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April 25, 2015

Responding To: Global Futures Contest: The End of World Poverty

Agriculture: A Path to Extreme Poverty Reduction

Ademola Adekunbi

Back in 2015, the word “poverty” evoked quite a lot of different images in our minds, ranging from the homeless person in the streets to the extremely malnourished Sudanese toddler crawling toward food while a vulture looked on, anticipating its own next meal. Extreme poverty got its first official definition in 1995 when it was described by the United Nations as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs….” Later, the definition was specified as living on $1.00 or less per day, with the implication that basic human needs must be severely deprived on such a meager income. The lion’s share of people in extreme poverty resided in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

After the millennium summit in 2000, the United Nations formulated eight Millennium Development Goals covering a wide range of international issues. First among the goals was the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. The goal had specific targets including: reducing by half, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income was less than $1.25 a day; achieving full and productive employment for all, including women and young people; and, finally, halving the proportion of people who suffered from hunger.

By 2015, quite a number of significant successes had been recorded in the pursuit of this goal, with the focal aim of halving the proportion of extremely poor people being achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. Despite that success, extreme poverty persisted, especially in Africa and South Asia. Due to a combination of factors, these regions had been resistant to the activities and initiatives that had helped to reduce the rate of extreme poverty in other areas.

In consideration of the fact that the Millennium Development Goals would soon be expiring and the necessity of having targets for countries to work towards and take into consideration in their policy deliberations, the international community, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and others, established another set of goals and targets, with the first again being the complete eradication of extreme poverty from the world by 2030.

In order to achieve the goal, countries took the logical route by concentrating their aid and assistance to those countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the previous policies had not been able to come to their full potential, especially in the area of agriculture. According to some estimates, the African continent contains up to 60 percent of the world’s arable but uncultivated land. Agriculture came to the fore as the perfect solution because of the double solution it proffered of providing food to alleviate global hunger, as well as giving producers a means of attaining a standard of living that exceeded $1.25 per day. Considering the fact that large percentages of the populations in Africa were farmers of one sort or another, the effect that the foreign investment and international aid had on the agricultural sector went a long way toward reducing unemployment rates in many Sub-Saharan countries.

From 2005 to 2015, fertilizer subsidy programs in Ghana and Malawi sponsored by the World Bank were able to increase food production by up to 40 percent and contribute to a decline in hunger of around 9 percent annually. In Nigeria, despite the fact that agriculture had always constituted a large chunk to the economy, providing jobs for millions of people, bank lending to small producers were at one point around only 1 percent! In Nigeria and Bangladesh, microfinance schemes were put in place to provide small farmers with the funds to get agricultural inputs necessary to set up and operate their farms, proving that teaching a man to fish is good, but much more important is ensuring that he had tools to use.

Over the next few years, efforts were intensified by countries in this area, with the results being that the positive effects multiplied and forced down the hunger, unemployment, and poverty rates. However, climate change had come into its own as a major obstacle to the goal, threatening to undo all the good work and achievements of the past decades.

Climate change, by its very nature, causes abnormal variations to the weather in different parts of the world, resulting in weather patterns and phenomena that may have hitherto been unseen in a particular locality. Drought when there ought to have been steady rain or a flood when the weather ought to be in the peak of the dry season became increasingly common occurrences around the world. Depending on the seriousness of these occurrences and their specific circumstances, they sometimes resulted in the destruction of homes, businesses, and livelihoods. A farmer who had taken out a loan for his farm, only to lose everything due to the absence of rain, is just one example of the effects that climate change had on the poverty alleviation agenda. Fortunately, following the World Bank’s recommendations, countries around the world began the implementation of safety nets, essentially social security programs designed to ameliorate the effects of climate change on people with low income. These programs were very successful at providing insurance for vulnerable people, to ensure they never again found themselves on poverty’s slippery slope.

In all, the journey towards a world with zero extreme poverty levels has been long, but we are there today, in 2030. Vision, doggedness, and determination, by individuals and nations, are the factors that have brought us today to a world where every man, woman, and child can live a life of reasonable comfort and satisfaction, with the vultures kept far, far at bay.

Ademola Adekunbi is a law student at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. He is passionate about reforms in politics and the criminal justice system of his country, and he spends his time reading, writing, and talking about the role of youth in societal development.

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