How can you feed a billion people and lift them out of poverty while making sure their development progress is sustainable?
For a senior official at the U.N. World Food Program, we can by making them active agents in their own progress. That way, they will not only “own” the development programs targeted at them, but also make food security an issue for the government in countries like the Philippines — not just international aid groups and NGOs.
“One take away from me is how do we get the point out, making people care about the issue and making it less technical and academic,” Praveen Agrawal, WFP country director in Manila, said during a discussion titled the #HungerProject Forum held on Monday. “The answer is to partner; this is no competition between the public and private sector, universities and the people.”
Agrawal added that “people are partners [in development programs], not just beneficiaries. They need to be owners of their own [development] process.”
In 2012, around 870 million people or over 12 percent of the global population were suffering from chronic undernourishment that severely affects their development, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Of the undernourished, 98 percent come from the developing world — and Asia-Pacific is home to the lion’s share despite the region’s stellar economic performance over the last few years, thanks to which it has been able to lift almost 200 people out of the hunger cycle.
Hunger, several participants in the forum pointed out, does not just start at birth.
Many of the chronic effects of hunger and malnutrition start in the womb of a child-bearing mother, emphasizing the importance of providing proper healthcare and nutrition to women as well — a critical element not only in making sure these children will grow up healthy but also in ensuring a country is developing well in all fronts, according to Philippine social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman.
“People should care about [hunger] issues because it’s everyone’s responsibility [since] these children are the future of the country. [Without proper nutrition], the ability of these babies to think will be compromised. From zero to 8 years old, they should be nourished,” Soliman explained. “Why is it everyone’s responsibility? These are the people who will [take care]] of the country in the future.”
The latest UNICEF data shows that almost one out of every 15 children die before the age of five due to further complications related to hunger and poverty. That’s why focusing on the nourishment of children along with the fight against global hunger is a vital step in the pursuit of successful development, Agrawal said.
“[Fighting hunger] is not just the good thing to do, but the smart thing to do. It’s not just about the issue of hunger and feeding, it is now a more complex and integrated issue that involves [development] with all the main actors,” noted the WFP official. “It’s a very simple thing. Is it a disease? No. It’s preventable. It is how we choose to live and are affording that right to the poorest among us. We need to look at ownership.”
Despite the strides made by the development community and the public sector in fighting hunger and poverty, many challenges remain — including the lack of urgency of local leaders in prioritizing food programs for the poor and actually owning these efforts normally spurred by foreign aid.
“Politics affect hunger in the biggest sense of it. One of the biggest challenges is changing the mindset of local government leaders,” Philippine congresswoman Leni Robredo said. “Even though they are the ones on the ground, they don’t see hunger as something urgent.”
She added that accreditation, procurement, and overall business transactions in the country remain restrictive and slow that “puts limitations” in these hunger and poverty programs that the government and development organizations are trying to implement.
“Hunger is not just an economic problem. It spans many discipline,” Robredo noted.
For Agrawal, skewed income distribution — not just in the Philippines but the rest of the developing world — should also be addressed if hunger and poverty are to be eradicated.
“The problem of hunger is not a short-term issue. It requires the realization of income in an appropriate and timely manner [to break out] the cycle of poverty and hunger,” he concluded. “We have to address income distribution [problems].”
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