Harvard Professor Calestous Juma is not one to shy away from controversy. As the head of the United Nations Millennium Projects's Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation, he trumpeted his group's report that investments in science were, by far, the best way to improve development in poorer nations. Now he's making headlines by declaring that the funds from efforts such as Live Aid/Live 8 would be better spent on agricultural colleges than on food relief.
In an interview with the BBC (RealAudio) earlier this week, he said "Science is very central to solving the bigger problems...Scientific collaborations with British universities will do more for Africa than distributing food aid. [...] Helping to build scientific expertise will do for Africa what the invention of the electric guitar did for Bob Geldof." He's interviewed along with one of the founders of SciDev.net, and it's well worth a listen.
Jamais, I'm interested to hear your opinions on Dr. Juma's claim.
A few years back I worked with WSPA, an animal welfare group training veterinarians and teaching animal care in developing regions worldwide. They took a similar approach but created traveling educational programs and other flexible solutions that required fewer resources.
While I believe Dr. Juwa is right in many ways it should not be an either/or situation: food relief is necessary today just as research is vital to the future of all populations. Our land and resources are shifting so quickly that we can scarcely afford NOT to invest in our future sustenance.
But when will the markets find a good reason to invest in Africa? Is there an economic incentive? In these times we must continue to prove that investment in agricultural research is not only needed but financially wise.
He's being absolutist but apart from that, what controversy? It's no different from the give a man a fish/give him a net parable.