Seventy years ago today, 42 countries founded the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a monumental step toward ending global hunger and malnutrition.
The world has come a long way, but there is still much work to be done.
This year’s World Food Day theme is Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty.
A lot of the discussion has focused on the social protection half of the theme. Not surprisingly, I’d like to talk about the other half: agriculture.
Benjamin Davis, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Agricultural Development Economics Division makes some very important points in a recent video. He says, “Social protection itself cannot sustainably bring households out of poverty. Mutually supportive agricultural and social protection programs are necessary in order to transform the lives of the poor.”
He says this, in part, because social protection programs often do not reach many of the poorest places in the world. Inadequate access, Davis says, “leads them [families] to adopt income-generation activities which are risk-averse, which means that they increase the chance of survival, but they have lower returns and they continue in poverty. In the face of shocks, it also leads them to adopt negative risk-coping strategies, such as taking children out of school, such as reducing their food consumption, such as selling their productive assets. All of these together combine to keep households in poverty, despite overall growth in an economy.”
Our work at Heifer International is to help families, and entire communities, achieve self-reliance, both in food production and economic advancement. By facilitating community development and providing technical training and asset transfers (livestock), we support high-value, knowledge-based risk taking, which can catapult families out of poverty. Lasting success lies in our participants’ leveraging what they have gained from us to make the most of their farmland and connections to markets.
The story we published earlier this week is a perfect example of “mutually supportive agricultural and social protection programs.” In Parroha village, Nepal, members of a Heifer project took their training and scaled up their homestead vegetable production to the point that they needed a closer market than what already existed. They were awarded $5,000 from the District Development Committee to build a vegetable collection center, where they now sell around $2,000 worth of vegetables a week.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for social protection programs, because every family would be able to provide or affordably access everything they needed. Until that time comes, we will go on holding up our half of the bargain.