In May 1971, thousands of people across the United States gathered in their communities for walks organized and coordinated by the American Freedom From Hunger Foundation—an organization that would go on to aid the United Nations Freedom From Hunger Campaign (NYT). Some people chose to run long distances, and others walked for hours behind them. The energy resembled the exhausted joy we now associate with modern charity walks.
When the event took place in the early 1970s, nearly 35% of those living in developing countries were undernourished (Our World in Data), and the plight of the world's hungriest was just beginning to make national news.
That same year, Opportunity International began its work serving families living in poverty.
Today on World Hunger Day, we recognize the strides organizations and individuals have taken around the globe to end hunger—while also remembering the magnitude of work that remains.
Since the 1970s, global hunger has dramatically decreased. By 1980, the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries had fallen to 26.5%; and by 2000, it was 18.3%. By 2010, less than 15% of people in developing countries were undernourished, and that number continued to drop to below 13% at the last reporting (Our World in Data). We have collectively made remarkable progress in the fight against hunger in the last five decades.
Moving the Needle on Global Hunger
In 1971, we were just beginning our global work expanding financial services to those living in poverty around the world. Over the years, as we have continued to serve those most in need of support, we have built custom programs to serve families in rural communities—families who rely upon subsistence agriculture to survive and all-to-often struggle with hunger. The International Fund for Agricultural Development noted that three-quarters of the globally hungry live in rural areas, and the majority of those individuals are farmers.
Opportunity International's Agriculture Finance program works to end the cycle of low-productivity farming in rural communities and help rural families transform their small farms into more productive, lucrative, and effective enterprises. AgFinance provides farmers with loans designed for work, the digital resources farmers need for mobile banking, technical training to improve farming practices, and expanded access to markets.
To date, Opportunity International has helped more than 540,000 farmers in sub-Saharan Africa build resilient livelihoods for themselves through small-scale farming—and as a result, these farmers are able to better feed their families and communities.
With targeted, responsive solutions to rural farmers' largest challenges, Opportunity International provides farmers like Ana with the tools they need to transform their businesses and lives. Ana lives in Mozambique and used loans from Opportunity International to purchase additional land to grow bananas, rent a tractor for ploughing, and build her farm enough to employ other community members. Now, Ana has a thriving farm, a savings account, and plans to build a new home. Best of all, she and her family are able to put food on the table.
The Challenging Road Ahead
Despite marked progress, however, the World Health Organization notes that global hunger has continued to rise since 2014, remaining in-step with overall increases in population.
Today, the UN reports that there are still 690 million hungry people globally, and of that 690 million, 60% are women and girls. In Africa, the number of undernourished individuals is the fastest growing worldwide. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, early projections indicate that up to 132 million people could be added to the number of undernourished individuals around the globe—and the World Food Programme estimates that 34 million people are now on the brink of famine, up from 27 million in 2019.
Rural farmers like Ana will continue to feel the economic repercussions of the global health crisis. Although she hopes to continue building her new house, Ana admits that the pandemic has introduced bigger challenges to her livelihood: "Everything has become more complicated."
The world has made significant progress in world hunger since our founding in 1971, but Opportunity International's work—supporting farmers like Ana—remains more critical now than ever.
Learn more about the history, impact, and vision of Opportunity International's Agriculture Finance program by watching this webinar.
Each week for the next 50 weeks, we will share a piece of Opportunity's history—major or minor, sobering or inspiring. We have gotten to where we are today by facing some of the world's greatest challenges, with you by our side. Please join us in celebrating the many significant moments that have built the foundation on which we will embark on our most audacious vision yet: ending extreme poverty.