Hambre Cero or an Alternative
We can all find a lot of information about Hambre Cero, the program to eliminate hunger and, by implication, poverty, in Nicaragua. Some of what you read will say yes, it is working. Other articles will say no.
Rather than have a party line discussion about it, I want to look at it's intent and its alternatives. That is, it is clear there is hunger and poverty in many places in the world—including first world countries. Is what the Sandinista government doing here make sense and, if not, is there a better approach?
The problems with hunger and poverty are nothing new in Nicaragua nor most other places. During the Somoza Dynasty, the best description of what was done was ignore the poor. A clearly inexpensive approach as far as government costs and, to a certain extent, it worked. Talking to older Nicaraguans, it seems they just had zero expectations of the government doing anything for them.
People accepted that rural education all but didn't exist and that health care, while provided, was not going to be available locally for much of the population. Subsistence farming was a way of life for many and expecting to be able to move to the city and get a job pretty much didn't exist because of the lack of education and skills development for a non-rural life.
Enter the idealistic Sandinistas in 1979. They emphasized education and expansion of the health care network. Support for their programs came from around the world. They also felt that creating agricultural cooperatives such that the rural poor could pool their skills was the way to address the have/have not situation. We could debate why this effort failed but that would not be particularly productive. It is likely the failure was a combination of the poor not wanting to work together, the rich not wanting to be pushed out of the equation, lack of sufficient government organization and help and the US-backed war.
The neo-liberal years shifted things back to something much like the Somoza years. That is, little government involvement with the excuse being that private enterprise would address the issues. As would be expected, the issues to private enterprise was to maximize their income.
When the FSLN gained control of the presidency once again, a new approach was to be tried. That is Hambre Cero. Rather than the cooperative approach of the 1980s, this approach is to help individuals climb up out of poverty. The approach works by giving poor families a set of start-up tools including seeds, chickens, a cow, and some roofing. It is then up to those families to move themself forward.
Hambre Zero and Alternatives
If we read about the results, some will say that Hambre Cero works, others will tell us it doesn't. From my point of view, both answers are valid. That is, it works for some families, not for others.
A common criticism is that a family will sell the roofing and butcher the animals for meat rather than keep them to produce milk and eggs. This, of course, does happen. It doesn't happen with everyone but it certainly does happen. Another criticism is that these items were given to families who don't own sufficient land to provide food for the cow. I know, first hand, that happens as well.
Realistically, we can say that sometimes you don't get the planned result. This is, of course, true no matter what you do. To look at only a few of the ways the US attempts to address the poverty issue, there is welfare (a government handout usually based on the number of children you can claim to have), food stamps (another program based on the number of mouths to feed) and paying farmers not to grow things (in order to maintain higher prices for the products of other farmers).
Each of the US programs is going to have a lot more government overhead than Hambre Cero. It seems extremely unlikely they address the real issue of producing people that can feed themselves without government help. If anything, they seem designed to build government dependence.
The worst case happening with Hambre Cero is that a Nicaraguan family will trade the government handout for cash which they will then use unwisely. That worst case is really where the US programs I have mentioned start.
I have thought about Hambre Cero vs. what I saw growing up in California. My conclusion is that Hambre Cero at least seems to start at a better place. I have then tried to think of what sort of approach might be better at achieving the stated goals. I can't think of one. Can you?