Global poverty has powerful levers. It’s a problem unlike any other.
I was born in Kenya. I have been privileged to work in rural and urban Kenya; lived and worked in rural and urban Uganda and exchanged cultural practices with the people of Zimbabwe while working with the marginalized communities in the urban and peri-urban settings of Harare. All this while, I worked with women and youth predominantly and I must say, they are the drivers of development and in that case, eradication of poverty that does not apportion a bigger chunk of the resources – human and resource capital to these two categories are fallacies. Hunger, extreme poverty and lack of alternatives are man-made problems and addressing and reversing their impact is equally the task of the same man.
According to you, what is poverty? extreme poverty? While working with ActionAid International Uganda in the Eastern side – Namutumba District, I once stayed overnight with a family. They were wonderful people. They invited me into their home. We sang songs together and ate a simple dinner. They gave me a blanket to sleep on the floor. In the morning, however, there was nothing to eat. And then at lunchtime, I watched with an increasingly compassionate feeling as the mother of the family cooked porridge as a substitute for lunch. For that meal, every child drank one cup to survive. And I cannot tell you how ashamed I felt when they handed one of those cups to me, and I knew I had to accept their hospitality.
Children need food not only to survive but also to grow physically and mentally. Every day they fail to eat, they lose a little bit of their future. Amongst the extreme poor, one in three children are permanently stunted from a lifetime of not eating enough. When that's combined with poor access to health care, hunger and extreme poverty curb human potential in every possible way. We see ourselves as a thinking, feeling and moral human race, but until we solve these problems, we fail that standard, because every person on this matters. This child matters. These children matter. This girl matters.
You know, we see the impact of poverty and how it ravages our society thread, and we're upset by them, but it seems like such a big problem and so, we leave it not knowing that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. We don’t know how to take effective and sustained action.
I live and work in the field of awareness & empowerment, capacity building, and as a practitioner in development work, I believe that poverty is on a large scale, a solvable problem. Let's engage our brains. Let's engage our collective passion for problem-solving and figure out what those levers are.
Most of the world's poor are farmers. Think about how extraordinary this is. If this picture represents the world's poor, then more than half engage in farming as a major source of income. This gets me really excited. All of these people, one profession. Think how powerful this is. When farmers become more productive, then more than half the world's poor can earn more money and climb out of poverty. And it gets better. The product of farming is, of course, food. So when farmers become more productive, they earn more food, and they don't just help themselves, but they help to feed healthy communities and thriving economies. And when farmers become more productive, they reduce environmental pressure. We only have two ways we can feed the world: we can either make our existing farmland a lot more productive, or we can clear cut forest and savannah to make more farmland, which would be environmentally disastrous. Farmers are basically a really important leverage point. When farmers become more productive, they earn more income, they climb out of poverty, they feed their communities and they reduce environmental land pressure. Farmers stand at the center of the world.
Most of the farmers I know are actually women - whether commercial or subsistence, they are farmers. Look at the strength and the will radiating from women.
They are physically strong, mentally tough, and will do whatever it takes to earn a better life for their families.
If we're going to put the future of humanity in one person's hands, then I'm really glad it's the woman.
There's just one problem: many smallholder farmers lack access to basic tools and knowledge. Currently, they take a little bit of saved food grain from the prior year, they plant it in the ground and they till it with a manual hand hoe and it's why many farmers are still very poor. But good news, again. According to me, humanity actually solved the problem of agricultural poverty years ago. Let me walk you through the three most basic factors in farming. First, hybrid seed is created when you cross two seeds together. If you naturally pollinate a high-yielding variety together with a drought-resistant variety, you get a hybrid that inherits positive traits from both of its parents. Next, conventional fertilizer, if used responsibly, is environmentally sustainable. These are known as farm inputs - farm inputs that need to be combined with good practice. When seeds are spaced and planted with massive amounts of compost, a farmer can multiply his or her harvests. These proven tools and practices can triple agricultural productivity in Africa, moving mass numbers of people out of poverty.
We need more leaders. Humanity has put people on the moon. We've invented supercomputers that fit into our pockets and connect us with anybody on the planet. We've run marathons at a five-minute mile pace. We are an exceptional people. But we've left more than one billion of our members behind. We just need to deliver proven goods and services to everybody. If we have the will, every one of us has a role to play. Let's deploy our time, our careers, our collective wealth. Let us deliver an end to extreme poverty in this lifetime.