The first Millennium Development Goal aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day, by achieving full and productive employment for all, including women and young people, and by reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. A review of progress made on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since their inception (2000) that was completed before the recent United Nation’s Summit quotes UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “It is clear that improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises.”
The spike in global food prices, combined with the financial crisis that followed the burst of the USA housing bubble (2008), have definitely affected the progress towards the MDGs. Add to that the recent natural (Haiti, Pakistan) and man-made (Iraq, Afghanistan) disasters, and we see that there is still a lot of work to do to reach the targets set out by 2015.
Livelihood and hunger are intimately linked. Hence, they are combined in MDG 1 – it is expected that if livelihoods are improved, then hunger will no longer be a problem. The world is currently growing enough food to support everyone on the planet and there is the potential to produce even more food, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Families below the poverty line simply do not have a sustainable livelihood to get the capital to buy sufficient food (or seed) in the marketplace to feed themselves. When a family is that vulnerable, you can only imagine how a severe drought or flood affects their income and food supply.
In such situations, it is children under 5 years old who are most at risk to negative impact, namely malnutrition, which in turn increases the child’s susceptibility to other diseases and mortality. It is mothers who bear the greatest burden to organize (buy/sell) household assets and prepare meals for the family. So, in order to improve the health of women and children, improving their livelihood and food security and consequently reducing their vulnerability to disease and disasters are fundamental.
Improving livelihoods is no simple task. My experiences in East & Southern Africa in the last 5 years have taught me that work needs to be done both on the macro and the micro levels to improve the income of families facing poverty. Education is a central component at both levels, as more quality educational opportunities need to be made available to young and old, rich and poor, across a spectrum of fields. Another important aspect is investment in both the public sector (e.g. education/healthcare), to create more jobs and take care of the population, and the private sector (e.g. agriculture/food processing), also to create more jobs as well as bring in capital to a country (to help pay for public sector activities). Also, governments need to engage actively in disaster risk reduction strategies and prepare plans to manage disasters effectively if they occur so that their populations do not go hungry.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty and hunger affect mostly the rural poor whose livelihood is farming. Subsistence farming, while romantic, is incredibly difficult to make sustainable in today’s world. Farmers today need to become business men and women. They need to know market prices of food and seed; they need to know more about their soil fertility and about irrigation and their costs; they need to know how to plan their investments according to what they expect to harvest; they also need to know the risks and prepare for potential disasters – personal, environmental or otherwise. If communities, governments and national/international humanitarian organizations work together in agriculture and other sectors, progress towards MDG 1 will again proceed.