"There is a solution to poverty"

Solidaridad Network Executive Director Nico Roozen is this week talking about the solutions to poverty in a special supplement of seven television guides in the Netherlands. Nico was interviewed within the context of Why Poverty, an international project in over 70 countries to ask attention for the solutions to poverty in the world.

In the interview, Solidaridad’s Nico Roozen speaks extensively about his vision of poverty. The interview is included in the supplements of the programme guides of the VPRO, KRO, AVRO, TROS, EO, NCRV and VARA.
You can read the entire interview with Nico Roozen below:

This week we are giving some thought to the poverty question on a worldwide basis. Why is this necessary?
“The numbers are certainly very clear: of the nearly 7 billion people in the world, about eight hundred million live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. Another two billion have to make do with between $1.25 en $3 a day. It is a huge problem that we must take seriously and do something about.”

How would you define poverty?
“Someone who is poor is someone who does not have access to a variety of food, has insufficient housing, does not have a steady job or has an income that is too low and he works under inhumane conditions. In addition, he or she has no access to health care or education.”

How is it possible that poverty still exists while so much money has been invested into it worldwide?
“During the past number of years we have seen that many billions in development funds have had insufficient concrete results. You could say that the international organizations have failed. I have more hope for the methods of development organizations like Solidaridad, which emphasize cooperation between international companies and producers in third-world countries. Solidaridad believes that more use must be made of the potentialities of the people and what the earth offers us. We strongly believe in the possibilities of the people if they get the opportunity to participate in the world economy. In addition, we need to use the earth in better and smarter ways. Two or three times more food could be produced by using different production methods. If we did that we would no longer need to cut down any rain forests.”

How does Solidaridad operate?
“Solidaridad is helping to, for example, optimize the productivity of farmers in Africa. Farmers can grow two to three times as much on the same piece of land if they change the production method. We are also teaching them to improve the quality of their products and to cut down on their costs. Production has to rise, because by the year 2050 there will be at least nine billion people on the planet. Plus, fossil fuels are running out. Agricultural products are going to become raw materials for the industry and for energy. The same farmer is also going to have to grow these products. So he or she will have to produce more, but with less pollution. And this can be done.”

So the earth is capable of providing a worthy life for nine billion people?
“There is absolutely no doubt about it. But it does need to be organized very well. We will have to get our priorities straight and allow every person to participate in the world economy.”  Why are big companies getting involved in projects with small farmers?  “A company like Mars understands that if you don’t ensure that the cacao industry becomes sustainable, there will soon no longer be any cacao available, because the soil will be depleted. It is also in their own interest to adopt environmentally-friendly production methods.”

How do you make that production sustainable?
“Solidaridad is teaching the farmer to improve his or her operations.
The training is geared to better pruning of bushes, improvement of the fertility of the soil, planting schedules, harvesting techniques and proper use of fertilizers and pesticides. Because of this we have been seeing a 20 to 30% growth in their harvest each year. The environment is being harmed less while the production is increasing.”

What kind of effect does that have on poverty?
“Over a period of three to five years the income of an enterprising farmer can increase from about $1000 to about $3000 a year. Most farmers will put their money into education for their children first. They are also investing in improvement of their living situation. They are fixing up their homes and they might, for example, buy some chickens, so that their families will have a more balanced diet.”
Can all farmers participate in your programme?
“Yes, but admission has become stricter. We can only spend our money once. Solidaridad invests in farmers who are poor but enterprising and who can see opportunities for a better future.”
What will happen to the other farmers?
“If you don’t want to take advantage of opportunities, you will miss the boat. I have become more realistic about this; the world is a tough place, after all. I don’t believe that you can grab someone by the collar and say, “You have to invest now.” Farmers who don’t want to participate might sell their land to more enterprising farmers who will be able to use it to increase their production. Small-scale is not always the greatest and it does not guarantee the ability to make a living.”

But a farmer will lose his entire income this way, won’t he?
“The ones who want to sell are often older farmers who want to stop working anyway.”

When do you think poverty can be eradicated from the world?
“Solidaridad is working towards eradicating poverty by 2050. It has to happen in the next few years. We don’t have a lot of choices. We have to deal with the quickly rising demand for food and the decreasing availability of fossil fuels in a way that is sustainable. That will also be in our own interest. If we don’t solve this together we will end up with an unmanageable problem. It is astounding that we are letting this go on for so long, even though the solution is relatively easy. But we do have to work together. That is the only way that poverty can be eradicated from the world.”

Please visit Why Poverty section for more information.