By Laura Reynolds
As part of its THRIVE campaign, the grassroots organization The One Campaign has released a report, FOOD. FARMING. FUTURE. Breaking the Cycle of Malnutrition and Poverty. The report offers concrete steps to lift communities out of extreme poverty and food insecurity, and highlights success stories from Malawi and Tanzania.
Malnutrition, or not getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals in one’s diet, can contribute to stunted physical development and shorter, less-productive lives. According to the World Bank, individuals suffering from malnutrition lose an average of 10 percent of their potential lifetime earnings.
Around 1.4 billion people, or 20 percent of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$1.25 per day. One billion of these people also suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition. Children suffer disproportionately from malnutrition: 2.5 million children will die in this year alone from not getting enough food, and the development of 178 million children will be irreversibly impaired.
The report points out that reactive measures, such as early warning systems, safety net programs, and coordinated humanitarian responses have not been enough to eradicate the food crises and famines that result from drought and national disasters. A more preventative approach, beginning with increased investment in agriculture—and the financial and infrastructure systems that support it—is needed to increase incomes and eradicate food security.
Agricultural investment has proven to be the most effective means of lifting entire communities out of poverty. When connected to markets, smallholder farmers can generate income, send their children to school, and boost their community’s economy over the long-term. For this reason, investments in agriculture are estimated to be around two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than investment in other sectors.
In recent decades, African governments have not been able to invest enough in their agriculture sectors: according to The One Campaign’s report, total domestic spending in the African agricultural sector remained stable at around US$4 billion in both 1980 and 1990, while domestic agricultural spending in Asia exceeded US$70 billion in 1980 and reached US$100 billion in 1990. But since 2003, African agriculture has received increased international and domestic investment. There is now a widespread recognition that aid levels need to be higher, and paired with sufficient state support, to nurture innovation and experimentation at the local and regional levels.
The report stresses that recognition is not enough, and concrete action is needed to kickstart a final push toward the 2015 deadline to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include halving the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day. To spur this action, The One Campaign suggests “a new compact on food security and nutrition in 2012.” This compact involves developing a new G8 food security initiative to replace the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative that will expire this year; revitalizing pledges to the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which calls for African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture, but which many African countries are failing to achieve; galvanizing sustainable private-sector investment by creating policies in African countries that improve the business climate while safeguarding the land rights of small-scale farmers; and addressing food-price volatility by improving international regulation of markets.
The One Campaign emphasizes that countries must develop and implement their own agricultural and nutrition investment plans. Thirty low-income countries currently have internationally endorsed agricultural investment plans in place, but these plans need support and additional resources to be effective. The One Campaign recommends that financing for these plans be split evenly between donors and national governments, with a more modest, but still very important, role for the private sector and nongovernmental organizations.
The report concludes that without immediate action, millions of families will be trapped in extreme poverty, depending on help from the outside rather than earning a living and becoming self-sufficient.
To read the report, click here.
Laura Reynolds is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.