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How to end hunger once and for all

by Åsa Skogström Feldt, CEO of The Hunger Project
Thursday, 26 May 2016 08:27 GMT

Photo: The Hunger Project/Johannes Odé

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

We know that world hunger is a solvable problem, so what actions can we take to solve it sustainably?

On May 28, the global community will come together to honor World Hunger Day, a day that aims to raise awareness of the 795 million people who live in chronic hunger worldwide. It is also a day to foster a dialogue on sustainable solutions to ending hunger.

Ending hunger is not about handouts or food distribution, which often create a cycle of dependency. While this works in emergency situations, acute hunger due to emergency situations represents a small fraction of those living in hunger. The vast majority of those living in hunger are suffering from chronic hunger--which is often invisible yet one of the most insidious impacts of extreme poverty. 

This “old way” of doing aid tended to promote top-down strategies and policies, which didn’t put the communities themselves in the driver’s seats. Despite good intentions, this kind of aid often creates communities of dependency that have a harder time thriving once development organizations “pull out”—if they ever do.

The global community should be asking the question: how can communities become self-reliant so they are no longer dependent on international organizations—and donors—to move forward.

We know that world hunger is a solvable problem, so what actions can we take to solve it sustainably?

One way is for development organizations and other actors to move from top-down approaches that foster dependency, and instead focus on bottom-up solutions that partner with communities who, with the right tools and training, lead the charge.

The Hunger Project’s Epicenter Strategy is an example of this kind of gender-focused, community-led development. The strategy is designed to partner with communities over a period of about eight years to graduate to a phase of “sustainable self-reliance,” which means that communities have demonstrated the confidence, capacity and skills to act as agents of their own development. This community-led approach focuses not on projects but on systemic change, which works to achieves locally-owned vision and goals.

And it’s working.  Three of The Hunger Project’s epicenters (around 10-15,000 people in each community) in Eastern Ghana graduated to self-reliance this year. Community members of these epicenters have affirmed multiple local partnerships, created funding streams from revenue-generating activities and established gender-balanced leadership structures to support sustainable growth. 

In partnership with The Hunger Project, community members were involved in establishing a diverse set of about 50 targets to measure their progress and assess their path to sustainability. This increases buy-in, ownership and accountability—the ultimate owners of the targets are the communities themselves.

By stimulating this type of gender-focused, community-led development, The Hunger Project fosters a culture of self-determination and economic viability in which the community itself is the driver of continued change.

In essence, these communities are taking charge of their own development processes, and can therefore perpetuate, sustain and enhance the work they began in partnership with The Hunger Project. They are the ones taking action to end their own hunger, and they will continue to do so.

Development is a long, hard process. It’s complex, requires multi-sector partnerships and takes time. But to do it sustainably—and have a lasting change—we need to operate with clear exit strategies that pass the reins, fully, to communities themselves.

To learn more about World Hunger Day and self-reliance visit thp.org and worldhungerday.org.