Not One, but Sixty Jumbo Jets Crashing Each Day….

By Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaughnessy 

While watch­ing the news cov­er­age of the tragedy of Malaysia Flight 370 over the past three weeks, I was reminded of a com­pelling anal­ogy used by author Roger Thurow in his book “Enough:  Why the World’s Poor­est Starve in An Age of Plenty”. 

Based on infor­ma­tion pro­vided by the United Nations World Food Pro­gram, Thurow writes in his com­pelling book on global hunger that the num­ber of peo­ple through­out the devel­op­ing world who die every day from hunger, mal­nu­tri­tion and related dis­eases is the equiv­a­lent of sixty jumbo jets crash­ing each day.

That’s 25,000 peo­ple dying from largely pre­ventable con­di­tions each day. Sixty jumbo jets, rep­re­sent­ing count­less fam­ily tragedies.

That num­ber is per­haps a bit dated now, and we know that in gen­eral the lives of many poor peo­ple in the devel­op­ing world have seen some improve­ment.  For exam­ple, orga­ni­za­tions like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion and The Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive have accom­plished a great deal in the area of pub­lic health for the poor, specif­i­cally in terms of fund­ing research and inno­v­a­tive treat­ments for malaria and HIV/AIDS. We can be grate­ful that there are many new social enter­prises enter­ing into a vari­ety of other devel­op­ment sec­tors each year, work­ing along­side estab­lished NGOs to improve and often save count­less lives.

It’s inar­guable that more needs to be done, espe­cially in the area of hunger and food pro­duc­tion.  Many col­lege stu­dents who study social enter­prise neglect to t think about the poten­tial for agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity improve­ments to make enor­mous change in the lives of more than 70% of the world’s poor that live in rural, agri­cul­tural farm­ing  com­mu­ni­ties.  Iron­i­cally, many poor farm­ers can’t feed their fam­i­lies, a small tragedy among many larger ones in the devel­op­ing world. His­tor­i­cally, the devel­oped world’s answer to this crit­i­cal prob­lem has been aid, and all too often in-kind food aid that has the unin­tended con­se­quence of harm­ing local agri­cul­ture and food pro­duc­tion in the poor­est countries.

What began with Nobel Lau­re­ate Nor­man Borlaug’s “Green Rev­o­lu­tion” that saved mil­lions of lives through the devel­op­ment and dis­sem­i­na­tion of new hybrid seeds is now being fol­lowed by numer­ous social enter­prise ini­tia­tives in the agri­cul­tural space.  In addi­tion to the impor­tant work of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion in agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment, social enter­prises like One Acre Fund are pro­vid­ing poor farm­ers in Kenya, Rwanda, and other East African nations with the inputs, infor­ma­tion and access they need to be able not only to feed their fam­i­lies, but the tools to increase prof­its through the sur­pluses cre­ated by higher yields. Root Cap­i­tal is another social enter­prise leader in financ­ing poor farmer coop­er­a­tives, espe­cially in com­mod­ity prod­ucts like cof­fee and cocoa, chang­ing the lives of many poor farm­ers for the better.

The Social Enter­prise Institute’s week­long field practicum to Jamaica allowed our stu­dents to study the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties con­fronted by poor farm­ers strug­gling to suc­ceed.  There, we met a start-up called “FarmUp­Ja­maica” which is deter­mined to assist Jamaica’s poor­est farm­ers through a vari­ety of inter­ven­tions, includ­ing land access and titling, improved access to inputs from seed to fer­til­izer to irri­ga­tion.  Another start-up called Micro­Cre­dit Lim­ited Jamaica  is devel­op­ing micro­fi­nance loan pack­ages for poor farm­ers in and around Kingston.  We also met with lead­ers in the Jamaican cof­fee indus­try, includ­ing pro­duc­ers of the pre­mium Blue Moun­tain vari­ety , who are work­ing to help poor farm­ers increase pro­duc­tiv­ity on their small moun­tain plots.

As the news sur­round­ing the tragic Malaysian Air flight begins to sub­side, we can hope that those inter­ested in social enter­prise as a path­way to poverty alle­vi­a­tion and devel­op­ment will remem­ber the daily tragedy of those “sixty jumbo jets” and what we can do to pre­vent those tragic crashes each day.