Your Best Ideas for Fixing Hunger

The 10 most effective ideas for improving the world.
April 30 2012 2:25 PM

Your Priorities for Fixing Hunger

Slate readers respond to the Copenhagen Consensus ideas to solve malnutrition.

The idea behind Copenhagen Consensus 2012 is to prioritize some of the world’s most important spending, with the latest economic analysis providing us with an input. In a series of 10 articles, I am drawing on new research papers that present the costs and benefits of the smartest ways to respond to global challenges. Each article has a poll, and Slate readers can vote on the investments that they believe should be the highest priorities—along with those that should not. You can read more about the rationale behind the project here.

Over the course of the series, we will see how readers rank responses to a range of challenges, and at the end we will identify the investments that Slate readers think should be the highest priority. We will be able to contrast these with the findings of a panel of Nobel laureate economists.

In the first installment,  we looked at ways to fight hunger and malnutrition.

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In the comments accompanying the article, many readers referred to overpopulation, contending that the challenge was not one of a lack of food but of too many people. There was an argument for a “fifth option’” in addition to the four investments examined: some form of family planning or contraception promotion. As part of Copenhagen Consensus 2012, we will look at possible responses to changing demographics and examine specifically whether or not investment in family-planning promotion measures up. So Slate readers who believe that policy investment should be prioritized will have a chance to vote for it then.

Others argued that the real problem we need to deal with is poverty. There is some truth in this: As we saw in the new research, the planet creates more than enough food to meet everyone’s needs, but there are still millions going without. That’s why one proposed solution was increasing R&D to increase yield enhancements, in order to lower prices to make food more affordable. This investment could also go a considerable distance to increasing local agricultural production in some developing nations—something that several Slate readers argued needed to be increased.

It’s also relevant to point out that almost every single investment looked at by Copenhagen Consensus 2012 will reduce poverty. In coming days, I’ll be sharing the new research on ways to reduce the carnage caused by civil wars, increase educational outcomes, lessen the devastating impacts of natural disasters, and many other investments that will effectively improve the lot of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.

So, how did Slate readers vote so far? It’s interesting to note that readers followed the economic evidence. So far, they have strongly voted to give bundled micronutrient interventions their highest ranking. This is an area where, for just $100 per child, we could generate benefits worth 30 times higher. In economic terms, the research suggests that it’s a very strong policy.

Second-ranked is R&D to increase yield enhancements, followed by investments designed to increase competition in the fertilizer market. Slate readers who responded to the poll gave the least support to investment in advisory text messages for farmers (designed to improve their productivity and output).

In coming days, we will see how you think these investments measure up against responses to other global challenges. Today’s topic is chronic disease. Keep the votes—and the comments—coming!

Bjørn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center. He is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, and most recently How Much Have Global Problems Cost the World?