Developing strategies to end hunger

11 posts from June 2008

G8 Summit Set to Waiver on Aid Commitments

In 2005 at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, G8 leaders agreed to double aid to sub-Saharan Africa by 2010--an increase of $25 billion dollars. This commitment has been explicitly reaffirmed at each G8 Summit since then. The Financial Times reported this morning that a draft communique for next week's summit in Hokkaido, Japan, fails to reference the $25 billion, leaving the Gleneagles commitment vague.This comes at a time when developing countries, particularly some of the poorest countries in the world, found in sub-Saharan Africa, are being hard hit by rising food prices. This aid could go far in helping African governments deal with  rising food import bills and invest in agriculture so that smallholder farmers are able to take advantage of higher food prices.

A Rising Tide . . . .

A recent article by George Black in OnEarth, “The Gathering Storm”, provides a sobering look at the likely effects of climate change for Bangladesh – undoubtedly the most at-risk of major countries (population 150 million, roughly half that of the U.S.)  Here, the metaphorical rising tide of global prosperity, based on fossil fuel consumption (and consequent climate change) in wealthy and rapidly developing economies, translates into a literal rising tide of seawater that will (conservative estimate) permanently inundate 12 to 15 percent of the surface area, displacing seven to nine million inhabitants within the next ten years. And that’s only part of the story.

Melting glaciers and deforestation in the headwaters of the major rivers that wind through the country translate into increased runoff in the rainy season (more flooding and displacement) and reduced stream flow in the dry season, which permits salt water intrusion and consequent contamination of soils and groundwater. Three-quarters of the Sundarban – the worlds largest extant mangrove forest and home to countless plant and animal species, many of them endangered (including the Bengal tiger) – which protects major areas of the country from storm surges, will be lost given an 18 inch seawater rise, which is at the lower end of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projections.

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Debating Biofuels

On June 12, “Six major U.S. farm groups called for a congressional investigation of the factors behind higher food prices. ‘Food companies are trying to pass the blame onto farmers while many are enjoying record prices.’" Record prices are being enjoyed by investors such as Vinod Khosla, founder of venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, who wrote opinion article, “All Biofuels Are Not The Same” in the Washington Post June 16. Mr. Khosla is one of the larger investors in cellulosic biofuels research; he states, “Rising food prices are of course a concern, but principally blaming ethanol production is illogical.” His reasoning is based on the facts reported by US Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer who has repeatedly attributed rising food costs as only 3% of the 40% increase in world food prices. Furthermore, Khosla cites, “If biofuels were taken off the market, Merrill Lynch estimates, oil prices would climb 15 percent, putting further upward pressure on food prices.”

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestle, wrote in the Wall Street Journal June 13, that “Biofuels are economical nonsense, ecologically useless, and ethically indefensible. This year, the U.S. will use around 130 million tons of corn for biofuels. This corn was not available as human food, nor as fodder to animals.”

It is clear that corporate interests are cemented to the ethanol debate. What I believe is worth noting is that corporations, driven by for profit agendas, should be in support of getting goods produced cheaper and at higher quality whenever possible. And yet, this option is being ignored. In all of the campaigning and talk, viable solutions are ignored. Will anyone read more closely Roger Cohen’s piece “Bring on the Right Biofuels”, in the New York Times, in which he says that “most of the supposed crimes of biofuels is . . . to borrow a farm image, is hogwash and bilge.” Cohen concluded that biofuels are part of the solution, “It just depends which biofuels.”

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Decrease in U.S. Child Well-Being

Many believe the United States is the “Land of Plenty,” but unfortunately, out of 33 industrialized countries, the U.S. ranked second worst for child well-being according to UNICEF. It also ranked 29th for percentage of low birth-weight babies. The most recent data reported that the national average for low birth-weight babies was 8.5 percent, the highest it has been since 1968.

Low birth-weight babies, those born below 5.5 pounds, have a greater risk of dying during infancy or having health problems later on in life compared to healthy birth-weight babies. These risks have recently been brought to national attention when  KIDS COUNT  reported that the percentage of underweight babies born in the the highest it has been in 40 years. Mississippi ranked worst with a state average of 11.8 percent of babies born under-weight while Alaska, Oregon and Washington tied for lowest at 6.1 percent.

KIDS COUNT is a national program that collects and reports data on the health and poverty status of our nation’s children based on ten categories. The latest report has found both progress and setbacks in the well-being of U.S. children. The indicators for teens have shown improvement, but have regressed for babies. While infant mortality rate has not changed, four other categories have gotten worse including low birth-weight babies, children living with jobless or underemployed parents, children in single-parent families, and children living in poverty.

There are many reasons for the sudden increase in low birth-weight. The coordinator of KIDS COUNT cited the fact that older women are using fertility treatments to get pregnant which often results in multiple births that can lead to an increase in under-weight babies; however, there has also been an increase in low birth-weight babies during single births. Black women have the greatest percentage of low birth-weight babies (13.6%) compared to whites (7.3%) and Hispanics (6.9%).

Poverty has increased in 32 states and 13.3 million U.S. kids, or 18 percent, are living in poverty. This is an increase of 1 million children since 2000. Thirty percent of children in Mississippi live in poverty, the highest state child poverty rate in the nation.

Rome Food Summit: What Happened and Will It Make A Difference?

Forty Heads of State and 100 by Ministers along with members of intergovernmental and civil society organizations gathered last week in Rome to discuss the food prices crisis. The conference concluded with the signing of a Declaration of the High Level Conference On World Food Security. In order to alleviate the hunger afflicting 862 million people in our world today, and in the ongoing effort to successfully reduce by half the number of hungry people by 2015 as was committed in the MDGs, the Declaration included Immediate and Short Term Measures.

The two immediate lines of action are: respond immediately to requests for food assistance from countries in needs and support for agriculture production and trade. In the first line of response member states pledged to provide resources to the relevant UN agencies, deliver food aid more rapidly and re-align food prices and budgeting with realistic expectations for countries most affected by food shortages and higher prices. The second line of action urged immediate changes to be made in trade policies in addition to support for country-led initiatives meant to allow farmers access to markets and more affordable seed and fertilizer. Covering the actions included in the Declaration may cost $30 billion a year says Jacques Diouf, Director General of the FAO. “The problem of food insecurity is a political one,” he said. “It is a question of priorities in the face of the most fundamental of human needs.” The Declaration calls for “development partners to undertake initiatives to moderate unusual fluctuations in the food grain prices” and “all relevant organizations and cooperating countries” to enact policy which will benefit small scale farmers. The Declaration also included a pledge by members of the World Trade Organization to complete the Doha Development Round.

In addition to short term measures, the Declaration included Medium and Long-Term Measures. Six points, under the heading Medium and Long Term Measures, addressed the need to increase food production, bolster investment in science and technology for food and agriculture, liberalize international trade policies, and gain an in-depth understanding posed by biofuels. All six points called for “people-centered policy framework.”

But the Declaration and whole Rome process are already being criticized: The absence of small-scale farmers is a “reflection of how disconnected and dis-linked our multilateral agencies are from the situation on the ground” stated Ajay Vashee, Director of the International Federation of Agriculture Producers (IFAP). Speaking at the 38th World Farmers’ Congress which unites “600 million independent family farmers in 115 organizations from 80 countries around the globe,” Vashee added that “The people who have the ability to actually do something about this crisis were precluded. . . I’m worried about the importance and priority of farmers in this whole equation.”

Another Long Term Measure established in the Rome Declaration was to urge governments to address the climate and land challenges facing their countries agriculture production. A major recovery effort will need to take place to counter the negative consequences of asset-depletion as farmers are forced to eat their own livestock in order to feed their families, eat their seeds, or ruin their farming land by planting nutrient-draining crops. On June 6, Jan Egeland the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Conflict, was on the edge of the Sahara Desert observing the food situation and the impact of climate change in this tenuous region. In Niger he wrote, “Tens of thousands of people are yet again in a critical nutritional situation this year, and millions are food insecure. A new film made by the UN showed the desperate situation of some of the pastoralists here. In it herders described themselves as 'living in a cage' because they have less and less access to grazing land, as land is taken for agriculture and the desertification of what is left is relentless.”

Dispatch from Santa Ana, California

The sunny weather and towering palm trees in the big blue skies of Santa Ana, California belie the incredible stresses cracking the foundation of this community. Hunger and poverty here are widespread. When students at the area schools register each year, one of the questions on the form their parents are asked to complete is will the kids be living in a car. Families pile up in the small bungalow houses. To pool their resources, families will rent out the garages to turn into living spaces. The average cost of a two-bedroom apartment is $1,400 per month, more than what many Santa Ana families earn in a month.

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The GAO Gets It Right (almost)

The recent GAO report -- INTERNATIONAL FOOD SECURITY: Insufficient Efforts by Host governments and Donors Threaten Progress to Halve Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015 – confirms, in its own carefully-worded way, what Bread for the World and others in the global development community have been saying for years – that despite their commitment to halve hunger in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015, “efforts of host governments and donors, including the United States, to accelerate progress toward that goal have been insufficient.” To put this in context, the report cites the commitments made by the United States and more than 180 world leaders at 1996 World Food Summit to halve the total number of undernourished people worldwide from the 1990 level by 2015. More than a decade later, the report notes, the number of undernourished has not decreased significantly, and about 850 million people, including 170 million children, remain undernourished.

Rachael Nugent, in a blog post at the Center for Global Development website, observes that, “The GAO is far too kind. U.S. and other donor hunger policies have been disastrous, as demonstrated by the current food price crisis. The sub-title of the GAO's Report says progress to cut hunger is threatened by these donor mistakes. In fact, as the GAO itself points out, there is NO progress in reducing world hunger!”

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Notes from VITA Volunteer Emily Nohner

Emily Nohner has joined Bread for the World Institute to work with me on the 2009 Hunger Report and will be blogging on Institute Notes over the course of the next year. Below is her first entry (after this she will be blogging under her own name). From January to April of this year, Emily worked on a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program in the District of Columbia.  You may recall the Institute published a study in April on VITA programs nationwide. Emily was also an intern on that project.

"On April 15th, the final day to file state and federal taxes, volunteers were working ‘round the clock at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in the heart of the District of Columbia. It was our final push to the finish line, and as the clock ticked closer to our 9PM closing time the volunteers had to restrain their urge to get swept away in the last minute frenzy.

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Free Trade and Stethoscopes

For the most part, free trade has been a boon to poor people around the world. Free trade, maybe more than anything, has helped raise hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. There is of course a downside. In the United States, many low-skill workers have lost their jobs because of free trade.

Last year, I toured Michigan and Ohio and talked to lots of people who lost manufacturing jobs because their plant had moved overseas. It was always sad, sometimes poignant, and I can't minimize these people's pain. We need better safety nets for people whose jobs vanish because of free trade. Basically, we need better safety nets in this country that all people could benefit from, not just those who lose their jobs as a result of foreign competition.

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Rethinking AFRICOM

According to a Washington Post story this past Sunday, the Pentagon is scaling back its plans for AFRICOM – the Africa Command – in the face of resistance from African governments and protests from the U.S. NGO development community.  The concept behind AFRICOM was to consolidate DOD responsibilities for Africa, currently divided among the four other “Unified Combatant Commands.” However, AFRICOM’s proposed mission came to be regarded as an opportunity to combine U.S. “hard” and “soft” power in an integrated program that would, in addition to military-to-military programs, include promoting “development, health, education, democracy and economic growth.” The expansion of scope to include traditional development programs led to concerns over the "militarization" of development and humanitarian operations in Africa. And plans for a number of military liaison groups to be posted in “key countries” led to rampant speculation in African media and government circles that the U.S. planned major new military installations on the continent.

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