How to bring change efficiently in addressing hunger: the micro vs. the macro approach

For a long time I thought my energy and my position within a large Fortune 300 company could be best used to bring key players together to address the issue of eliminating hunger. I also thought large projects could be put in place and duplicated where needed. I was wrong, at least partially. The emergence of COVID19 is also a game changer as in-person interaction is proscribed.


Yes, large projects have merits and can be transformative but putting them in place faces multiple challenges:


– The absence of a central authority with strong enforcement authority and powers to coordinate all the players over an extended period of time is like an orchestra without a conductor. With players as diverse as finance providersgovernmentsprivate sector, implementing organizations and farmers it is hard to move forward;
– Bureaucratic processes slows down any action and kills the sense of urgency that needs to be addressed;
– The private sector can only allocate so much employee time to good causes and that becomes even less a priority when sales, and thus financial resources, are down;
– Natural attrition where your interlocutor representing a key player moves on leads to delays as the wheel has to be reinvented since the transfer of institutional knowledge is limited.


Then, I went back to the drawing board and back to the fundamentals: 


– What are we trying to do? Eliminate poverty and hunger;
– Who are we trying to help? The poor farmers, their family an their community
– How can we do that? By giving the farmers the tools and knowledge they need to become self-sustainable;
– When do these farmers need to become self-sustainable? As soon as possible.


Another element has to also be considered: the opinions of those we want to help need to be heard first before trying to impose solutions. After all, a local farmer has some contextual knowledge that is indispensable to incorporate to succeed.


So I have changed my mind and believe that the sharing of knowledge, one person at a time, is more effficient than grandiose fell-good projects that look good on paper but are extremely difficult to implement.


The launch on June 18, 2020 of the FAO elearning Academy – which provides free, self-paced learning opportunities and multilingual e-learning courses – goes back to the basic of empowering those in need with the knowledge to defeat poverty. All the courses support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Knowledge is power and can be transformative if shared with farmers and all those involved.


Though these courses would require a computer and to be literate, they are extraordinarily useful. Knowledge, coupled with the knowledge of what technology and tools exist, are key. Phone-based technology is a game changer and knowing its existence an how to use it will egally be transformative. For instance:


– The “uberisation” of tractors facilitate the access and use of mechanized solutions for those who cannot buy them;
– Information supplied by weather stationlet you know when it will rain to plant or fertilize at the right time;
– Applications that connect sellers to buyers such as applications that allow fishermen to know what fish potential clients would want and clients to know on which beach to go collect the requested fish; and
– Price monitors that enable farmers to be in a better position to get a better price for the products of their hard work.


Ultimately, large projects may take years to put in place but developing knowledge at the individual level can be transformative, almost instantly in some cases.


  • To conclude, my thinking is: let’s get things up an running now because for those who are poor an hungry, solutions that can feed them tomorrow is more important than what will happen in five years.

The above stems from the compelling story Roger Thurow documented on the devastating effects of malnutrition. Roger is a  senior fellow on global food and agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and spent three decades at The Wall Street Journal. Roger over 17 years has reported on the life of Hagirso, whom he met as a toddler suffering from chronic malnutrition in Ethiopia back in 2003.  See the slideshow and accompanying essay Malnutrition leads to stunting, which is a stop or hindrance in growth or development, both physical and cognitive. In Roger’s words: “Stunting is a life sentence of underachievement.”


So how can you help? Simply disseminate the link to this FAO resource through your network.


Philip de Leon is President of Trade Connections International and serves several clients as a consultant and strategic advisor. Mr. de Leon interacts with the U.S. and foreign governments, foreign embassies, trade organizations, companies an NGOs to seek out and develop business and collaboration opportunities. Mr. de Leon was the AGCO Staff Representative on the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA) and served two consecutive terms as an executive board member of the Corporate Council on Africa. He also is a co-founder and Chairman of the U.S.-Tajikistan Business Council and co-founder of the U.S.-Kyrgyzstan Business Council. Mr. de Leon played an active role in articulating AGCO’s thinking on Food Security and the Sustainable Development Goals. Mr. de Leon has traveled extensively throughout Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Mr. de Leon most recently facilitated the launch of negotiations for agricultural pilot projects in the DRC after meeting with President Tshisekedi, supported AGCO's involvement with an Agro-Industrial Park in Mozambique and worked on poultry production in Uzbekistan and swine and fish production in Kazakhstan. Mr. de Leon was educated in France where he earned a law degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris as well as a graduate degree in Russian Language and Studies from the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris. In 1996 he earned a Master’s Degree (LLM) in International Law from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Law. Mr. de Leon is based in Washington, D.C.

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