Science & Environment

FAO: Social protection can help farmers out of poverty

Family transporting their belongings and cattle through floodwater, India (Image: AP) Image copyright AP
Image caption Many of the world's poorest farmers are vulnerable to external shocks, such as natural disasters, and risk losing their livelihoods

Society must offer the world's poorest farmers a helping hand in order to break the cycle of poverty, a key United Nations report has said.

The State of Food and Agriculture 2015 report identified social protection schemes as a "critical tool" to eradicate hunger.

These included measures such as cash transfers and free school meals.

The findings were presented to the media at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) HQ in Rome, Italy.

"We still have 800 million people that remain hungry. This is unacceptable," FAO director general José Graziano da Silva told reporters.

"The FAO, in 2013, elevated its goal from reducing hunger to eliminating hunger."

He said the organisation's goal of "zero hunger" around the world had been adopted by nations in the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These 17 goals are global development targets for 2030 and follow on from the UN Millennium Goals, which expired this year.

The SDGs will form the bedrock of future policies, programmes and projects aimed at improving people's quality of life around the world.

External shocks

Dr Graziano da Silva explained that among the hungry were family farmers and subsistence farmers who could not even produce enough for their own survival.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rising populations are expected to place an increasing strain on the global food system

"For this reason, investing in agriculture and rural areas… is effective in driving down rates of rural hunger and poverty," he explained.

"Poor families are also extremely vulnerable to external shocks, such as floods, pests, droughts and price volatility.

"With climate change, the shocks happen year after year; it eats away at the capacity of the rural poor to cope with it.

"Social protection offers poor families a kind of buffer to protect them from external shocks."

Social safety net

While a growing number of societies offered some forms of social protection - such as education, health care or financial support - there were still billions of people that did not have such a safety net.

FAO assistant director general Jomo Kwame Sundaram observed: "Most of the world's poor and hungry continue to live in rural areas. According to the World Bank, about 78% of the planet's poor are found in rural areas.

He added that many of these people worked in the informal sector, such as the self-employed or worked for someone who is self-employed, therefore they fell outside outside the reach of social protection schemes, including pensions.

"Also, we know that the state of the world economy is very poor and the prospects for improvement are very bleak, particularly given the austerity measures of many countries," Dr Sundaram added.

"It is important to recognise that most people in developing countries are not currently covered by social protection."

The regions with the largest proportion of people living in extreme poverty continue to be sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"Social protection not only protects the poor, it prevents some of the worst forms of human deprivation," Dr Sundaram continued.

"Social protection can also lead to more investment in the health of the family and the health of the children.

"Farm families can keep their children in education rather than working the land. This has a positive impact for future productivity."

Generation zero-hunger

Dr Graziano da Silva described the delivering of the UN SDGs as a "huge challenge", calling for more political commitment and more funds to deliver the goals.

"If you have really have political commitment then we will find more money to fund the programmes and projects that we need to achieve the 17 goals of the 2030 development agenda," he said.

"I know it is a bold goal to eradicate hunger and to reduce poverty but we have the conditions to do it.

"We already produce enough food for all as we throw out one third of the food we produce, so we can do it and we can be the first zero-hunger generation."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites