Today, the Nobel Committee bestowed this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on the World Food Programme, citing its herculean efforts to combat hunger, especially in war-torn areas. In doing so, the Committee stated that it “wishes to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger.”
As COVID-19 threatens to push 132 million more people into extreme hunger (and has already pushed 100 million people into its corollary, extreme poverty), it’s more critical than ever to invest in sustainable market solutions that strengthen rural livelihoods. So let’s turn our eyes toward smallholder farmers, then come back to the role of small business and entrepreneurship. First, some numbers:
- Two billion people—26% of the global population—experienced hunger or food insecurity in 2019, with 690 million of them facing chronic hunger. Worse yet, this number has been rising over the last five years.
- 75% of the world’s hungry are smallholder farmers and their families, despite the fact that they produce a significant amount of the world’s food.
Smallholder farmers—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa—are the face of hunger. But let’s be clear: The problem is not that there isn’t enough food to nourish everyone; the problem is that too many can’t afford to put food on the table. Global action to reverse this trend and get back on track for the UN’s 2030 “zero hunger” target must therefore have rural livelihoods at its center.
To build sustainable livelihoods, smallholder farmers need at least three things: access to reliable incomes, resources to invest in the growth and health of their farms, and support to tackle livelihood shocks like COVID-19 or climate change. But the typical smallholder farmer lives hundreds of miles from accessible markets, leaving them with few choices but to sell their crops