1.25 per day. Billions of dollars later and with an effective vaccine, completing the eradication of polio remains an almost intractable challenge. New HIV infections outstrip ARV supply by 5 to 1. And this is just a brief slice of the issues we all face.


The Patel et al article provides more insights from a hunger and food perspective: "More than a billion people eat fewer than 1,900 calories per day"; but "Food output per person is as high as it has ever been"; commenting on the 'success of the Green revolution - if you "Subtract China from the picture...the heyday of the Green Revolution saw global hunger increase by 11 percent. In South America, hunger grew by nearly 20 percent despite impressive gains in output driven, in part, by improved crop varieties"; and, remarkably "Africa exported 1.3 million tons of food a year in the 1960s, it imports nearly 25 percent of its food."


I will take this data at face value and assume it is correct. If that is the case then there is a Development Conundrum. I will call it the "Inverse Technology-Development Puzzle" - it seems that the more technology we have the less impact on development results (child health people are going through the roof at this stage!).


Relative to food, hunger, and technology, this is a puzzle that Patel and his colleagues try to answer with the Gates-funded (US30 billion dollars) Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) that seeks to "transform African agriculture" as the case study for their analysis.


They posit that AGRA, with its technology heavy strategy, will fail because "Just as in India, where peasant demands for land reform in the 1960s that might have led to more sustainable and durable progress (as such reforms did in China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea) were ignored, African farmers advocating their own solutions to the food crisis are being marginalized. In particular, the vocally articulated demands - for agroecological alternatives, state support for farmer-led research, for land reform, for women's rights in agriculture, and for sharing access to water - all fade into the background".


This is the communication and media for development argument. It is what we are about - it encompasses the central principles of our field, such as:


  • Amplify the voices of those most affected - "African farmers advocating their own solutions..."
  • Enhancing rights - "for women's rights in agriculture..."
  • Supporting the organisation of those most affected - "farmer-led research..."

I am sure that this debate will rage. Perhaps Patel, Holt-Gimenez, and Shattuck have it all wrong. Maybe a dominant technology process is what is required and will ultimately be effective. But they certainly make a very compelling case that this will not eventuate - that a very different strategy is needed.


But please read the full article here and let everyone know what you think by commenting below.