Project Syndicate

Food Security’s Social Network

The number of chronically undernourished people in the world is rising. In 2016, the number of people without enough to eat increased to 815 million, up from 777 million the year before. Ending global hunger is not just about breeding drought-resistant corn, it is also about having a plan for when that corn fails anyway. It is as much about reimagining social networks as it is about deciding what goes into the ground. It is crucial to invest in new technologies that enable farmers to connect with information and institutions that can decrease uncertainty and mitigate risk. With access to data, markets and financial services, farmers can plant, fertilize, harvest and sell products more effectively. For example, in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, local extension services are delivering real-time weather data to vegetable farmers via SMS. In West Africa, private companies such as Ignitia are expanding the accuracy and precision of SMS weather alerts to remote farmers.

From the CIA to the GFE

The United States needs to shift its spending from war to education, from CIA-backed regime change to a new Global Fund for Education (GFE). The current imbalance in US spending on global education and military-related programs is staggering: $1 billion per year on the former, and roughly $900 billion on the latter. Several recent international reports show that annual global development assistance for primary and secondary education needs to rise from around $4 billion to around $40 billion. Only this ten-fold increase can enable poor countries to achieve universal primary and secondary education (as called for by Goal Four of the new Sustainable Development Goals).

Managing Debt in an Overleveraged World

In the years since the 2008 global financial crisis, austerity and balance-sheet repair have been the watchwords of the global economy. And yet today debt is fueling concern about growth prospects worldwide. The McKinsey Global Institute notes in a study that gross debt has increased about $60 trillion – or 75% of global GDP – since 2008. China’s debt, for example, has increased fourfold since 2007, and its debt-to-GDP ratio is some 282% – higher than in many other major economies, including the United States. A global economy that is levering up, while unable to generate enough aggregate demand to achieve potential growth, is on a risky path. But to assess how risky, several factors must be considered.

The Sustainability Revolution in Finance

A quiet revolution is taking place in the financial industry. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, sustainable development is increasingly being integrated into financial decision-making. The European Union has been rather passive so far in this transformation, but financial regulators in a number of countries are leading the charge. The revolution may be quiet, but it is getting louder. Fossil-fuel companies are increasingly being delegitimized. At the same time, investors are starting to understand that paying attention to climate risk is an integral part of a sound investment strategy that seeks to minimize risk and help to promote financial stability.

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