Ertharian Cousin Takes Aim at Hunger

2 minute read
Belinda Luscombe

Ertharin cousin feeds more people every day than a hundred chefs do collectively in their lifetimes. She doesn’t cook for them; she makes sure they have something to cook. As head of the U.N. World Food Programme, she arranges nourishment for 95 million hungry people a year. It’s a monster task. She has a staff of 14,000 and a budget of about $3.8 billion in aid and food donations. Since taking the job in April 2012, Cousin has discovered that, as with all food preparation, it’s the details that make the difference. In September of that year, a Syrian in a refugee camp she was visiting in Jordan crumbled bread in her face. Instead of having security bundle him off, she asked for a translation of what he was saying. “He told me he was a baker, and this was the wrong bread,” she says. “And so we were able to identify five [Syrian] bakers in the camp who worked with us and the Jordanian bakeries to get the bread recipe right, because it’s such an important part of their diet.”

Making humans less hungry is not a challenge that’s easily met. No matter how often we are fed, we still need to eat again. But Cousin believes hunger is fixable if the well-fed of the world could focus on the problem and invest enough. “We have the ability to increase the yield of small farmers in places where food didn’t grow 50 years ago,” she says. “We can feed the entire population. The only thing stopping us today is the public will, the investment of resources on a sustained basis.”

–BELINDA LUSCOMBE

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