10 great quotes from the Chicago Council’s pre-G8 symposium… and what they really mean

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs brought some incredible speakers to Washington last Friday for their Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security — including President Obama, African heads of state, G8 leaders and Bono — and you can bet that many powerful words were said.

As one of ONE’s resident agriculture policy wonks, I was lucky enough to attend the event — and I kept track of 10 of my favorite, most inspiring quotes of the day. I think these quotes reflect the Symposium’s hopeful, honest and urgent mood. I’ve added a bit of context to help you understand each of them so you know what they “really” mean!

1. “Paternalism is no match for partnership.” –Bono
ONE’s biggest demand to G8 leaders was that they fund the national agriculture investment plans of 30 poor countries. The plans are ready-to-go and were developed based on the needs of their farmers and businesses. The G-8 didn’t pledge this, but this quote captures the reasoning behind country plans so powerfully.

2. “You may have the most brilliant doctors, but, if you cannot feed people, you are not making progress.” –President Mills of Ghana
A healthy food system must be the basis for any society. If food is so expensive and micronutrients nowhere to be found, patients won’t get well. Too often we silo agriculture and food away from global health, but nutrition is what bridges this gap.


Photo credit: Patti Viafara via Twitter

3. “As long as I’m president, the US government will continue to meet our responsibilities, be strong on development, be a leader on emergency aid, and increase assistance on food security.” –President Obama
Ok, this is not a fabulous quote in the classic sense, but it is something our US ONE members can hold Obama accountable to. Yesssss!


Ertharin Cousin, second from right. Photo credit: Land O’ Lakes via Twitter

4. “Provide shareholder value and provide people value. Agriculture is not a quarterly investment.” – Ertharin Cousin of the World Food Programme
Cousin is totally right here (of course she is, she’s brilliant and understands food). The G8’s New Alliance is all about the private sector, but companies can’t get into agriculture to turn a quick profit. It’s slow going and there is a lot of “capacity building” that needs to happen. Farmers and other agriculture-related businesses need training and know-how in order to grow food, store food and get food to market.

5. “Twenty years ago, 70 percent of Africa had never heard a cell phone ring. Now 70 percent of Africans have cell phones.” –Strive Masiyiwa of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Friday’s event was about food not phones, but the explosion of cell phones in Africa are a spectacular example of what can be done via micro-entrepreneurs on the continent. Can Africa do something similar with agricultural inputs and advisory services to repair degraded soils and create a greener green revolution?

6. “As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the US has a moral obligation to help the world’s poor and hungry… But it’s also an economic imperative… and a security imperative.” –President Obama of the US
From an advocacy perspective, these are the holy trinity of a compelling argument for global food security in the US If you are an American who plans to write a letter to Congress, call your Representative or convince your skeptical friends, please etch these three arguments in your memory NOW.

7. “If you want to make change, tell Mama.” –Ertharin Cousin of the World Food Programme
“Tell Mama” is an old blues song by Etta James. Cousin is using it to remind us to make sure that we consult women in agriculture planning. Women do most of the farming, food processing and child rearing in Africa –- thus, they are critical to creating sustainable and nutritious food systems and yet their needs are very different from those of men.

8. “You don’t have to be poor to be utterly impoverished by the sight of [a stunted child].” -Bono
Nutrition came up a lot during the Symposium, but no one really captured the human element of malnourishment as much as Bono. Chronic malnutrition causes stunting, which isn’t just about height but also about brain and organ development, hence the glazed-over look that many chronically malnourished children express.

9. “Improving access to food does not necessarily lead to better nutrition.” –Secretary Clinton of the US
Ok, this is a boring quote, but a REALLY IMPORTANT one. Just because people have the money to buy food doesn’t mean they’ll buy good food. Nutrition education is hugely important to nutrition, as are breastfeeding, deworming, micronutrient supplements, fortification and iodization. This is something the G8 doesn’t quite get. Yet. We’re looking to David Cameron of the UK to do something about this next year.

10. “Agriculture must play a central role in the NEPAD agenda.” –President Yayi Boni of the African Union
Yes, at first glance, this is not the most inspiring quote – most people don’t even know what NEPAD is. But for those of us who do, President Yayi Boni, we are going to hold you accountable to this statement.

Photo credit: Future Fortified via Twitter