I am an inveterate attender of meetings. I go always in the hope that I might learn something new, something that will really be the key to any of my many obsessions. And I never manage to get away with any new answer, with any silver bullet that will kill the beast. So, I swear that I shall never attend another meeting. I shall abide by that decision probably until the next invitation to some obscure meeting turns along.
This morning I went to listen to a very interesting meeting on the links between food and nutrition. Is there a link? Intuitively one might think there is, but it is far from obvious that there is, given the lack of clear evidence. Yes, it is clear that better off farmers- namely farmers in the poorest parts of the world who have been able to produce more food than their family might eat – have fewer health problems and more people live longer than in poorer families who are net consumer of food. But is the link through education or through greater food availability? There is no obvious answer and I will explain why.
If you eat always the same thing, one lunch and night, and you eat always the same thing, as toddler, as a child, as an adult and as an older person, your body and your mind will not develop. It is as simple and complicated as that. You need nutrients, minerals, vitamins throughout your life and, without the right combination of foods, you are condemned to a lesser quality of life. But that requires some education and some knowledge. Growing more food and eating more of the same is not the answer.
So, what is the answer? To me it is obvious; the key agent of change is the woman, because she is the cook, the teacher, the nurse, and, this is the key, she is also the farmer. She is the least mobile member of the family. The man might move in search of work, and often will stay away, forming new relationships and assuming new responsibilities, but the woman stays behind. Here is one of my key obsessions; surely all the voluntary organisations working in the field of development, all the projects that raise funds for the poorest, all the school initiatives need to be aware of this fundamental challenge. The woman is the key agent of change. Let us educate the farmer and in Africa probably that means educating the woman. Formal education is not enough; there can be and indeed there should be perhaps street theatre, radio education, animation and cartoons. But you cannot do without some formal schooling. We need to give formal education, in a formal setting, with more teachers and better teaching tools the importance it deserves.
But did the very clever and devoted people at the meeting I attend take that line? No.
They all agreed of course, but the problem is that they all have their own vested interested – not their own personal vested interested, but those of their professions. The biologist, the soil scientist, the agricultural economist all live in their own silos and they would like to cooperate, but they cannot. It is part of the human condition in which we live in the West and we are doing no service to the poorest of the world by remaining in those silos.
To be continued….