Obama Says Teach a Man to Fish

This blog post was co-written by Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg.

Since he took office a short six months ago, President Obama has galvanized the food community-from buzz about the White House garden to the Obama foodscape blog, Obamafoodorama.com.

And now he has reinvigorated the global discussion on hunger with a few simple words. During a press conference today at the conclusion of the G-8 meetings in Italy, a $20 billion international food security plan with his stamp on it was unveiled. The goal of the project, is “to redefine food aid beyond traditional donated provisions to make it more possible for countries afflicted by hunger to provide for themselves.” This approach is revolutionary for a few reasons:

First, President Obama is not talking about traditional food aid. He’s talking about local self-reliance to help feed the some 1 billion people who are now hungry in the world. For decades, development assistance in Africa and elsewhere has often meant sending grain from the United States, rather than buying grain locally or even investing in local farming.

Second, the President is recommending strategies that are not technology-based or expensive. “We don’t need fancy computers to solve these problems,” Mr. Obama was quoted as saying. ”We need tried-and-true agricultural methods and technologies that are cheap and are efficient but could have a huge impact in terms of people’s day-to-day well-being.”

This is also a radical departure from a prevailing agricultural development mentality that has often focused on expensive, high-tech fixes-not always accessible to farmers who need help the most and not always sustainable over the long term. There is actually little data comparing the cost-effectiveness of agricultural approaches that can nourish people and the planet-part of the reason Worldwatch has just launched a two-year project to investigate this topic.

It’s interesting that the President said all of this in an interview with AllAfrica.com, an online news service that collects stories from around the continent and is popular with the region’s web-connected youth. But they aren’t the President’s only audience. He’s also speaking to an American public who, after decades of Live Aid concerts and televised appeals to help starving children, feels unable to make a difference in global hunger issues. But by talking about hunger in language that we can understand while offering simple, but effective solutions, the issue not only seems less overwhelming or insurmountable, but something we can actually help solve.

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