Failure to educate children perpetuates hunger and poverty

Top priority should be given to improving access to quality education in rural areas for communities of farmers, fisherfolk, and livestock producers as well as populations living in mountains, forests and deserts, FAO said today.

© FAO/G. van Kesteren/Magnum Photos

28 November 2005, Beijing/Bangkok/Rome – “Failure to educate children in rural areas perpetuates needless hunger. Attending primary education is one of the surest ways out of the cycle of poverty and hunger for children and their families,” said Mr. He Changchui, FAO’s top envoy at the Fifth High Level Group Meeting on Education for All (EFA) in Beijing (28-30 November 2005).

Growing inequalities

Growing inequalities exist among urban and rural regions with about 75 percent of the world’s poor living in rural areas. Giving the multifaceted character of poverty and food insecurity, the ‘agriculture-only’ model of rural development has proven inadequate, according to FAO.

Research indicates that education contributes significantly to reducing malnutrition while playing an important role in increasing productivity, according to FAO.

Sudden improvements can be made which enable accelerated progress in primary school attendance when countries make education free of school fees and other charges.

“Children attending schools offering free meals are 30 percent more likely to complete primary education,” added Mr He, who is FAO’s Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.

Empowerment of poor people and policy- and institutional reforms in the rural sector leading to full participation of stakeholders need to be the starting point, FAO said.

Improving livelihoods

Basic education immediately and positively affects the productivity of subsistence and smallholder farmers. The provision of more and better basic educational services such as primary education, literacy and basic skills training in rural areas can substantially improve productivity and livelihoods.

Rural people often do not have a strong political voice and leadership, and priorities for allocating public expenditures are heavily skewed in favour of the urban sector, FAO added.

The FAO-led flagship partnership Education for Rural People (ERP) brings together key actors from the agricultural, rural development and education sectors and aims to contribute to achieve the MDGs and especially poverty reduction and rural development, improved nutrition, and food security through basic education for all in rural regions.

The Beijing high level group meeting is addressing Education for Rural People (ERP) as a core policy issue.

Sustainable growth

Education is a key economic, social and cultural asset for individuals and their nations, with each year of additional primary schooling representing an important asset for higher income in later life.

“The challenge is to work for sustainable development in rural areas that favours the poor and provides more resources for health, education and gender equality and a sustainable environment worldwide,” emphasized Lavinia Gasperini, senior officer for agricultural extension at FAO’s headquarters in Rome.

Addressing the UN Millennium Development Goals requires stronger and specific investments in rural people. The ERP partnership serves as a mechanism to alert governments, donors and other stakeholders of the need for systematic action and investment in basic education.

FAO and the UN Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched the ERP programme during the Word Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg. This programme is supporting the achievement of the UN millennium development goals and is one of the nine EFA flagship initiatives.