How much money would it realistically cost to solve world hunger?

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20 January
16:05
Photo: PEXELS
14 February
14:24

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that it would cost around $30bn per year over a ten-year period to completely wipe out global hunger. That may sound a lot of money, but bear in mind that the US spends $600bn per year on defence and military spending.

There are currently around one billion people in the world who are under-nourished yet the irony is that global hunger is not really that hard an issue to address. That figure has been cut in half in the last 20 years. The experts are there, the knowledge is there – it’s all do-able.

The key is helping agricultural production in the developing world. Africa remains a major focus area and there are still pockets of hunger throughout Latin America and southeast Asia. But if we can work with crop farmers to increase their crop productivity, that helps the villages’ food supply as well as increasing the farmers’ income.

The general public imagines that world hunger is a massive issue that can’t be solved, a utopian ideal, but that’s not the case. There are a lot of things going on at the moment that are really effective. In 2008 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization got 181 countries together and agreed a timeframe to cut hunger in half. That was achieved

The problem has to be tackled via government involvement, NGO action and corporations’ involvement. When the Gates Foundation partners with Coca Cola, it is because Coca Cola has better distribution ability than just about anybody else in the world. They’ve helped to deliver vaccines. Without any question that is the way forward.

"Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies going right now"

China cut its hunger in half between 1990 and 2005 due to its green revolution that saw a lot of state investment in farmers. Vietnam has seen a good drop, as has Brazil, and most countries with the exception of parts of Africa. Even there, Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies going right now – admittedly from a very low starting point.

I founded the Borgen Project to be lobbyists for the world’s poor. We focus on US political leaders and directly lobby the US Congress to address global poverty via legislation. What I find, time and again, is leaders don’t show a lot of interest in a particular bill until we mobilise people in their district to contact them in support of it. Then – lo and behold! They end up supporting it.

I’ve seen a lot more bipartisan support in Congress in recent years for projects like this. Since the Afghanistan war, a lot of members of Congress have been to Afghanistan to see the US troops and been overwhelmed by the poverty there. They’ve realised the extent of it. One of them said to me, you can’t see that and not want to do something.

We’re naturally wary of Donald Trump coming in. I’m not expecting to see any leadership from him in this area and he may try to make major cuts to funding. But the reality is that Congress is a separate entity. Generally speaking, anything we can get passed in Congress, the president will sign into law, regardless which administration is in. So, hopefully, Trump won’t set things back too badly.

"The knowledge and the resources are there. It all just comes down to political will"

The really interesting thing is that even if you take away the humanitarian aspect from tackling world hunger, the US and EU have a huge economic interest in eliminating it. Fifty per cent of all US exports go to developing countries. If poverty is dropping there, there are more buyers. It creates new opportunities for companies to tap into. That is the irony: if you look at the dollars we invest in some developing countries, then all the jobs they create and the economic return that comes back to us, it is really quite phenomenal.

Can we end global hunger? There will be pockets of hunger for the foreseeable future but if we got a US president who came in and, with some other big players like the UK, made it a big priority, I reckon that we could have the number of undernourished people down to a minute number in 10-15 years. The knowledge and the resources are there. It all just comes down to political will.

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