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  • I've been living in rural East Africa for about 10 years,

  • and I want to share a field perspective with you on global poverty.

  • I believe that the greatest failure of the human race

  • is the fact that we've left more than one billion of our members behind.

  • Hungry, extreme poverty:

  • these often seem like gigantic, insurmountable problems,

  • too big to solve.

  • But as a field practitioner,

  • I believe these are actually very solvable problems

  • if we just take the right strategies.

  • Archimedes was an ancient Greek thinker,

  • and he taught us that if we lean on the right levers,

  • we can move the world.

  • In the fight against extreme poverty, I believe there are three powerful levers

  • that we can lean on.

  • This talk is all about those levers, and why they make poverty

  • a winnable fight in our lifetimes.

  • What is extreme poverty?

  • When I first moved to rural East Africa,

  • I stayed overnight with a farm family.

  • They were wonderful people.

  • They invited me into their home. We sang songs together

  • and ate a simple dinner.

  • They gave me a blanket to sleep on the floor.

  • In the morning, however, there was nothing to eat.

  • And then at lunchtime, I watched with an increasingly sick feeling

  • as the eldest girl in the family cooked porridge as a substitute for lunch.

  • For that meal, every child drank one cup to survive.

  • And I cannot tell you how ashamed I felt

  • when they handed one of those cups to me,

  • and I knew I had to accept their hospitality.

  • Children need food not only to survive but also to grow physically and mentally.

  • Every day they fail to eat, they lose a little bit of their future.

  • Amongst the extreme poor, one in three children

  • are permanently stunted from a lifetime of not eating enough.

  • When that's combined with poor access to health care,

  • one in 10 extremely poor children die before they reach age five.

  • And only one quarter of children complete high school

  • because they lack school fees.

  • Hunger and extreme poverty curb human potential in every possible way.

  • We see ourselves as a thinking, feeling and moral human race,

  • but until we solve these problems for all of our members,

  • we fail that standard,

  • because every person on this planet matters.

  • This child matters.

  • These children matter.

  • This girl matters.

  • You know, we see things like this,

  • and we're upset by them,

  • but they seem like such big problems.

  • We don't know how to take effective action.

  • But remember our friend Archimedes.

  • Global poverty has powerful levers.

  • It's a problem like any other.

  • I live and work in the field, and as a practitioner,

  • I believe these are very solvable problems.

  • So for the next 10 minutes,

  • let's not be sad about the state of the world.

  • Let's engage our brains.

  • Let's engage our collective passion for problem-solving

  • and figure out what those levers are.

  • Lever number one: most of the world's poor are farmers.

  • Think about how extraordinary this is.

  • If this picture represents the world's poor,

  • then more than half engage in farming as a major source of income.

  • This gets me really excited.

  • All of these people, one profession.

  • Think how powerful this is.

  • When farmers become more productive, then more than half the world's poor

  • earn more money and climb out of poverty.

  • And it gets better.

  • The product of farming is, of course, food.

  • So when farmers become more productive, they earn more food,

  • and they don't just help themselves,

  • but they help to feed healthy communities and thriving economies.

  • And when farmers become more productive, they reduce environmental pressure.

  • We only have two ways we can feed the world:

  • we can either make our existing farmland a lot more productive,

  • or we can clear cut forest and savannah to make more farmland,

  • which would be environmentally disastrous.

  • Farmers are basically a really important leverage point.

  • When farmers become more productive,

  • they earn more income, they climb out of poverty,

  • they feed their communities and they reduce environmental land pressure.

  • Farmers stand at the center of the world.

  • And not a farmer like this one,

  • but rather this lady.

  • Most of the farmers I know are actually women.

  • Look at the strength and the will radiating from this woman.

  • She is physically strong, mentally tough,

  • and she will do whatever it takes to earn a better life for her children.

  • If we're going to put the future of humanity in one person's hands,

  • then I'm really glad it's her.

  • (Applause)

  • There's just one problem:

  • many smallholder farmers lack access to basic tools and knowledge.

  • Currently, they take a little bit of saved food grain from the prior year,

  • they plant it in the ground and they till it with a manual hand hoe.

  • These are tools and techniques that date to the Bronze Age,

  • and it's why many farmers are still very poor.

  • But good news, again.

  • Lever number two:

  • humanity actually solved the problem of agricultural poverty a century ago.

  • Let me walk you through the three most basic factors in farming.

  • First, hybrid seed is created when you cross two seeds together.

  • If you naturally pollinate a high-yielding variety

  • together with a drought-resistant variety,

  • you get a hybrid that inherits positive traits from both of its parents.

  • Next, conventional fertilizer, if used responsibly,

  • is environmentally sustainable.

  • If you micro-dose just a pinch of fertilizer

  • to a plant that's taller than I am,

  • you unlock enormous yield gain.

  • These are known as farm inputs.

  • Farm inputs need to be combined with good practice.

  • When you space your seeds and plant with massive amounts of compost,

  • farmers multiply their harvests.

  • These proven tools and practices have more than tripled

  • agricultural productivity in every major region of the world,

  • moving mass numbers of people out of poverty.

  • We just haven't finished delivering these things to everybody just yet,

  • particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • So overall, this is amazing news.

  • Humanity actually solved agricultural poverty a century ago,

  • in theory.

  • We just haven't delivered these things to everybody just yet.

  • In this century, the reason that people remain poor

  • is because maybe they live in remote places.

  • They lack access to these things.

  • Therefore, ending poverty is simply a matter

  • of delivering proven goods and services to people.

  • We don't need more genius types right now.

  • The humble delivery guy is going to end global poverty in our lifetime.

  • So these are the three levers,

  • and the most powerful lever is simply delivery.

  • Wherever the world's companies, governments and nonprofits

  • set up delivery networks for life-improving goods,

  • we eliminate poverty.

  • OK, so that sounds really nice in theory,

  • but what about in practice?

  • What do these delivery networks look like?

  • I want to share the concrete example that I know best,

  • my organization, One Acre Fund.

  • We only serve the farmer,

  • and our job is to provide her with the tools that she needs to succeed.

  • We start off by delivering farm inputs to really rural places.

  • Now, this may appear initially very challenging,

  • but it's pretty possible. Let me show you.

  • We buy farm inputs with the combined power of our farmer network,

  • and store it in 20 warehouses like this.

  • Then, during input delivery, we rent hundreds of 10-ton trucks

  • and send them out to where farmers are waiting in the field.

  • They then get their individual orders and walk it home to their farms.

  • It's kind of like Amazon for rural farmers.

  • Importantly, realistic delivery also includes finance, a way to pay.

  • Farmers pay us little by little over time, covering most of our expenses.

  • And then we surround all that with training.

  • Our rural field officers deliver practical, hands-on training

  • to farmers in the field

  • every two weeks.

  • Wherever we deliver our services, farmers use these tools

  • to climb out of poverty.

  • This is a farmer in our program, Consolata.

  • Look at the pride on her face.

  • She has achieved a modest prosperity that I believe is the human right

  • of every hardworking person on the planet.

  • Today, I'm proud to say that we're serving about 400,000 farmers like Consolata.

  • (Applause)

  • The key to doing this is scalable delivery.

  • In any given area, we hire a rural field officer

  • who delivers our services to 200 farmers, on average,

  • with more than 1,000 people living in those families.

  • Today, we have 2,000 of these rural field officers

  • growing very quickly.

  • This is our delivery army,

  • and we're just one organization.

  • There are many companies, governments and nonprofits

  • that have delivery armies just like this.

  • And I believe we stand at a moment in time

  • where collectively, we are capable of delivering farm services to all farmers.

  • Let me show you how possible this is.

  • This is a map of Sub-Saharan Africa,

  • with a map of the United States for scale.

  • I chose Sub-Saharan Africa because this is a huge delivery territory.

  • It's very challenging.

  • But we analyzed every 50-mile by 50-mile block on the continent,

  • and we found that half of farmers live in just these shaded regions.

  • That's a remarkably small area overall.

  • If you were to lay these boxes next to each other

  • within a map of the United States,

  • they would only cover the Eastern United States.

  • You can order pizza anywhere in this territory

  • and it'll arrive to your house hot, fresh and delicious.

  • If America can deliver pizza to an area of this size,

  • then Africa's companies, governments and non-profits

  • can deliver farm services to all of her farmers.

  • This is possible.

  • I'm going to wrap up by generalizing beyond just farming.

  • In every field of human development,

  • humanity has already invented effective tools to end poverty.

  • We just need to deliver them.

  • So again, in every area of human development,

  • super-smart people a long time ago invented inexpensive,

  • highly effective tools.

  • Humanity is armed to the teeth

  • with simple, effective solutions to poverty.

  • We just need to deliver these to a pretty small area.

  • Again using the map of Sub-Saharan Africa as an example,

  • remember that rural poverty is concentrated in these blue shaded areas.

  • Urban poverty is even more concentrated, in these green little dots.

  • Again, using a map of the United States for scale,

  • this is what I would call a highly achievable delivery zone.

  • In fact, for the first time in human history,

  • we have a vast amount of delivery infrastructure available to us.

  • The world's companies, governments and non-profits

  • have delivery armies that are fully capable

  • of covering this relatively small area.

  • We just lack the will.

  • If we are willing,

  • every one of us has a role to play.

  • We first need more people to pursue careers in human development,

  • especially if you live in a developing nation.

  • We need more front line health workers, teachers, farmer trainers,

  • sales agents for life-improving goods.

  • These are the delivery people that dedicate their careers

  • to improving the lives of others.

  • But we also need a lot of support roles.

  • These are roles available at just my organization alone,

  • and we're just one out of many.

  • This may surprise you, but no matter what your technical specialty,

  • there is a role for you in this fight.

  • And no matter how logistically possible it is to end poverty,

  • we need a lot more resources.

  • This is our number one constraint.

  • For private investors, we need a big expansion of venture capital,

  • private equity, working capital, available in emerging markets.

  • But there are also limits to what private business can accomplish.

  • Private businesses often struggle to profitably serve the extreme poor,

  • so philanthropy still has a major role to play.

  • Anybody can give, but we need more leadership.

  • We need more visionary philanthropists

  • and global leaders who will take problems in human development

  • and lead humanity to wipe them off the face of the planet.

  • If you're interested in these ideas, check out this website.