Improving governance to eradicate hunger and poverty

Why has eradicating hunger and poverty proved difficult despite its being a declared goal of the international development community for more than half a century? Why has the number of hungry people increased in recent years? Why is poverty particularly persistent in Sub-Saharan Africa? Why do economically successful developing countries in Asia and Latin America have regions lagging in eradicating poverty? Over time, the answers to these questions—the basis of development strategies—have changed. With the emergence of a more comprehensive understanding of the challenge of development, various constraints have been identified: adverse ecological conditions, inadequate technology, lack of capital and education, cultural factors, and institutional failures. In analyzing the challenges of eradicating hunger and poverty, governance has attracted particular attention in the past decade. As Kofi Annan, the then secretary-general of the United Nations, told world leaders in 1998: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.”

Governance is the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Different definitions of good governance have been proposed by development organizations. The definition offered by the United Nations Development Programme highlights participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, sustainability, the rule of law, and the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable people in making decisions about allocating development resources. A widely used set of aggregate data from a broad range of sources compiled by the World Bank Institute measures the following dimensions of good governance: political stability and absence of violence, the rule of law, voice and accountability, regulatory quality, government effectiveness and control of corruption, and environmental governance. As is explained below, each of these dimensions of governance is important for eradicating hunger and poverty. Overall progress in improving governance, as measured by these dimensions, has been slow in the past decade. This is alarming because the poorest and most food-insecure people live in countries with weak governance. However, encouraging trends are evident in some countries—including some African countries—that are making considerable progress in improving governance.

Birner, Regina
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
Special Edition
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