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close this bookThe Hunger Trap (WFP)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentUnderstanding hunger
View the documentHunger sets poverty traps
View the documentNo skills, no future
View the documentHunger makes poverty intergenerational
View the documentThe response of the World Food Programme

No skills, no future

Do the hungry poor have any other developmental chance, say, by acquiring skills for self-employment or working for a salary in jobs that do not demand strenuous physical labour?

Gaining new skills or enhancing existing skills improves the prospects for increasing incomes whether the skills are in the farm sector or non-farm sector: skilled labour is paid more than unskilled labour and additionally, skills make self-employment possible. When small farmers have to adopt new technology to increase crop productivity, those with some education will be among the first to do so. Many migrate to cities to escape from rural poverty; of these, those with some education and skills are likely to have better chances of improving their economic condition.

Hunger obstructs education

Learning new skills or improving existing skills becomes easier with basic education. There are clear demonstrations that providing education is one of the surest ways of relieving poverty. A major multinational study estimated the private returns to primary and secondary education to be 49 percent and 27 percent, respectively. These investments were valuable for the society as well as the individuals. They returned 27 percent on primary education and about 17 percent on secondary education to the society through increases in productivity. [20]

But can the hungry poor benefit from education programmes? Not likely.

Little girls, who must contribute to the struggle to provide food for the family, do not go to school, and hungry listless children do not learn well even if they do go to school. Hungry children cannot concentrate and assimilate knowledge. Thus, hunger robs children of the benefits of education. It seals their poverty well into adulthood and beyond.

[20] Tilak, J.B.G. 1989. Education and its relation to economic growth, poverty and income distribution. World Bank Discussion Paper Number 46. World Bank. Washington D.C.

Hunger denies women empowerment

Seven out of ten of the world's poor are women or girls, so a focus on women is essentially a focus on the poorest. Moreover, there is strong evidence that empowering women is the surest way to rapid poverty reduction. Research has shown that increasing women's education and skills and improving their nutritional level lead to higher incomes and greater food security for their households. [21]

Many countries now have programmes especially geared to the empowerment of women. These include literacy programmes as well as programmes for providing skills and training and social group formation. To make use of these, however, the poor have to invest their time.

The hungry poor cannot afford to invest their time with the hope of having better future incomes. They put almost all of their household labour and time into activities that earn their daily bread. Poor women play key roles in all aspects of food security, food production, and nutritional security. For example, rural women in Nepal spend between eight and 10 hours per day supporting agricultural production , collecting fuel, leaf fodder, grass and water, and processing and cooking food. [22] The situation is the same or even worse in the case of rural women in most parts of Africa.

Women from hungry households simply cannot participate in empowerment programmes. Hunger robs them of their opportunities to move away from poverty.

[21] Quisumbing, A.R., L.R.Brown, H.S.Feldstein, L.Haddad and C.Pena 1995. Women: The Key to Food Security. Food Policy Report. International Food Policy Research Institute. Washington D.C.
[22] Kumar, S.K. ibid.