An entire library has been written about the causes of poverty in the world. A random street interview will provide a whole range of explanations. Most everyone has an opinion about it.
Out of this multitude of opinions one particular cause stands out as the one I most prefer. Not because it is necessarily the best explanation, but because it provides the best indications for finding a solution. An explanation is one thing: change is another thing altogether.
To me the huge and distressing amount of poverty in the world is related to the fact that we do not make sufficient use of all the possibilities of all the people in the world. There is an enormous lack in the use of potentialities. Hundreds of millions of people are excluded. Excluded as citizens, consumers and producers. People can’t participate because they don’t own any land, were not privileged to get an education, or can’t find a job or because their strength is undermined by illness and malnourishment. The urgent needs of the poor for food and shelter are not being served by the market because they have no buying power. They are invisible to the elite of their countries and they are marginalized as people without rights. A development process without them is what is being opted for.
An inclusive economy is the solution. This is an economy in which people can participate: all people; without exception. Small farmers are supported in the development of their enterprises. Money earned by a woman is money for a family and for the community. For children, the best place to work is in school. In countries where wages are low a factory worker becomes a better and more productive employee in a safe and healthy workplace.
By using people’s talents more we can eradicate poverty. The poor are enterprising people full of possibilities.
A farmer in Africa can produce three times more on his piece of land if knowledge about better agriculture techniques are shared more. And that is what we are going to have to do if we want to supply the demand for food from the more urbanized world population of 9 billion with greater purchasing power in 2050. Food security starts with the availability of more and better food, more buying power and better distribution.
More production, but with less damaging consequences. More productivity per hectare is important, but with less water use, less energy and more rational use of (synthetic) fertilizers and pesticides. Everything is becoming scarce and expensive; making better use of everything is a prerequisite for sustainable development. The increase in production will have to be realized on the existing acreages. Forests will have to be spared in order to prevent the world climate from going even more out of balance.
The good news is that farmers can produce enough food for everyone even though there are so many of us and increasingly more people can afford a better food range. In addition, the farmer must provide not only enough food; he is also becoming the supplier of various other raw materials. Thirty years from now, the last of the oil and gas will have been forced out of the earth and energy will be obtained in part from agricultural products, such as sugarcane. This will be required to keep industrial production going. Plastic will no longer be made of oil; it will also be made of agricultural products. Farmers’ production must and can increase in order the meet these two great challenges.
We can only solve two problems at the same time if we cooperate. As equal partners with one agenda. Foreign development aid has seen its day; international collaboration is what we need now, more than ever.