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TEDGlobal 2011

Josette Sheeran: Ending hunger now

Filmed:

Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Program, talks about why, in a world with enough food for everyone, people still go hungry, still die of starvation, still use food as a weapon of war. Her vision: "Food is one issue that cannot be solved person by person. We have to stand together."

- Anti-hunger leader
Our generation is the first in history with enough resources to eradicate hunger worldwide. Josette Sheeran, the former head of the UN World Food Programme, shares a plan. Full bio

Well after many years working in trade and economics,
00:15
four years ago,
00:18
I found myself working on the front lines
00:20
of human vulnerability.
00:22
And I found myself in the places
00:25
where people are fighting every day to survive
00:27
and can't even obtain a meal.
00:30
This red cup comes from Rwanda
00:34
from a child named Fabian.
00:36
And I carry this around
00:38
as a symbol, really, of the challenge
00:40
and also the hope.
00:42
Because one cup of food a day
00:44
changes Fabian's life completely.
00:46
But what I'd like to talk about today
00:49
is the fact that this morning,
00:52
about a billion people on Earth --
00:55
or one out of every seven --
00:57
woke up and didn't even know
00:59
how to fill this cup.
01:01
One out of every seven people.
01:03
First, I'll ask you: Why should you care?
01:07
Why should we care?
01:09
For most people,
01:11
if they think about hunger,
01:13
they don't have to go far back on their own family history --
01:15
maybe in their own lives, or their parents' lives,
01:18
or their grandparents' lives --
01:20
to remember an experience of hunger.
01:22
I rarely find an audience
01:25
where people can go back very far without that experience.
01:27
Some are driven by compassion,
01:30
feel it's perhaps
01:32
one of the fundamental acts of humanity.
01:34
As Gandhi said,
01:36
"To a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God."
01:38
Others worry about peace and security,
01:42
stability in the world.
01:45
We saw the food riots in 2008,
01:47
after what I call the silent tsunami of hunger
01:50
swept the globe when food prices doubled overnight.
01:53
The destabilizing effects of hunger
01:56
are known throughout human history.
01:59
One of the most fundamental acts of civilization
02:01
is to ensure people can get enough food.
02:04
Others think about Malthusian nightmares.
02:07
Will we be able to feed a population
02:11
that will be nine billion in just a few decades?
02:14
This is not a negotiable thing, hunger.
02:17
People have to eat.
02:19
There's going to be a lot of people.
02:21
This is jobs and opportunity all the way up and down the value chain.
02:23
But I actually came to this issue
02:27
in a different way.
02:29
This is a picture of me and my three children.
02:32
In 1987, I was a new mother
02:35
with my first child
02:37
and was holding her and feeding her
02:39
when an image very similar to this
02:42
came on the television.
02:45
And this was yet another famine in Ethiopia.
02:48
One two years earlier
02:51
had killed more than a million people.
02:53
But it never struck me as it did that moment,
02:56
because on that image
02:59
was a woman trying to nurse her baby,
03:01
and she had no milk to nurse.
03:03
And the baby's cry really penetrated me,
03:07
as a mother.
03:10
And I thought, there's nothing more haunting
03:12
than the cry of a child
03:14
that cannot be returned with food --
03:16
the most fundamental expectation of every human being.
03:21
And it was at that moment
03:24
that I just was filled
03:26
with the challenge and the outrage
03:29
that actually we know how to fix this problem.
03:32
This isn't one of those rare diseases
03:34
that we don't have the solution for.
03:36
We know how to fix hunger.
03:39
A hundred years ago, we didn't.
03:41
We actually have the technology and systems.
03:43
And I was just struck
03:46
that this is out of place.
03:49
At our time in history, these images are out of place.
03:51
Well guess what?
03:54
This is last week in northern Kenya.
03:56
Yet again,
03:59
the face of starvation
04:01
at large scale
04:03
with more than nine million people
04:05
wondering if they can make it to the next day.
04:08
In fact,
04:11
what we know now
04:13
is that every 10 seconds
04:15
we lose a child to hunger.
04:17
This is more
04:19
than HIV/AIDS,
04:21
malaria and tuberculosis combined.
04:24
And we know that the issue
04:27
is not just production of food.
04:29
One of my mentors in life
04:32
was Norman Borlaug, my hero.
04:34
But today I'm going to talk about access to food,
04:37
because actually this year and last year
04:40
and during the 2008 food crisis,
04:43
there was enough food on Earth
04:45
for everyone to have 2,700 kilocalories.
04:47
So why is it
04:50
that we have a billion people
04:53
who can't find food?
04:55
And I also want to talk about
04:57
what I call our new burden of knowledge.
04:59
In 2008,
05:01
Lancet compiled all the research
05:03
and put forward the compelling evidence
05:06
that if a child in its first thousand days --
05:10
from conception to two years old --
05:13
does not have adequate nutrition,
05:16
the damage is irreversible.
05:18
Their brains and bodies will be stunted.
05:20
And here you see a brain scan of two children --
05:23
one who had adequate nutrition,
05:26
another, neglected
05:28
and who was deeply malnourished.
05:30
And we can see brain volumes
05:32
up to 40 percent less
05:34
in these children.
05:37
And in this slide
05:39
you see the neurons and the synapses of the brain
05:41
don't form.
05:44
And what we know now is this has huge impact on economies,
05:46
which I'll talk about later.
05:49
But also the earning potential of these children
05:51
is cut in half in their lifetime
05:54
due to the stunting
05:57
that happens in early years.
05:59
So this burden of knowledge drives me.
06:01
Because actually we know how to fix it
06:04
very simply.
06:07
And yet, in many places,
06:09
a third of the children,
06:11
by the time they're three
06:13
already are facing a life of hardship
06:15
due to this.
06:18
I'd like to talk about
06:20
some of the things I've seen on the front lines of hunger,
06:22
some of the things I've learned
06:24
in bringing my economic and trade knowledge
06:27
and my experience in the private sector.
06:30
I'd like to talk about where the gap of knowledge is.
06:34
Well first, I'd like to talk about the oldest nutritional method on Earth,
06:37
breastfeeding.
06:40
You may be surprised to know
06:42
that a child could be saved every 22 seconds
06:45
if there was breastfeeding in the first six months of life.
06:48
But in Niger, for example,
06:53
less than seven percent of the children
06:56
are breastfed
06:58
for the first six months of life, exclusively.
07:00
In Mauritania, less than three percent.
07:03
This is something that can be transformed with knowledge.
07:07
This message, this word, can come out
07:11
that this is not an old-fashioned way of doing business;
07:13
it's a brilliant way
07:16
of saving your child's life.
07:18
And so today we focus on not just passing out food,
07:20
but making sure the mothers have enough enrichment,
07:23
and teaching them about breastfeeding.
07:26
The second thing I'd like to talk about:
07:29
If you were living in a remote village somewhere,
07:31
your child was limp,
07:33
and you were in a drought, or you were in floods,
07:35
or you were in a situation where there wasn't adequate diversity of diet,
07:38
what would you do?
07:41
Do you think you could go to the store
07:43
and get a choice of power bars, like we can,
07:45
and pick the right one to match?
07:48
Well I find parents out on the front lines
07:50
very aware their children are going down for the count.
07:53
And I go to those shops, if there are any,
07:56
or out to the fields to see what they can get,
07:59
and they cannot obtain the nutrition.
08:02
Even if they know what they need to do, it's not available.
08:05
And I'm very excited about this,
08:08
because one thing we're working on
08:10
is transforming the technologies
08:13
that are very available
08:16
in the food industry
08:18
to be available for traditional crops.
08:20
And this is made with chickpeas, dried milk
08:23
and a host of vitamins,
08:26
matched to exactly what the brain needs.
08:28
It costs 17 cents for us to produce this
08:30
as, what I call, food for humanity.
08:33
We did this with food technologists
08:36
in India and Pakistan --
08:38
really about three of them.
08:41
But this is transforming
08:43
99 percent of the kids who get this.
08:45
One package, 17 cents a day --
08:47
their malnutrition is overcome.
08:50
So I am convinced
08:52
that if we can unlock the technologies
08:54
that are commonplace in the richer world
08:57
to be able to transform foods.
09:00
And this is climate-proof.
09:02
It doesn't need to be refrigerated, it doesn't need water,
09:04
which is often lacking.
09:06
And these types of technologies,
09:08
I see, have the potential
09:10
to transform the face of hunger and nutrition, malnutrition
09:12
out on the front lines.
09:15
The next thing I want to talk about is school feeding.
09:18
Eighty percent of the people in the world
09:20
have no food safety net.
09:22
When disaster strikes --
09:24
the economy gets blown, people lose a job,
09:27
floods, war, conflict,
09:30
bad governance, all of those things --
09:32
there is nothing to fall back on.
09:34
And usually the institutions --
09:36
churches, temples, other things --
09:38
do not have the resources
09:40
to provide a safety net.
09:42
What we have found working with the World Bank
09:44
is that the poor man's safety net,
09:46
the best investment, is school feeding.
09:48
And if you fill the cup
09:50
with local agriculture from small farmers,
09:52
you have a transformative effect.
09:55
Many kids in the world can't go to school
09:57
because they have to go beg and find a meal.
10:00
But when that food is there,
10:02
it's transformative.
10:04
It costs less than 25 cents a day to change a kid's life.
10:06
But what is most amazing is the effect on girls.
10:09
In countries where girls don't go to school
10:12
and you offer a meal to girls in school,
10:16
we see enrollment rates
10:19
about 50 percent girls and boys.
10:21
We see a transformation in attendance by girls.
10:23
And there was no argument,
10:26
because it's incentive.
10:28
Families need the help.
10:30
And we find that if we keep girls in school later,
10:32
they'll stay in school until they're 16,
10:34
and won't get married if there's food in school.
10:36
Or if they get an extra ration of food
10:39
at the end of the week --
10:41
it costs about 50 cents --
10:43
will keep a girl in school,
10:45
and they'll give birth to a healthier child,
10:47
because the malnutrition is sent
10:49
generation to generation.
10:52
We know that there's boom and bust cycles of hunger.
10:55
We know this.
10:57
Right now on the Horn of Africa, we've been through this before.
10:59
So is this a hopeless cause?
11:02
Absolutely not.
11:04
I'd like to talk about what I call our warehouses for hope.
11:08
Cameroon, northern Cameroon, boom and bust cycles of hunger
11:11
every year for decades.
11:14
Food aid coming in every year
11:16
when people are starving during the lean seasons.
11:19
Well two years ago,
11:23
we decided, let's transform the model of fighting hunger,
11:25
and instead of giving out the food aid, we put it into food banks.
11:29
And we said, listen,
11:32
during the lean season, take the food out.
11:34
You manage, the village manages these warehouses.
11:36
And during harvest, put it back with interest,
11:39
food interest.
11:41
So add in five percent, 10 percent more food.
11:43
For the past two years,
11:47
500 of these villages where these are
11:49
have not needed any food aid -- they're self-sufficient.
11:51
And the food banks are growing.
11:53
And they're starting school feeding programs for their children
11:55
by the people in the village.
11:58
But they've never had the ability
12:00
to build even the basic infrastructure
12:02
or the resources.
12:04
I love this idea that came from the village level:
12:06
three keys to unlock that warehouse.
12:08
Food is gold there.
12:11
And simple ideas can transform the face,
12:13
not of small areas,
12:16
of big areas of the world.
12:18
I'd like to talk about what I call digital food.
12:20
Technology is transforming
12:24
the face of food vulnerability
12:27
in places where you see classic famine.
12:29
Amartya Sen won his Nobel Prize
12:31
for saying, "Guess what, famines happen in the presence of food
12:33
because people have no ability to buy it."
12:37
We certainly saw that in 2008.
12:40
We're seeing that now in the Horn of Africa
12:42
where food prices are up 240 percent in some areas
12:44
over last year.
12:47
Food can be there and people can't buy it.
12:49
Well this picture -- I was in Hebron in a small shop, this shop,
12:51
where instead of bringing in food,
12:55
we provide digital food, a card.
12:58
It says "bon appetit" in Arabic.
13:01
And the women can go in and swipe
13:04
and get nine food items.
13:07
They have to be nutritious,
13:09
and they have to be locally produced.
13:11
And what's happened in the past year alone
13:13
is the dairy industry --
13:15
where this card's used for milk and yogurt
13:17
and eggs and hummus --
13:20
the dairy industry has gone up 30 percent.
13:22
The shopkeepers are hiring more people.
13:25
It is a win-win-win situation
13:27
that starts the food economy moving.
13:29
We now deliver food in over 30 countries
13:32
over cell phones,
13:35
transforming even the presence of refugees in countries,
13:38
and other ways.
13:42
Perhaps most exciting to me
13:44
is an idea that Bill Gates, Howard Buffett and others
13:46
have supported boldly,
13:49
which is to ask the question:
13:51
What if, instead of looking at the hungry as victims --
13:53
and most of them are small farmers
13:56
who cannot raise enough food or sell food
13:58
to even support their own families --
14:01
what if we view them as the solution,
14:03
as the value chain to fight hunger?
14:06
What if from the women in Africa
14:08
who cannot sell any food --
14:13
there's no roads, there's no warehouses,
14:15
there's not even a tarp to pick the food up with --
14:17
what if we give the enabling environment
14:20
for them to provide the food
14:22
to feed the hungry children elsewhere?
14:24
And Purchasing for Progress today is in 21 countries.
14:27
And guess what?
14:30
In virtually every case,
14:32
when poor farmers are given a guaranteed market --
14:34
if you say, "We will buy 300 metric tons of this.
14:37
We'll pick it up. We'll make sure it's stored properly." --
14:40
their yields have gone up two-, three-, fourfold
14:43
and they figure it out,
14:46
because it's the first guaranteed opportunity they've had in their life.
14:48
And we're seeing people transform their lives.
14:51
Today, food aid, our food aid --
14:54
huge engine --
14:57
80 percent of it is bought in the developing world.
14:59
Total transformation
15:02
that can actually transform the very lives that need the food.
15:04
Now you'd ask, can this be done at scale?
15:08
These are great ideas, village-level ideas.
15:11
Well I'd like to talk about Brazil,
15:14
because I've taken a journey to Brazil over the past couple of years,
15:16
when I read that Brazil was defeating hunger
15:19
faster than any nation on Earth right now.
15:21
And what I've found is,
15:23
rather than investing their money in food subsidies
15:25
and other things,
15:27
they invested in a school feeding program.
15:29
And they require that a third of that food
15:31
come from the smallest farmers who would have no opportunity.
15:33
And they're doing this at huge scale
15:36
after President Lula declared his goal
15:38
of ensuring everyone had three meals a day.
15:41
And this zero hunger program
15:44
costs .5 percent of GDP
15:48
and has lifted many millions of people
15:51
out of hunger and poverty.
15:56
It is transforming the face of hunger in Brazil,
15:58
and it's at scale, and it's creating opportunities.
16:01
I've gone out there; I've met with the small farmers
16:04
who have built their livelihoods
16:07
on the opportunity and platform
16:09
provided by this.
16:11
Now if we look at the economic imperative here,
16:14
this isn't just about compassion.
16:16
The fact is studies show
16:19
that the cost of malnutrition and hunger --
16:21
the cost to society,
16:24
the burden it has to bear --
16:26
is on average six percent,
16:28
and in some countries up to 11 percent,
16:30
of GDP a year.
16:32
And if you look at the 36 countries
16:35
with the highest burden of malnutrition,
16:38
that's 260 billion lost from a productive economy
16:40
every year.
16:43
Well, the World Bank estimates
16:45
it would take about 10 billion dollars --
16:47
10.3 --
16:49
to address malnutrition in those countries.
16:51
You look at the cost-benefit analysis,
16:53
and my dream is to take this issue,
16:55
not just from the compassion argument,
16:58
but to the finance ministers of the world,
17:01
and say we cannot afford
17:03
to not invest
17:05
in the access to adequate, affordable nutrition
17:07
for all of humanity.
17:10
The amazing thing I've found
17:13
is nothing can change on a big scale
17:16
without the determination of a leader.
17:19
When a leader says, "Not under my watch,"
17:21
everything begins to change.
17:24
And the world can come in
17:26
with enabling environments and opportunities to do this.
17:28
And the fact that France
17:31
has put food at the center of the G20
17:33
is really important.
17:35
Because food is one issue
17:37
that cannot be solved person by person, nation by nation.
17:39
We have to stand together.
17:42
And we're seeing nations in Africa.
17:44
WFP's been able to leave 30 nations
17:46
because they have transformed
17:49
the face of hunger in their nations.
17:51
What I would like to offer here is a challenge.
17:53
I believe we're living at a time in human history
17:58
where it's just simply unacceptable
18:01
that children wake up
18:04
and don't know where to find a cup of food.
18:06
Not only that,
18:08
transforming hunger
18:10
is an opportunity,
18:12
but I think we have to change our mindsets.
18:14
I am so honored to be here
18:17
with some of the world's top innovators and thinkers.
18:19
And I would like you to join with all of humanity
18:23
to draw a line in the sand
18:27
and say, "No more.
18:29
No more are we going to accept this."
18:31
And we want to tell our grandchildren
18:33
that there was a terrible time in history
18:35
where up to a third of the children
18:37
had brains and bodies that were stunted,
18:39
but that exists no more.
18:41
Thank you.
18:43
(Applause)
18:45

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About the Speaker:

Josette Sheeran - Anti-hunger leader
Our generation is the first in history with enough resources to eradicate hunger worldwide. Josette Sheeran, the former head of the UN World Food Programme, shares a plan.

Why you should listen

When Josette Sheeran was the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, based in Rome, she oversaw the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger around the globe. Every year, the program feeds more than 90 million people, including victims of war and natural disasters, families affected by HIV/AIDS, and schoolchildren in poor communities.

Sheeran believes that hunger and poverty must and can be solved through both immediate actions and long-term policies. At the Millennium Development Goal Summit in 2010, she outlined 10 ways the world can end hunger. They include providing school meals, connecting small farmers to markets, empowering women and building the resiliency of vulnerable communities.

Sheeran has a long history of helping others. Prior to joining the UN in 2007, Sheeran was the Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs at the US Department of State, where she frequently focused on economic diplomacy to help emerging nations move toward self-sufficiency and prosperity. She put together several initiatives to bring US aid to the Middle East. She also served as Deputy US Trade Representative, helping African nations develop their trade capacity.

She says: "I think we can, in our lifetime, win the battle against hunger because we now have the science, technology, know-how, and the logistics to be able to meet hunger where it comes. Those pictures of children with swollen bellies will be a thing of history."

More profile about the speaker
Josette Sheeran | Speaker | TED.com