President and CEO, World Food Program USA
For the first time in human history, the world has the technology and tools to feed everyone on the planet. Over the past 25 years, the number of hungry people worldwide has fallen from one in six to one in nine people. That’s one more child reaching her first birthday; one more farmer harvesting crops for her community; one more refugee who doesn’t have to worry about where to find their next meal.
Innovation has played a crucial role in this progress. Technology is transforming the effort to fight global hunger. This includes early warning systems that can foresee, months in advance, conditions that could become a famine — and help the international community to prevent it from occurring. We now have packets of nutrient-dense paste that requires no refrigeration or preparation to treat acute malnutrition among children, where previously only intravenous fluids would do. We have electronic food vouchers to feed vulnerable households and support local food producers when and where markets are still functioning.
It’s not just innovation in technology, but also innovation in practice — purchasing emergency food assistance from smallholder farmers to support local agriculture whenever possible; connecting smallholder farmers with school meals programs to lift whole communities out of poverty; providing take-home rations in the classroom to boost attendance rates among girls.
At the same time, conflict and climate change are threatening to unravel the incredible strides we’ve made. For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines. Famine was recently declared in South Sudan and looms in three more countries: Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Prolonged wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are displacing millions of people and disrupting entire systems of agriculture.
We’re at a crossroads right now. How the world chooses to react to the opportunities and challenges of 2017 will shape the future of our planet. As one of life’s most basic building blocks, food is essential to our collective survival and success — something we should all be invested in.
Rick Leach, President and CEO, World Food Program USA, [email protected]