Ending hunger now


Josette Sheeran

Anti-hunger leader

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.

Every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger. This is more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

In 2008, Lancet compiled all the research and put forward the compelling evidence that if a child in its first thousand days — from conception to two years old — does not have adequate nutrition, the damage is irreversible. Their brains and bodies will be stunted. And here you see a brain scan of two children — one who had adequate nutrition, another, neglected and who was deeply malnourished. And we can see brain volumes up to 40 percent less in these children.

And what we know now is this has huge impact on economies, which I’ll talk about later. But also the earning potential of these children is cut in half in their lifetime due to the stunting that happens in early years.

The next thing I want to talk about is school feeding. Eighty percent of the people in the world have no food safety net. When disaster strikes — the economy gets blown, people lose a job, floods, war, conflict,bad governance, all of those things — there is nothing to fall back on. And usually the institutions —churches, temples, other things — do not have the resources to provide a safety net. What we have found working with the World Bank is that the poor man’s safety net, the best investment, is school feeding.And if you fill the cup with local agriculture from small farmers, you have a transformative effect. Many kids in the world can’t go to school because they have to go beg and find a meal. But when that food is there, it’s transformative. It costs less than 25 cents a day to change a kid’s life.


But what is most amazing is the effect on girls. In countries where girls don’t go to school and you offer a meal to girls in school, we see enrollment rates about 50 percent girls and boys. We see a transformation in attendance by girls. And there was no argument, because it’s incentive. Families need the help. And we find that if we keep girls in school later, they’ll stay in school until they’re 16, and won’t get married if there’s food in school. Or if they get an extra ration of food at the end of the week — it costs about 50 cents — will keep a girl in school, and they’ll give birth to a healthier child, because the malnutrition is sent generation to generation.


two years ago, we decided, let’s transform the model of fighting hunger, and instead of giving out the food aid, we put it into food banks. And we said, listen, during the lean season, take the food out. You manage, the village manages these warehouses. And during harvest, put it back with interest, food interest. So add in five percent, 10 percent more food. For the past two years, 500 of these villages where these are have not needed any food aid — they’re self-sufficient. And the food banks are growing. And they’re starting school feeding programs for their children by the people in the village. But they’ve never had the ability to build even the basic infrastructure or the resources. I love this idea that came from the village level: three keys to unlock that warehouse. Food is gold there. And simple ideas can transform the face, not of small areas, of big areas of the world.

And we want to tell our grandchildren that there was a terrible time in history where up to a third of the childrenhad brains and bodies that were stunted, but that exists no more.



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