Developing strategies to end hunger

6 posts from December 2011

Putting the Spotlight on Persistent Hunger in North Korea

Photo by Flickr user yeowatzup

You’ve probably read about the passing of North Korea’s longtime dictator, Kim Jong-il.  His son, Kim Jong-un, is assumed to succeed him, but not much is known about Kim Jong-un and whether he will continue his father’s legacy of dictatorship, suppressing the economy, and repressing human rights.  As we read the reports this week on the country’s political, economic, and military situation, let’s not forget that North Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of hunger and malnutrition.

In April 2011, the World Food Program (WFP) launched an emergency food aid program in North Korea aimed primarily at women and children following a brutal winter in which traditional food supplies and commercial imports fell short. At that time it was estimated that 3.5 million people were critically short on food because the North Korean government’s Public Distribution System (PDS) stocks were nearly zero. By June 2011, individual cereal rations being distributed were only about 150 grams per day – about a quarter pound.  Can you imagine living on just a bowl of cereal per day?

Overall, malnutrition rates among children in North Korea have gone down over the past 10 years, but one in every three children in the country remains chronically malnourished or “stunted,” meaning they are too short for their age. Furthermore, a quarter of all pregnant and breast-feeding women in North Korea are also malnourished.  North Korean food security experts have determined that even small shock in future food stores could trigger a severe crisis that would be difficult to contain.

The WFP reports current rations provided by the North Korean government meet well less than half of the daily calorific needs for the 68 percent of the 16 million people receiving public food rations through the PDS. People are struggling to find food by alternative means, but they lack purchasing power because of poor economic conditions in a country that remains one of the most isolated in the world.  A major crop and food security assessment mission was undertaken in October 2011.  The results are expected to show that North Korea remains one of the most food-deficit countries in the world.

As news reports continue to focus on North Korea’s political instability, it’s imperative for us to remember the persistent hunger crisis in North Korea and the people’s inability to fight for their right to adequate food for their children. 

Scott-bleggiScott Bleggi is senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.



SNAP to Attention

Time will tell, but Monday, December 12, may prove to be a major milestone for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

On Monday, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) launched a new website called SNAP to Health, “a virtual town hall on SNAP (formerly food stamps) and nutrition in the United States.”

“Until now, there has not been a single place where interested individuals across multiple sectors could convene to discuss ideas about how to improve nutrition among SNAP beneficiaries,” wrote Susan Blumenthal in the Huffington Post.

There are plenty of good ideas floating around about how to improve SNAP, but the task of centralizing them in one place had fallen to no one until now.  Bread for the World Institute’s 2012 Hunger Report, Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies, considers a variety of ways to improve SNAP—for example, what you’ll find here about scaling up incentive programs to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.

Over the last year, Bread activists have mostly been focused on protecting SNAP from cuts. This is by no means the time to let down your guard. But it’s also important to remember the key role SNAP plays in ensuring low-income households can afford to purchase healthy food. The boost in SNAP benefits included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was probably the main reason hunger rates over the past two years did not increase, even as the economy worsened and high unemployment rates held steady.

In spite of improvements to SNAP, tens of millions of Americans are barely spending enough to maintain a healthy diet, according to a report released last week by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “Less spending on food would not be a problem if households were spending amounts adequate to obtain a healthy diet even after the reduction,” wrote FRAC. “But the evidence is that they are not—that they are spending less than the USDA-defined level that many experts consider to be already inadequate.”

Using USDA data, FRAC reports that median household spending on food fell by one-eighth between 2000 and 2010. The problem is not confined to low-income households, so the drop in spending can’t all be explained by the rise in unemployment due to the recession. Other factors include flattening wage rates coupled with food inflation and other increases in living expenses.

I hope SNAP to Health will attract attention from policymakers and activists by providing a place for different interest groups to coalesce around the best way to support a program that is critical to the well-being of millions of families. The next several months are a good time to focus attention on SNAP. The farm bill is scheduled to be reauthorized in 2012, and SNAP is part of the bill. Reauthorization occurs once every five years or so, meaning this is the opportune time to improve SNAP.

Beyond Busan

South Korea was a fitting site for the  Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4), held last week in the seaside city of Busan. As host, South Korea provided a concrete example of how aid can be an effective catalyst for development if it is supported by the values of transparency, mutual accountability, and strong multi-stakeholder engagement.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Busan Forum      Photo Credit:Miriam Gathigah /IPS

For three days, delegates from governments and civil society all over the world met to review progress on implementing the principles of the Paris Declaration, which were articulated in 2005 as key ingredients in the effort to make development assistance more effective. In Busan, a main focus was how to maintain the relevance of the aid effectiveness agenda given the quickly changing development landscape.

Today’s foreign assistance landscape is drastically different from that of 20 years ago. Presently, more development actors are on the scene, and emerging donors are contributing to significant shifts in how foreign aid is given and used. Two decades ago, aid from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development‘s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries comprised about 80 percent of all global development assistance. Today, this amount is closer to 50 percent. Significant increases in assistance from non-DAC countries—notably Brazil, India, and China—are fueling this change.

But it’s important to note that although the international community often characterizes them as new or emerging donors, many of these countries have a long history of development cooperation. It’s just that non-DAC donors have been largely outside the traditional aid frameworks.

So far, there’s been no effective mechanism to bring together the diverse range of interests and perspectives of current development actors. Beyond financial resources, emerging donors bring distinctive philosophies, expertise, and modalities to their cooperation, often based on their shared development trajectories with their partner countries. Some of these are:

  • A keen interest in transfer of technical and human capacities, which they view as at least as important as financial resources;
  • A willingness to try newer approaches such as budget support and programmatic lending;
  • An interest in helping to build infrastructure through public-private financing, which expands the range of financial instruments available for development.

Among the highlights of the Busan forum was the increased interest in signing onto the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Transparency was one of the most widely discussed issues during the negotiations. Among the new signatories are the United States, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.N. Capital Development Fund, which all joined IATI last week.

The forum in Busan marked a turning point for international development cooperation. The outcome document - the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation- was signed by ministers of developed, emerging, and developing nations, leading partners in South-South cooperation, and civil society organizations. It calls for commitment from all partners to the shared principles of country ownership, results, transparency, and accountability that underpin the global partnership for effective development. The document acknowledges that while development cooperation is only part of the solution, it plays a catalytic and indispensable role in supporting poverty eradication, social protection, economic growth, and sustainable development. This declaration establishes the first-ever agreed framework for development cooperation that embraces traditional donors, South-South partnerships, emerging donors such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, civil society organizations, and private funders.

But this document alone is insufficient, and it doesn’t guarantee that traditional and new donors and partner countries will work together to improve the impact of aid on development. The commitments contained in the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation must be accompanied by strong political will and action.

With more players in the game now, donors and partner countries must strengthen development effectiveness by taking important measures:

  •  Cooperation must be aligned to national development strategies. Moreover, these strategies must be developed through broad-based processes with the participation of civil society organizations, academic institutions, and independent media.
  • Transparency and mutual accountability must be enhanced, including that of Southern donors and countries to each other and to their citizens.

Better Nutrition in Food Aid Coming


Photo by Paul Alberghine, USDA/FAS

The USDA announced that it is investing $8.5 million in six organizations to research, produce, and field-test new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products in six countries: Cambodia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Mozambique and Tanzania. The awards were made on the basis of proposals submitted under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program.

The new products being developed are designed to meet the energy and nutrition needs of women, infants, and school-age children. Through this effort, USDA will identify products that can be programmed on a larger scale to address specific nutritional deficiencies among these groups. The McGovern-Dole Program helps low-income, food-deficit countries that are committed to universal education. It provides food donations, financial and technical assistance for school feeding, and maternal and child nutrition projects.

The awards were made under the Micronutrient-Fortified Food Aid Pilot Program. One previous award was made in 2010 for a company to test its ready-to-use, fortified dairy protein paste in a population of 4,000. The new or improved products include fortified rice, a lipid-based nutrient spread, a poultry-based fortified spread, a soy-fortified pudding, and a sorghum-cowpea fortified blended food.

This last product will be developed by Kansas State University, which is also developing other blended fortified food aid products recommended in Tufts University’s Food Aid Quality Review, prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Among these are Corn Soy Blend 14 (CSB-14), which includes a component of whey protein, and Sorghum Soy Blend. The cowpea fortified food product is especially promising, since cowpeas are grown throughout Africa and if local products can be used, food aid program costs will be greatly reduced.

The United States is showing strong leadership in Maternal and Child Nutrition issues through its research and development efforts in these products. Food for Education complements the 1,000 Days partnership and the global Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which support nutrition early in life -- when it makes the most significant improvements in cognition, growth, and lifelong health.

Scott_BlogPicScott Bleggi is a senior international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.


Hunger and Climate Change: Finding It on the Map

Climate change photo
Two successive droughts in the Horn of Africa have left both farmers and pastoralists unable to produce food for their families. Photo United Nations/Albert Gonzalez Farran.

Durban, South Africa, is currently hosting 30,000 delegates from all over the world, gathered for 12 days of talks organized under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In one sense, of course, climate change affects everyone since we all live on this planet. But in another sense, it is poor people in developing countries who are suffering most of its effects -- even though they contribute the least to the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

As Dr. Kumi Naidoo, international  executive director of Greenpeace, said at the Durban conference, “We are living in a global state of environmental apartheid. Separated along the lines of rich and poor, the rich consume as they please and the poor suffer from their consumption.”

"Environmental apartheid." Dr. Naidoo was for years a leading anti-apartheid activist in his native South Africa -- this is not a comparison he would make lightly.

This year, the most severe hunger emergency in the world is in the Horn of Africa, where 13 million people are at risk and it is believed that at least 50,000 children younger than 5 have already died. The worst suffering is concentrated in Somalia and among Somali refugees who have reached Kenya or Ethiopia.

Is climate change to blame? Oxfam International examined this question in detail in its briefing paper Horn of Africa Drought: Climate Change and Future Impacts on Food Security. The short answer, in the words of the U.K. government's chief scientific adviser, is that "such events [the more frequent and more severe droughts in the Horn] have a higher probability of occurring as a result of climate change."

Oxfam, Bread for the World, and others emphasize that drought does not have to lead to famine. A host of factors collided to produce famine in Somalia -- including  drought, crop failure, widespread deaths among herd animals, continuous conflict, government neglect, deep poverty, lack of transportation infrastructure, and inequality. Other parts of the Horn also experienced the droughts and significant increases in hunger, but nowhere else did droughts lead to full-fledged famine.

It goes without saying that prompt measures to prevent further climate change must be implemented -- easier said than done, as the delegates in Durban must know. Another, even more urgent, part of the global response must be to reduce the vulnerability of poor people in poor countries who are bearing the brunt of the current phase of climate change -- the part that can no longer be prevented.

As the Institute's recently released 2012 Hunger Report points out in a section called “Sustainable, Productive Agriculture amid Climate Change," data from West Africa shows that children born in drought years are far more likely to be malnourished. Using data such as this, analysts calculate that if current trends continue,  climate change could increase child malnutrition by  20 percent by 2050.  Other recent Hunger Reports also offer insight into the connection between climate change and hunger -- and what can be done to break that connection. 

+The 2012 Hunger Report is available at

Michele-lernerMichele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.



Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN): Effective Aid at Work

SUN photo
Good nutrition now will help him, and his community, for the rest of his life.Photo byLaura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World.

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed a large international gathering of development practitioners attending the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. The participants range from donors — new and old — to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), developing country governments, and civil society groups. The fact that Clinton is the first Secretary of State to participate in such a meeting speaks volumes about the priority accorded global development at the highest levels of the administration and about the commitment to improving the quality of U.S. development assistance. More effective development assistance is a goal in particular of two signature initiatives, Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative.

Secretary Clinton first announced that she would attend the Busan meeting in September, when she spoke at the one-year anniversary event of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, held during the High Level Meeting on Nutrition of the U.N. General Assembly. SUN, Clinton said, embodies the principles of aid effectiveness:

“This program has become, in a very short time, a model of how to implement successfully the principles that the international community affirmed at the High-Level Forums for Aid Effectiveness in Paris and Accra. Together, this community of countries, international organizations, NGOs, civil society groups, and private sector companies has already achieved meaningful benchmarks in the fight to strengthen global nutrition. From Tanzania, which has created a nutrition-specific line in its national budget and posted nutritionists in every district nationwide, [to] countries such as Guatemala, Uganda, Peru, Mozambique, and Burkina Faso, which have introduced new measures to improve financial accountability and strengthen their country’s commitment to nutrition, we are seeing the kinds of high-level reforms and political leadership needed to reach people on a broad scale.

"Now, this is an accomplishment not only for those whose lives are being saved and improved, but also for the people like us in this room who believe passionately in the critical role that nutrition must play in order to produce thriving children, families, and communities. And I think it’s also an indicator of our better understanding of what works in development and what it takes to make progress together, because through the SUN movement, we are seeing better results with country-owned leadership. When programs are coordinated and evidence-based, we get better outcomes. When results are measured transparently and are used to improve strategies, and when all parties are held accountable for delivering on their promises, we actually can see the progress being made.”

The SUN Movement is a different way of working. It is not housed in any institution or owned by any constituency. As Secretary Clinton’s remarks highlight, it is a collaborative effort with a common goal, supporting country-led and country-driven efforts. In just one year, 22 countries have expressed their intention to scale up nutrition—surpassing all expectations and underscoring the urgency of tackling undernutrition at the most effective time, during the 1,000-day window between pregnancy and age 2. Each country has developed national nutrition strategies and implementation plans.

Moving forward into the implementation phase, it is critical to continue this way of working together and to ensure that SUN countries can rely on support—both financial and technical—from the international community. This is important for the sustainability of maternal and child nutrition interventions and investments, and for building capacity for the long term. The U.S. government is supporting SUN through Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Food aid should also be seen as an essential component of U.S. efforts to improve global maternal and child nutrition, as Bread for the World Institute points out in our just-released 2012 Hunger Report.

+The 2012 Hunger Report is available at

  Asma-lateef byline photo     Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.        

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