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Solution to world hunger isn't food
Cows
Heifer International is one example of a nonprofit organization that has shifted its focus from food. This organization gives impoverished families and communities breeding animals and teaches them animal husbandry. The animals provide food, fertilizer, workforce and tradable goods from milk to offspring. - photo by istockphoto.com

World hunger.

These two little words encompass one huge problem: people do not have enough to eat. And this problem kills. According to the World Food Program, hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

World hunger is a widely recognized problem and many intelligent and generous people are working toward a solution.

Logically and intuitively, it would seem that the best, fastest and easiest solution would be to give food to people who do not have it. While providing hungry people with food is great, unfortunately it is only a temporary fix to the global problem.

But maybe there is another answer.

Statics gathered within the past decade show that countries in which citizens spend a higher percentage of their yearly income on food tend to also have higher rates of malnutrition (Plumer, 2014). For example, people in Pakistan spend nearly half of their annual income on food, yet over 40 percent of their children under the age of 5 are malnourished. In contrast, Americans spend around 7 percent on food and only 5 percent of children are malnourished.

People in Pakistan spend a substantial portion of their money on food, but it isn’t enough to fill their stomachs. They still need to buy other things that are necessary for life. They simply do not have enough money for it all.

Perhaps to create a self-sustaining system, the focus and resources should shift from giving food to giving something that lasts a little longer. Maybe the answer is in commerce, not just charity.

Heifer International is one example of a nonprofit organization that has shifted its focus from food. This organization gives impoverished families and communities breeding animals and teaches them animal husbandry. The animals provide food, fertilizer, workforce and tradable goods from milk to offspring.

Heifer International teaches people valuable marketing skills and provides the resources to start small businesses. The families who are initially helped can then assist other families in their communities by sharing their resources and knowledge. These people earn better incomes and have more money to have the freedom to buy more food.

A common saying goes, “give a person a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a person to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

World hunger affects 842 million people around the world, so it is not a problem that can be solved by one charitable person or group with one great idea. Giving food is a good start, but it simply is not enough to help 842 million people. To have the furthest reach and the most lasting effect, a solution will need to do more than give food.

Maybe if we turn our focus from giving fish toward teaching fishing, we can get a little closer to solving world hunger. Not only does this help the individual, but it can help families, communities and generations.

Family by family, community by community, world hunger is being defeated by business.

(John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. Maren McInnes, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.)