By Rupert Scofield, FINCA International
Ana Osorio, her husband and eight children live in a small village in rural Honduras. For a number of years, Ana has been making and selling cheese from home to supplement her husband's income from milling grains. But she could only buy milk and other raw materials in small quantities, so she cleared just 30-40 lempira ($1.59 - $2.12) in profit per day.
Even with their combined earnings, Ana and her husband couldn’t afford to buy meat for the family, so they subsisted primarily on rice and beans. While Ana could send her children to school, she couldn’t afford books and supplies.
Because her cheese was well-liked in the village, Ana knew she could increase her earnings if she could boost her production and expand into other dairy products. She joined the Sabana Grande FINCA Village Bank group, and used her first loan of 2,000 lempira ($105) to buy larger quantities of milk at better prices. With subsequent loans of up to $210, Ana has nearly quadrupled her profits.
Ana's family now eats a more balanced, nutritious diet, including meat and vegetables several times a week. Ana's younger children have all the books and supplies they need, and she is helping her older children pay for trade schools.
Ana’s story is one I hear again and again as I visit FINCA microfinance programs around the globe. With a world of opportunity suddenly opened to them, microfinance clients often report rapid growth in family income, which leads to improvements in food security, and in both quantity and quality of foods consumed.
According to the World Food Programme, mothers are the most effective solution for combating and preventing hunger among children. When given the means to improve their families’ quality of life, mothers are more likely to make improved nutrition their number one priority. When asked how microloans have impacted their lives, women typically respond that they can feed their children more often, and are able to add more variety of foods to their diets.
These comments are borne out by the findings of a multiyear study of FINCA clients in Mexico, that found an increase from 20 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2009 in clients reporting that they always had enough of the foods they wanted to consume, even as the total share of clients who said they sometimes had, or often did not have, enough food declined from 41 percent to 35 percent.
Small infusions of loan capital can provide additional food security and improve nutrition for families and, in turn, entire communities. While microfinance cannot always alleviate hunger as a stand alone intervention, it can, when coupled with other poverty alleviation tools, help more effectively reduce hunger one person, one family and one community at a time.
Rupert Scofield is President and CEO of FINCA International whose mission is to provide financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living. He is also the author of The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook: How to Start, Build and Run a Business that Improves the World. He writes a blog at rupertscofield.com
 Women and Hunger: 10 Facts, The World Food Programme http://www.wfp.org/focus-on-women