The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated the number of undernourished human beings on the planet increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. That means 11 percent of the world’s population went hungry every day — a 5 percent increase in two years and a severe setback for the United Nations’ goal of eliminating global hunger by 2030.

Good news when we need it

Yet, everywhere, there are people who want to do the right thing. Who believe we have the science and the compassion and the resources and the intellect to do better. In every community, there are people who want to pass on fundamental understanding of food and farming and sustainability so that children will not be hungry. “Leadership,” say philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, “will make the difference: Poverty and disease in poor countries are the clearest example we know of solvable human misery. We have it within our power to decide how much of it actually gets solved. Let’s be ambitious. Let’s lead.”

During World Food Week, we are focused on innovators and leaders working to end hunger.

Education, tools and scale

In its pilot, Purchase for Progress (P4P) enabled smallholder farmers in Latin America, Africa and Afghanistan (and other countries) to meet demand for staple food commodities, such as cereals, pulses and blended foods, with the technical expertise of a wide range of partners. This collaboration provided smallholders with the skills and knowledge to improve their agricultural production, and as incentive to do so, assured a market to sell their surplus crops. By boosting smallholders’ agricultural production and increasing their access to markets, P4P’s goal was to reduce poverty and address the root causes of hunger. The World Food Programme (WFP) pilot debunked the myth that rural farmers could not be effectively integrated into the broader economy and was supported by numerous benefactors including Bill and Melinda Gates.

One of P4P’s most significant achievements was bringing together the efforts of almost 500 partners to support smallholder farmers. These include host and donor governments, NGOs, UN agencies, academic institutions, research bodies and private sector partners. Partners assist farmers, their organizations and small and medium traders to produce larger quantities of high quality food and to successfully market their crops through training sessions, facilitating their access to agricultural inputs (such as high yielding seeds and fertilizers) and access to equipment. The P4P pilot has further strengthened WFP’s partnerships with UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), both key strategic partners of the P4P initiative.

Digital sharing communities

Similarly, Digital Green empowers smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. Designed to connect local people with their peers via video recordings, Digital Green uses the power of technology and grass-roots partnerships to show people how to improve their own and their communities’ livelihoods.

Locals are trained to produce localized videos on subjects such as family planning and breastfeeding, soil nutrients, crop rotation and animal husbandry. Videos are sequenced and disseminated to the community then refined according to local feedback. In the following example, the main “breadwinner” in an Indian village garnered vegetable farming techniques from the digital library project:

Manju Devi, is a resident of Ababkarpur village in Bihar, India. An agricultural laborer, she is the main income earner for her family of eight, which includes three young grandchildren. Before being exposed to Community Videos through Digital Green she struggled. “A large portion of my income was spent to purchase vegetables. I would almost spend 50-60 INR every day at the haat (village market).”

Experts predict that up to 90 percent of the world’s population will be connected to the internet within 10 years. With the internet of things, the digital and physical worlds will soon be merged—giving rise, we hope, to more collaboration.

The zero-hunger hackathon

The Zero Hunger Challenge is a three-year old campaign initiated by the United Nations with the ambitious target of eliminating hunger. In addition to ensuring even the poorest have enough to eat, it hopes to affect the destiny of children in their first 1000 days of life, through access to the right micronutrients and clean drinking water.

The World Food Programme hosts startups at week-long innovation boot camps to develop radical innovations to end hunger by 2030. Among the technologies introduced at Innovation for #zerohunger, are solutions to eliminate the use of soil in agriculture, airships to transport relief supplies, a low-cost refrigeration alternative, and “Nutrigene,” a portable bioreactor that allows people to harvest their own micronutrients on demand in their homes.

There are people around the world who believe, as FDR did, that the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.  

Ending hunger is not a simple equation of sufficient aggregate supply. It will take innovation and education to make sure the people who need the food are able to produce it and buy it. These innovations work best when they are supported by country leaders, industry and community.

In Brazil, a school-based program buys food from farm cooperatives and gives meals to 43 million children every day. Its constitution requires that 30 percent of ingredients for school meals are sourced from local, family farms. It gives cash payments to the poorest families if they meet conditions like sending their children to school and assuring they are vaccinated. In 2015, it was reported that this program reduced child malnutrition by 73 percent.

That’s good news.