The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa: Celebrating Ten Years

Poverty in its various forms has increasingly occupied the attention of the international community during the last decade. Successive Summits have made commitments to drastically reduce the misery from which so many humans suffer throughout their lives. Such attention is in itself an encouraging step forward, but actual progress is still painfully slow, even though measures to improve the livelihoods of the poor are affordable. Hunger and food insecurity – the most serious forms of extreme poverty – have now become international priorities, and participants in the 1996 World Food Summit made a solemn commitment to halve hunger in the world by 2015.

2. The Millennium Declaration of 2000 consolidates and restates the commitments agreed during the preceding decade, and can be seen as the final stage of the Summit process. For the first time in a document of its kind, it stresses that, without policies and mechanisms to mobilise private and public resources on a much larger scale, the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for reducing poverty and hunger and for social and sustainable development cannot be achieved. The Declaration is thus a starting point for renewed action in the twenty-first century. The International Conference on Financing for Development can redress the failures and biases of the past by making its prime objective that of ensuring adequate funding for the achievement of the MDGs.

3. The International Conference on Financing for Development offers the opportunity to put an end to a paradox that characterized the 1990s: that ,while global commitment to progress in the fight against poverty seemed to be gaining strength and the means to tackle the problem were increasing, the volume of resources actually mobilized fell year after year. The gap between commitment and action has widened, which inevitably raises questions about the genuineness of the commitment.

4. This paper looks at financing for the achievement of the MDGs. It does so from the perspective of FAO, IFAD and WFP, the three Rome-based United Nations organizations working on food, agriculture, and rural development issues. The paper shows how widespread hunger is an impediment to overall growth and poverty reduction efforts. The paper emphasizes that mobilizing and carefully deploying resources where the impact can be greatest, is fundamental to the effort to reduce poverty, hunger and food insecurity. In that context it illustrates that resources deployed in fighting hunger directly and in agricultural and rural development can make substantial and sustainable contributions to overall poverty alleviation.


Poverty and hunger: recent trends and future scenarios

5. The international community has pledged to halve poverty and hunger by 2015. But who are the poor and the hungry? How many are there? Where are they located ? What is the relationship between hunger and poverty? The next two sections address these questions and emphasize the urgency of the fight to reduce hunger.

6. On the basis of the “one-dollar-a-day threshold”, there are 1.2 billion poor people in developing countries. Of these, 780 million suffer from chronic hunger, which means that their daily intake of calories is insufficient for them to live active and healthy lives.

7. Extreme poverty remains an alarming problem in the world’s developing regions, despite the advances made in the 1990s. Progress in poverty reduction has been concentrated in Asia and especially East Asia. In all the other regions, the number of people in extreme poverty has increased. In sub-Saharan Africa, there were 58 million more poor people in 1999 than in 1990.

8. World Bank projections (World Bank, 2001) show that by 2015, the proportion of people living below the one-dollar-a-day poverty line will be 12.3 percent as compared to 29.0 percent in 1990 – well below half the 1990 proportion. The projections assume substantially higher economic growth rates than experienced in the recent past. If the assumptions turn out to be accurate, the MDG of halving the proportion of people in poverty world-wide between 1990 and 2015 will have been met. However, even using the optimistic growth assumptions, in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 40 percent of the population will still be in poverty by 2015 while there will be 45 million more poor people in the sub-continent than in 1999. Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

9. The proportion of hungry people in developing countries was reduced by 3 percentage points in the 1990s, despite population growth. Although this constitutes progress, the prevalence of hunger is still unacceptably high. At the start of the twenty-first century, in a world of conspicuous affluence, 34 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from chronic hunger (Figure 1). This means 24 million more undernourished people at the end of the decade than at the beginning.

10. Progress in reducing the number of undernourished has been alarmingly slow. The target set at the 1996 World Food Summit was to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 from their number in 1990-92. The latest data show that the number of undernourished is falling by 6 million a year. This means that the annual rate of reduction has to be stepped up to 22 million for the target to be met. On the basis of current trends it will be 2030 before that target is achieved. FAO projections show that none of the world’s developing regions will achieve the WFS target; only the two Asian sub-regions will come close .

11. Widespread and persistent hunger is a fundamental contradiction in today’s world. The food is there: world agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. Work in FAO shows that world agriculture can produce enough to feed humanity in the future without putting excessive pressure on prices or the environment. The existence of 780 million chronically hungry people in the developing world today shows that there is something fundamentally wrong in the distribution of food and the resources with which to access it.

12. Hunger and poverty will remain at unacceptable levels unless purposeful action is taken to give them higher policy priority and to mobilise resources towards fighting them directly and towards agriculture and rural development. That is our principle message. Placing the MDGs at the centre of Financing for Development is a step in the right direction.

Hunger and poverty: exploring the reverse linkages

13. Widespread hunger and malnutrition in a world of plentiful food implies that extreme poverty is the root cause of undernourishment. It is not always understood, however, that hunger and malnutrition (including micronutrient deficiencies) are in turn major causes of poverty. They affect the ability of individuals to escape poverty in several ways (Box 1) through:

  • Reducing the capacity for physical activity and hence the productive potential of the labour of those who suffer from hunger – and that is usually their only asset.
  • Impairing people’s ability to develop physically and mentally, retarding child growth, reducing cognitive ability and seriously inhibiting school attendance and performance – thus compromising the effectiveness of investment in education.
  • Causing serious long-term damage to health, linked to higher rates of disease and premature death.
  • Passing from generation to generation: hungry mothers give birth to underweight children who start life with a handicap.
  • Contributing to social and political instability that further undermines government capacity to reduce poverty.

Chronically undernourished people are, therefore, caught in a hunger trap of low productivity, chronic poverty and hunger.

Hunger and conflict

14. During the last decade, food insecurity and malnutrition appear to have contributed to an increasing frequency of crisis events as well as to the vulnerability of countries to shocks. Most of today’s armed conflicts and natural disasters are concentrated in regions heavily dependent on agriculture and in countries with a high proportion of food-insecure households and classified by FAO as “low-income food deficit”.

15. As well as being a consequence of a conflict, food insecurity can be the cause and lead to conflict. Very few new conflicts start in a food secure environment. Hunger may induce conflict when people feel they have nothing to lose and military service offers a free meal and the power that goes with touting a gun.

16. The impact of various crises will be also amplified when they affect a population that is already vulnerable and weakened by food insecurity. People in poor and food insecure countries are more likely to die from natural disaster than those who have developed better coping strategies to protect themselves. Crises often create the opportunity for underlying micronutrient deficiencies to develop into large outbreaks, for instance of pellagra or scurvy.

17. The lack of sufficient resources for eradicating hunger will continue to put at risk the life of many vulnerable groups and will be one of the elements which contribute to the resurgence of emergencies. Therefore, savings from conflict avoidance should be understood as “returns” to aid. Following emergencies, humanitarian interventions are often necessary, but they are expensive and do not generally tackle the underlying causes of the crises. The need for relief will remain as long as vulnerable people do not get access to adequate food and to gainful economic opportunities. Timely investment in food , agriculture and rural development can help to break the repetitive cycle of hunger and conflict.

18. The preceding discussion shows that alleviating hunger for those who suffer from it allows them to fully develop their physical and mental skills, increases their productivity and allows them to fully participate in the development process. Hunger reduction should therefore be thought as a productive investment in addition to a pressing moral obligation. Wisely conceived policies that target hunger directly and in a timely fashion, can break the “hunger trap”.

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