Ending World Poverty Costs Less Than People Think

Aug 12, 2016

The U.S. is often called, the ‘world’s police force’ for its role in geo-politics.  But it also plays a vital part in international economic development  ---at a cost that’s much lower than many people think.  A program created fifty-five years ago succeeded in cutting world poverty in half since then, with the help of the best and brightest ideas from American Colleges and Universities. And it’s now looking to cut it by half AGAIN.    

In November 1961, President John F. Kennedy created USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.  Part of this country’s first such efforts with no military component. Brady Deaton Chairs the Board of International Food and Development, which supports collaboration of colleges and universities on projects with USAID.

“The goals that USAID is considering right now is to reduce poverty by half, the extreme poverty that haunts the third world especially, by 2030. We know that by 2050 we’re looking to have somewhere between 9 and 10 billion people in the world.”

And all of them will have to eat. 

Wondie Mersie

Deaton adds, “But with the science that we have and the knowledge base we have the potential of virtually eliminating extreme poverty and hunger from the world and this is the first time in history, this era, that one can say that.”  

That knowledge is the direct product of academics from colleges and universities all over the country, working on solutions. They gathered in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech recently to share their success stories; Take the efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa where an invasive plant, native to parts of the American south and South America had all but destroyed the agricultural economy. It’s similar to ragweed and here it’s called Parthenium.  

Wondi Mersie Directs the Agricultural Research Center at Virginia State University.

“In other countries it’s called, “Farrmasissa,” which means ‘give away your land’ because once this plant gets into the field it displaces the native plants (reducing crop yield)   and displaces  pasture grasses on which livestock depend.”  

So after a testing period and quarantine Mersie’s team introduced the invasive species’ archenemy, a leaf-feeding beetle. While the insect will never eradicate Parthenium it will keep it at bay.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, weeding is done primarily by women and children, so when we introduce this kind of control measure it relieves the woman and children to do other things more productive things. 

Parthenium hysterophorus

And its outcomes like that, that lead to the next rung on the ladder; economic development and sustainability. Take this project in Nepal that’s helping farmers deal with climate change. Ajay Jha  directs the Institute for Global Agriculture and Technology Transfer at Colorado  State University.

“Nepal has the biggest challenge.  What they grow is not enough nutritious protein. And especially the women and children, they require it for their growth and development.”

And already, says Professor Jha, more than a quarter of Nepali children die before they reach they reach the age of 6.

“So we started a kitchen garden program so that at least their family can grow five or six kind of varieties of vegetables they can consume themselves, and the surplus they can bring into the market place, so we’ve acquired that kind of momentum, so we don’t say that we’ll solve all the problems – and I think it’s a win/win situation with all the countries where ever we go.  We don’t go to take over.”

Small steps and small scale economic and agricultural development projects like these don’t get the amount of attention American military maneuvers do, even as their benefits redound to the wider world. And says Chairman of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, Brady Deaton, they don’t cost nearly as much.

“We actually spend far less than 1% of our budget on foreign aid and, most people, if you ask them that question, they will give you a much higher figure than that.”