Poverty’s cruelest irony (and 3 ways to fight it)

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people depend on agriculture for their nutrition and income. Yet challenges like limited access to resources and training and degraded soil make it harder every day for these farmers to grow enough food to feed their families and lift them out of poverty.

The cruelest irony is that, in many countries across the world, the hungriest people are smallholder farmers.

One way to help these farmers fight hunger and poverty is to start at the very top– the policy level. Over the past two weeks, government officials were in New York to discuss and debate the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, a global framework to bring extreme poverty down to zero by 2030. We need to let these officials know that this framework must include a strong focus on agriculture, food security and nutrition, and here’s why:

1. We need to create opportunities for smallholder farmers, especially women, to fight extreme poverty.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 90 percent of the extreme poor are engaged in agriculture, and research has shown that, on the continent, growth in agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

As examples, Ghana and Ethiopia have both made significant investments in agriculture, improved the sector’s productivity, and dramatically slashed their poverty rates. Closing the gender gap in African agriculture could help increase food security and improve livelihoods: If women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. Furthermore, families in which women influence economic decisions spend more money on food and children’s nutrition.

2. We need to make sure our progress in agriculture is sustainable.

This means reducing the costly waste that occurs across the farm-to-fork value chain, like post-harvest loss, and bolstering soil health so that farmers can produce robust yields and protect the environment for future generations.

3. We need to reduce malnutrition – it’s a cause and consequence of poverty.

Since the original MDGs were adopted in 2000, we have learned how grave the threat of malnutrition poses to children’s lives. Last year, the British medical journal The Lancet reported that a shocking 3.1 million children die every year because of the underlying problem of malnutrition. That accounts for 45 percent of all child deaths under 5 years of age. On top of that, for the children who manage to survive malnutrition in the early years, 165 million will grow up stunted as a result, jeopardizing their growth, learning ability, cognitive development, and future incomes for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, last year’s Nutrition for Growth event mobilized $4 billion to support global nutrition programs, and we now have a set of proven, cost-effective interventions designed to improve nutrition. Since they were established in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have helped drive important improvements in the lives of the poor. Their next chapter – the Sustainable Development Goals – can offer a powerful tool to secure progress on the remaining barriers to the elimination of extreme poverty.

ONE will continue to engage in the creation of this new framework and advocate for our core issues, including agriculture and nutrition, that must be addressed in order to achieve a world free of extreme poverty by 2030.