How to Feed the World

December 21, 1993

Famines don't afflict democracies, and there's a good reason. Most of the hunger in the world stems not from war or natural disaster but from routine policies and practices that perpetuate abject poverty. One billion people live with hunger. Some starve to death; more often, they suffer from chronic malnutrition and failing health. Hunger is a fact of life for the poorest of the poor, those who live on less than $1 a day.

Hunger periodically gets attention from policy-makers -- but not often the kind of probing examination the issue got at a recent World Bank conference in Washington, D.C.

Conferences themselves don't solve problems, but they can draw attention and support to the kinds of policies that help to fTC lift people out of poverty and enable them to feed themselves. There are plenty of models to point the way, and the remarkable thing about them is how little it takes to make a difference. Grassroots projects like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh have pioneered a system of lending small amounts of cash to very poor people, and found that loans of only $50 to $100 could provide the springboard to economic self-sufficiency. Perhaps more remarkable is the repayment rate for such loans -- generally above 97 percent. In many cases, these successful entrepreneurs are women who were previously regarded as unworthy of serious attention by economic planners and development officials.

Given access to capital and reasonable support, virtually anyone can find a way out of poverty and hunger. The challenge facing the big-picture folks at the World Bank and other such institutions is to convince governments in developing countries to foster the kinds of policies that will unleash the best engine of economic growth there is -- human energy and ingenuity.

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