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close this bookTackling Hunger in a World Full of Food: Tasks Ahead for Food Aid (WFP)
close this folder3. Sustaining and enhancing lives
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHunger constrains human development
View the documentThe key role of women in food security


Food aid supports people to attain their human potential
3.1 A second major priority for food aid is to support people at times when food needs are critical, so that they will be better able to attain their human potential. Solving short-term hunger is pre-requisite for longer-term development solutions. It is necessary to break the cycle of hunger that transcends generations. Vulnerable people must be assisted to be more ready to cope with shocks and able to build on opportunities for advancement.

Hunger constrains human development

3.2 People who benefit from food aid are survivors not failures-they have typically managed to live through droughts, nurture families through the depredations of poverty and hunger, and overcome major traumas of conflict or social disruption. What they deserve is a chance to move on in their lives, to move beyond survival and build a sustainable livelihood. Food aid can help them do it.

Damage inflicted on children by hunger is often irreversible

3.3 Food aid provided at crucial times of an individual's life is a pre-investment in future health and productivity. People cannot eat retroactively. It is extremely difficult to make up for the damage inflicted by inadequate nutrition in the first five years of life. The nutritional welfare of mothers and infants is vital. If it is inadequate, the damage is both lasting and far broader than the individuals and families involved. Society as a whole suffers losses when children cannot learn, when poor health restricts energy and productivity, when hungry women give birth to a new generation that is malnourished. What is at stake is the productive potential of enormous numbers of affected individuals. To allow these losses is to allow the perpetuation of hunger and poverty.
3.4 Food aid can help to break the cycle of hunger by enabling the poor to gain better access to services and markets that help them take the first important steps out of food insecurity. Hunger is integrally linked to other conditions which restrict human potential-poor sanitation and hygiene, illiteracy, lack of education facilities, and a lack of access to health care. Targeted food aid not only responds to immediate hunger but also draws vulnerable mothers and children to clinics, encourages and enables poor women to attend literacy and reproductive health training, induces parents to allow their daughters to attend school, supports communities wishing to develop improved water supply and sanitary facilities, or improves the quality and reach of nutrition education. Food aid can also give destitute women the time and resource-buffer that permits them to access productive credit, an approach pioneered by the Grammeen Bank. Used in such ways, food aid represents a pre-investment in human potential, a way of letting the poor take advantage of external assistance and frees them from long-run dependency.

The key role of women in food security

Resources for women are resources for food security
3.5 Women are a key part of the solution to hunger (Quisumbing et al. 1995). They shoulder a major share of the responsibilities for household food security, and experience has shown that resources in the hands of women often have a greater nutritional benefit to children than the same resources controlled by men. They are more likely than men to spend a given income on food for the family (Pena, Webb and Haddad 1994). Thus, resources for women represent resources for food security. Successful development for women does not stop at the individual-it benefits whole households and communities. Reducing gender disparities by enhancing the human and physical resources commanded by women leads to growth in household agricultural productivity, greater income and better food and nutrition security for all (Quisumbing et al. 1995).
3.6 What is more, educating mothers is especially important to reducing child mortality (Mosley and Cowley 1991). Educated women are more likely to have the status and power in a household to ensure prenatal care, delivery care, childhood immunizations, better diets for children and even better housing. Educated mothers are also more likely to be an effective agent of social change, encouraging their own girls to attend school and playing a crucial role in community development as a whole.
Food aid can reach women better than capital flows
3.7 Food aid, as one of several resources supporting change among hungry households, often reaches hungry women better than the capital flows that make up close to 95 percent of total development assistance. Food aid provided as wages or as incentives to participate in income earning or training can reach women in food insecure households which are often 'crowded out' of projects offering cash. Likewise, lower status food offered in full or part remuneration for project activities attracts the most needy members of a community. Experience shows that wealthier households tend to participate less in food-for-work, and food wages typically result in a larger share of the wage being consumed as food than when cash is offered (Ahmed 1994; Webb 1995). Moreover, food wages are inflation-proof when markets are unstable or shortages bring major price increases. In short, the self-targeting potential of food aid makes it well suited to expanded use as a kind of 'resource window' for women and others among the very poor.