A Conversation with Dr. Raj Shah, President, Rockefeller Foundation

It was delightful to welcome Raj Shah to the ASU DC campus and interview him about the work of the Rockefeller Foundation and his insights on how we meet the challenge of achieving global food security. You can watch the entire interview here.

I first met Raj when we served together in the Obama Administration. He was the first Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics at USDA but was eventually kicked upstairs, as they say, to be Administrator of USAID. Raj has had a marvelous career and so it was not surprising to find our 8th floor pavilion full of people engaged in international development anxious to hear what he had to say.

One thing we talked about is the power of “food systems” as the organizing frame for conceiving solutions to food and agriculture challenges. I have found increasing recognition that food systems analysis can lead to better decision-making by policymakers and other actors seeking to understand potential trade-offs of proposed interventions, technologies, and policies by taking into account the many aspects of food and agriculture typically studied -- agricultural land, inputs, fisheries, infrastructure, labor, and the like -- and placing these component parts within an integrated social and environmental context.

The Rockefeller Foundation website uses the term food systems and Raj described for us why this made great sense. It is a conversation that’s happening elsewhere too. The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, for example, argues that zero hunger (SDG2) and good health and wellbeing (SDG3) cannot be achieved by “piecemeal action” and it calls upon scientists, governments, and donors to adopt a food systems approach. It is joined by many international bodies elevating the importance of food systems work to illuminate policy choices (e.g., Food and Land Use Coalition, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition).

ASU has many faculty working on global food security. I invited four of our experts to provide brief interventions describing their work (Eric Welch, Rimjhim Aggarwal, Ashok Mishra, and Arianne Cease) to give my colleagues here in DC a sense of the breadth and quality of ASU development work. These interventions, along with Raj’s feedback, can be viewed here. Finally, our program concluded with a lively Q&A session, found here, during which Raj entertained questions on nutrition, food waste, ecosystems, and philanthropy.

This event was a great way to close out 2018. We look forward to more events with thought leaders on a range of topics in 2019. Stay tuned!