Esther Duflo (back row, second from left), co-author of Poor Economics, with coffee farmers.
Ending global poverty: the fight goes on
‘We must focus on the concrete steps we must take now to make things happen for the poor farmers in developing countries also and narrow the inequality as we know it’
The goal of ending poverty is elusive, and those in the aid business seem to oscillate between giddiness and despair, between the excitement of the latest miracle cure and accusations of failure or worse. As the critics never fail to point out, billions of dollars have been spent on aid but the poor are still with us. This issue is not isolated in developing countries alone but also in developed countries too.
There is no one thing that can end poverty whether it is in United States or Africa. And certainly no one thing that is within the capacity of you, or us, or any particular person or institution. The fight against poverty is not a crusade, with a well-identified and specific enemy, be it unbridled capitalism, rogue governments, over-regulation, hunger or malaria. All of these probably have something to do with the persistence of poverty. But none are easy to fix and, more importantly, even if they were fixed, poverty would still be with us somewhat.
Fighting poverty is to fight, with patience and deliberateness, the many problems that make the lives of poor people difficult: bad schools, dirty water, infectious diseases, the vagaries of weather and other natural disasters, poor sanitation, lack of skills, Mega and petty corruption, potholes, etc. The list goes on.
These problems are concrete but hardly glamorous, possible to solve, but often without a known solution. No one person can solve all of them and, in any case, getting them all fixed will not end poverty tomorrow and maybe not even in 50 years. But if we could give up the lofty goals and empty promises, and focus all our energies on the concrete steps we are able to take here and now to improve the lives of the poor worldwide, we would at the very least bring some real comfort to the lives of many millions especially in coffee farming as shown above.
Coffee is an important commodity and a popular beverage. Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day. Over 90% of coffee production takes place in developing countries, while consumption happens mainly in the industrialized economies.
Worldwide, 25 million small producers rely on coffee for a living. For instance, in Brazil alone, where almost a third of all the world’s coffee is produced, over 5 million people are employed in the cultivation and harvesting of over 3 billion coffee plants; it is a much more labour-intensive culture than alternative cultures of the same regions as sugar cane or cattle, as it is not subject to automation and requires constant attention. The same process goes on in sub-Saharan Africa.
Coffee is also bought and sold as a commodity on the New York Board of Trade. This is where coffee futures contracts are traded, which are a financial asset involving a standardized contract for the future sale or purchase of a unit of coffee at an agreed price. The world’s largest transfer point for coffee is the port of Hamburg, Germany.
|Top Ten Green Coffee Producers – 2011 (millions of metric tons)|
|Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)|
In 2009 Brazil was the world leader in production of green coffee, followed by Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia. Arabica coffee beans are cultivated in Latin America, eastern Africa, Arabia, or Asia. Robusta coffee beans are grown in western and central Africa, throughout southeast Asia, and to some extent in Brazil.
Beans from different countries or regions can usually be distinguished by differences in flavor, aroma, body, and acidity. These taste characteristics are dependent not only on the coffee’s growing region, but also on genetic subspecies (varietals) and processing. Varietals are generally known by the region in which they are grown, such as Colombian, Java and Kona.
In the year 2000 in the US, coffee consumption was 22.1 gallons (100.468 litres) per capita. More than 150 million Americans (18 and older) drink coffee on a daily basis, with 65 percent of coffee drinkers consuming their hot beverage in the morning. In 2008, it was the number-one hot beverage of choice among convenience store customers, generating about 78 percent of sales within the hot dispensed beverages category.
High school graduates Agricultural Officers
One way in which we can support and improve the lives of poor farmers world wide is encouragement of proper agricultural input with real results for the poor. If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture, Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life’s better for billions of people with proper support. High school graduates in developed countries who can not find proper jobs can be trained to become agricultural officers around the world through such programs like peace corp and sustain change through innovation. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more and in return reward them better. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency for ourselves and around the world.
The goal is to move from examples of success to sustainable productivity increases to hundreds of millions of people moving out of poverty. If we hope to meet that goal, it must be a goal we share. We must be coordinated in our pursuit of it. We must embrace more innovative ways of working toward it. And we must be willing to be measured on our results. The measure of success should extend to the grassroots into the counties.
The number of hungry people in the world has reached the 1 billion mark, and global food prices that were beginning to fall last July—signaling some relief—are starting to creep up again. According to estimates, small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa can double or almost triple their yields, respectively, in the next 20 years. This sustainable productivity increase will translate into 400 million people lifting themselves out of poverty. We can do it if we change the focus and reward leaders with fire in the belly.