Developing strategies to end hunger

12 posts from February 2012

Fields of Denial

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A farmworker in Blackwater, VA helps pile cucumbers into wooden bins during July 2011. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

About every five years the Farm Bill addresses a broad set of food and agricultural policy issues. Commodity price supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs were just some of the issues included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, as the last Farm Bill legislation was officially titled.

The Farm Bill is also known for the broad range of policy stakeholders who work on it, including state organizations, national farm groups, commodity associations, conservation advocates, rural development organizations, and faith-based groups.

But even with its inclusive set of policy issues and actors, the Farm Bill is notable for one issue policymakers and advocates doesn’t touch: People who work on farms.

A large percentage (67 percent) of the 2008 Farm Bill was directed toward nutrition programs. This title included $189 billion over five years. The Farm Bill also included supports for farmers, who in 2010 had an average household income of $84,440.

For the approximately 1.1 million U.S. hired farm workers earning an average annual family income of between $17,500 and $19,999, the Farm Bill is silent. 

The USDA calls U.S. hired farm workers “the most economically disadvantaged working group in the United States” and 23 percent of U.S. farm workers live in poverty, but our main legislative vehicle for shaping national farm policy leaves them out.

You can probably guess why this might be the case.

In addition to being poor, U.S. hired farm workers are overwhelmingly foreign-born. 71 percent of all farm workers are immigrants – and more importantly for policy (and political) purposes – about half of all hired U.S. farm workers are in the country without authorization.

This makes the issue of agricultural labor in the United States extremely contentious.

That’s not to say that Congress doesn’t discuss farm worker issues. They do. But they are as likely to be addressed through the enforcement-focused Judiciary Committee as they are in the Agricultural Committee, where rural economy and food system issues are typically discussed and decided.

Remember Stephen Colbert’s testimony on farm workers? That was presented before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee even though it addresses an issue clearly relating to the nation’s agricultural economy. Just this month the third in a series of hearings on agricultural guest worker programs was held in the same Judiciary immigration subcommittee.

There have been attempts to integrate the issue of farm workers into the Farm Bill by policymakers such as Sen. Diane Feinstein. But the idea was strongly resisted by relevant Democrats and Republicans and didn’t move forward.

In spite of the contentiousness of immigration reform, farm workers may be the ideal starting point for an incremental approach to change.

Just this month at the subcommittee hearing mentioned above, subcommittee Chairman (and Republican) Elton Gallegly said, “Real world experience has shown that there are simply not enough Americans willing to work as migrant farmworkers.” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack – a former farm state governor – has also called for immigration reform to ensure that growers don’t face labor shortages.

But without effort from Farm Bill stakeholders it will difficult to integrate discussions of farm labor into agricultural policy. So far there are no public signs of that happening. This week the New York Times hosted an on-line forum inviting agricultural experts and advocates to discuss what is missing and what should be added to the Farm Bill. There was a wide range of input: Some called for larger food stamp benefits, others called for more humane treat of farm animals, organic farming was also represented in the forum.

Discussion of farm workers was absent. Isn’t it time we integrate this fundamental part of farming it into our broader discussions of agricultural policy? 

Witnesses to Hunger—Philadelphia Women Photograph Poverty

Tianna Gaines-Turner at the launch of the 2012 Hunger Report.

In tribute to African American History Month, I am honored to highlight my hero, Tianna Gaines-Turner.

Tianna embodies strength. She prioritizes the well-being of her family, not only by working three jobs to provide for their needs, but also by advocating for them. Tianna is a member of Witnesses to Hunger in Philadelphia—volunteers who were born into cycles of poverty they aim to end. Find out how Tianna and the Witnesses to Hunger are teaching people through their intimate experiences of hunger in this excerpt from the 2012 Hunger Report:

Tianna Gaines-Turner and her family live in one of the most distressed neighborhoods in the city, the Frankford neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia. In some neighborhoods of Philadelphia, as many as half of all residents live below the poverty line. She and her husband are raising six young children, and the family is dogged by hunger most of the time.  

The family moved here two years ago when they were offered subsidized housing after spending 10 years on a waiting list. On their first day in the new home, Gaines-Turner was sitting on the stoop with her children when a man approached from the sidewalk and told her to take the children and go inside. She understood what this meant and complied at once. Minutes later, the street exploded in gunfire.

The Gaines-Turner family has benefited from federal nutrition programs. Gaines-Turner has participated in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), her eldest child receives subsidized meals at school, and the whole family has participated in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from time to time as their income fluctuates. Currently, Tianna is the sole breadwinner in the family, working a combination of three jobs. Her husband, Marcus, was laid off during the recession and has not been able to find work. 

Tianna Gaines-Turner was featured in a series of articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer about hunger in the city. She is part of Witnesses to Hunger, a research project developed by Children’s HealthWatch and led by Dr. Mariana Chilton of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexell University’s School of Public Health. Witnesses launched in 2008 with photographs taken and stories told by Philadelphia women living in poverty.

“Speak. Teach.” read the invitation to participate in the project. “We want to learn from you.” The women who participate in Witnesses know what it means to be hungry and are better teachers than anyone. As a Witness, Gaines-Turner has spoken a number of times to various groups of people who want to understand hunger in the United States.

The images that convey hunger to those who know it most intimately are often not the images that other people might associate with hunger. Hunger through a Witness’ eyes may be a blood-soaked sidewalk, reflecting the dangers of walking from home to the grocery store. Hunger could be a triptych of bus stops, because that’s what it takes to get to a store with healthy food choices. 

Many of the Witnesses volunteers were born into poor families where hunger was a constant presence. In many ways, hunger stole their childhoods from them, and now as adults, they are raising families that continue to battle hunger. “They are the ones who actually have the answers,” said Chilton. “Families are not just passive recipients of aid and advice. They are purposeful agents [who] want to break the cycle of poverty and despair, and they have a variety of needs.”

Witnesses was born out of Children’s HealthWatch, a multi-city research project that is studying the effects of hunger on the health and well-being of young children. Chilton serves as the principal investigator of its Philadelphia site. The project screens children in emergency rooms and ambulatory care clinics at five medical centers around the country—good places to initiate contact with the children and their parents since undernourished children have higher rates of hospitalization. At each Children’s HealthWatch site is a GROW Clinic, which treats children with “failure to thrive,” the clinical term for a child who is severely underweight for her age. If failure to thrive goes untreated, the consequences are lifelong, because so much of brain development occurs in the first years of life.

“In the GROW Clinic,” says Chilton, “there is a pediatrician, nutritionist, psychologist, and social worker on staff, and the social worker and psychologist are the most important members of the team.” She cites a Children’s HealthWatch finding that children in families on a waiting list for a housing subsidy were 52 percent more likely to be underweight than those whose families had the subsidy. “Hunger is about so much more than food,” she says. And it is more than physical anguish; it punishes its victims mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. “It’s horrible when you see your kids not eating,” says Tianna Gaines-Turner, “and you say to them why aren’t you eating and they say because we want to make sure you can eat, Mommy.”

An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that SNAP lifts more families with children out of poverty than any other assistance program except the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). About half of all Americans will receive SNAP benefits at some point before age 20. Among African-Americans, the figure is 90 percent. Low-income working families find it difficult or impossible to budget for these items, because all their resources are simply consumed by day-to-day needs. SNAP and other nutrition programs, on the other hand, come through for low-income families all year long.

+ Join the Witnesses to Hunger from May 2-4, 2012 at their National Conference on Hunger and Poverty, Beyond Hunger: Real People. Real Solutions. 

+ Learn more about the importance of nutrition for women and children in the 2012 Hunger Report’s feature, Women and Children First

Kate-hagenKate Hagen is Hunger Report project assistant at Bread for the World Institute.




Why Care About Guatemala?

On the southeastern side of Guatemala, in an area of the country known as the “Dry Corridor,” Bread for the World Institute colleague Scott Bleggi and I saw several examples of U.S. development assistance making important contributions to reducing child hunger and malnutrition.

We arrived in the Limar community, about 10 miles from the Honduran border, on a day when health monitors were examining local children. We were traveling with Save the Children, the administrator of this USAID-funded project, and when we got out of the car after a jarring ride on unpaved roads, dozens of mothers and children were lined up for the check-ups.  Save the Children staff members were evaluating the children’s progress by measuring the upper circumference of their arms.  The children ranged from babies less than a year old to kids turning 5. Whether you’re in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or Guatemala, this is how children at risk of malnutrition are monitored.

Save the Children realized the need to begin a growth-monitoring program because there was persistent drought in the region. Families in Limar and surrounding communities earn a living by farming small patches of land. The drought has reduced their meager harvests and thus their incomes. In families with young children, that means more of these children will die from lack of food. 

Conditions in this part of Guatemala, and across much of the country, highlight one of the issues Bread for the World Institute will address in the next edition of our Hunger Report, scheduled for release later this year. Guatemala is officially listed as a middle-income country (MIC), but has child malnutrition rates equivalent to those in Niger and Afghanistan -- places no one is going to mistake for an MIC. Many people in MICs are prospering, but prosperity is not broadly shared. In fact, substantial numbers of people are left behind. It may come as a surprise to some that most of the people who live in extreme poverty today -- i.e., with incomes of less than $1.25 per day – live in countries categorized as middle-income.

Income inequality in the United States has gotten a lot more attention in the last year because of the Occupy Wall Street movement and recent reports that the United States is one of the least upwardly mobile countries in the developed world. Income inequality is a global problem as well.

Common sense might suggest that once a country is no longer “poor,” it should be on its way towards graduating from aid. But in many cases, “middle-income” is a misnomer. It’s a classification determined by Gross National Product – which the development community has long criticized since it reveals nothing of how individuals are doing.  In fact, the U.N. Millennium Development Goals came about because donors recognized that GNP is too narrow a lens to truly view a country’s development.

In Guatemala’s case, there are specific reasons for Americans to care about helping the country reduce poverty and hunger. In every community Scott and I visited, at least one person – and usually many people – had migrated to the United States.  We didn’t ask how many made the trip legally versus illegally, but you can probably guess which was route was more common.

Limar and places like it may seem to be a long way from the lettuce and tomato fields of California and Florida, the construction sites in every U.S. metropolis, or the sinks and stoves of restaurants and fast food places across the nation. But Americans who want to have an informed opinion about immigration from Latin America need to try to understand what life is like in communities like Limar.  More of us might then realize how important it is to support U.S. development programs like Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, and Food for Peace in this neighbor to the south.

The Great Recession and the Hispanic Community

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San Antonio College’s Armando Deleon searches for the best of the high quality pumpkins in the San Antonio Food Bank’s (SAFB) Agency Store’s walk-in refrigerator, in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday, October 31, 2011. The 2011 National Survey of Latinos, released last month by the Pew Hispanic Center, reports that 54 percent of Latinos believe that the recession affected them worst. (USDA Photo by Lance Cheung)

The Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 to July 2009, had a significant impact on the entire U.S. population. The 2011 National Survey of Latinos, released last month by the Pew Hispanic Center, reports that 54 percent of Latinos believe that the recession affected them worst.

The survey reflects the views of a randomly selected group of 1,220 Latino adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. To measure economic decline, the survey used indicators of economic well-being such as unemployment rates, poverty rates, homeownership rates, and household wealth. The findings give us a snapshot of the condition of the 16 percent of the U.S. population (50.5 million people) that is of Hispanic origin.

Unemployment -- Last month, a 0.2 percent decrease brought the overall unemployment rate to 8.3 percent (compared to 9.1 percent in January 2011).  At the beginning of the recession in December 2007, the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent, while at its official end in July 2009, unemployment was at 9.4 percent. Within these figures is the more complex story of how workers’ unemployment rates were affected by their race and ethnicity.  According to the unemployment rates of December 2007, July 2009, and January 2012, the Asian population in the United States had the lowest unemployment, with a median rate of 6.7 percent, followed by the white population at 7.4 percent, Latinos at 10.5 percent, and African-Americans at 13.6 percent.

Poverty – In 2010, the U.S. poverty rate rose for the third consecutive year to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009.  This means that in 2010, 46.2 million people in the United States lived in poverty. From 2009 to 2010, the poverty rate of non-Hispanic whites rose by 0.5% percent and that of Asians remained unchanged, but Hispanics and African-Americans had increases in poverty of 1.3 percent and 1.6 percent respectively.

Household Wealth & Income – According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Net Worth and the Assets of Households: 2002  (the latest available, reported in 2008) the median net worth (assets minus debts) of white households was $87,056. For households of Asians or Pacific Islanders, this figure was $59,292. The median net worth of Hispanic and African-American households was $7,950 and $5,446 respectively. A Federal Reserve report on U.S. distribution of wealth, life expectancy, and health insurance coverage concluded that wealth is highly concentrated in the possession of the wealthiest 1 percent of households, and that African- American and Hispanic families are more likely to hold virtually no wealth

Since 2007, real median household income has declined for all groups. According to the Current Population Report, the median household income of whites decreased by 5.4 percent, that of Hispanics by 7.2 percent, by 7.5 percent among Asian-Americans and by 10.1 percent among African-Americans.

Although the Great Recession caused economic harm across all racial, ethnic, and income groups, it is evident that the economic gap between the white population on one hand and Hispanics and African-Americans on the other is wide and growing. Hispanics and African Americans are not only the nation’s two largest minority groups, but also the groups suffering most in the aftermath of the recession.

Dariana Arias is a  Bread for the World Institute Immigration Project Intern

La Gran Recesión y la Comunidad Hispana

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Armando  Deleon en busca de calabazas de alta calidad en el Dispensario de Comida de San Antonio (SAFB) en San Antonio, Texas, el Lunes, 31 de Octubre del 2011. La Encuesta Nacional de Latinos 2011, publicada el mes pasado por el Pew Hispanic Center, informa que el 54 por ciento de los latinos creen que la recesión les afectó peor a ellos. Estados Unidos (USDA Foto de Lance Cheung)

La Gran Recesión, la cual duró desde Diciembre del 2007 hasta Julio del 2009, tuvo un impacto significativo en toda la población de los EE.UU. La Encuesta Nacional de Latinos 2011, publicada el mes pasado por el Pew Hispanic Center, informa que el 54 por ciento de los latinos creen que la recesión los afectó peor a ellos.

La encuesta refleja las opiniones de un grupo seleccionado al azar de 1.220 adultos latinos en los 50 estados y el Distrito de Columbia. Para medir el declive económico, el estudio utiliza indicadores de bienestar económico, tales como, tasas de desempleo y pobreza, al igual que el índice de bienes de patrimonio e ingresos de los hogares. Los resultados nos dan una idea de la condición del 16 por ciento de la población de los EE.UU. (50,5 millones de personas) que es de origen hispano.

Desempleo - El mes pasado, una disminución de 0,2 por ciento, redujo la tasa general de desempleo al 8,3 por ciento (comparado con el  9,1 por ciento de Enero del 2011). Al comienzo de la recesión en Diciembre del 2007, la tasa de desempleo era de 5,0 por ciento, mientras que en Julio del 2009, durante su mes final, la tasa incremento al 9.4 por ciento. Dentro de estas cifras, se encuentra la historia compleja de cómo las tasas de desempleo fueron afectadas por la raza y el origen étnico de los trabajadores.  De acuerdo con las cifras de desempleo de Diciembre del 2007, de Julio del 2009, y de Enero del 2012, la población Asiática en los Estados Unidos, tiene el menor índice de desempleo, el cual tiene un promedio de 6,7 por ciento, seguido por la población blanca con  un 7,4 por ciento, los Latinos con 10,5 por ciento, y los Afroamericanos con 13,6 por ciento.

Pobreza - En el 2010, la tasa de pobreza de EE.UU. subió por tercer año consecutivo a 15,1 por ciento, por encima del 14,3 por ciento perteneciente al 2009. Esto significa que en 2010, 46,2 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos vivían en la pobreza. Desde el 2009 hasta el 2010, la tasa de pobreza de los blancos aumentó en un 0,5% por ciento y la de los asiáticos se mantuvo sin cambios, pero los hispanos y los afroamericanos tuvieron aumentos en la pobreza de 1,3 por ciento y 1,6 por ciento, respectivamente.

Bienes de Patrimonio e Ingresos Netos - De acuerdo con el reporte sobre bienes de patrimonio de la Oficina del Censo de EE.UU. (el último disponible, publicado en 2008) el valor neto y promedio del conjunto de  bienes (patrimonios menos deudas) de los hogares de la población blanca, fue de 87.056 dólares. Para los hogares de los asiáticos o isleños del Pacífico, esta cifra fue de 59.292 dólares, y para los hogares Hispanos y  de afro-americano fue de $7.950 y $5.446 respectivamente. Un informe de la Reserva Federal de EE.UU. sobre la distribución de riquezas, longevidad, y cobertura de seguro de salud, llegó a la conclusión de que la riqueza está muy concentrada en manos del 1 por ciento de los hogares más ricos, y que las familias Afro-americanas e hispanas son más propensas a tener, prácticamente, ninguna riqueza.

Desde el 2007, el promedio del ingreso neto por hogar, redujo para todos los grupos.  Según el Informe Actual de Población, el ingreso familiar promedio de los blancos disminuyó 5,4 por ciento, el de los hispanos disminuyo 7,2 por ciento, un 7,5 por ciento entre los estadounidenses de origen asiático y un 10,1 por ciento entre los afroamericanos.

A pesar de que la Gran Recesión causo perjuicio económico en todos los grupos raciales y étnicos, es evidente que la brecha económica entre la población blanca y los hispanos y los afroamericanos, es muy amplia y continua expandiéndose.  Los hispanos y afroamericanos, no son solamente los dos grupos minoritarios más grandes del país, sino también, los grupos que más han sufrido las consecuencias de la recesión.

Dariana Arias is a  Bread for the World Institute Immigration Project Intern

Better Food for School Nutrition Programs

Doug Davis believes it’s his role as an educator to expose kids to healthy foods they might not see at home. First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign champions adding thousands of new salad bars to school cafeterias. In honor of African American History Month, we highlight Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage Americans to live healthier lives in this excerpt from the 2012 Hunger Report:

Fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in schools has been on the rise for the past decade in Burlington, VT, where nearly half the children qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Burlington is one of 15 school districts in the nation to be named a USDA model farm-to-school program, an effort where local farms are tapped to provide a share of the foods served in schools. Burlington’s program has now grown beyond the cafeteria to bring healthy, fresh snacks into the classroom.

“If you put a bowl of grapes in a classroom, kids will eat them,” says Doug Davis, food services director of Burlington Public Schools. “By the same token, if you put a bowl of chips there, they’d eat those too. But I’m not convinced that if you had a bowl of chips and a bowl of grapes, that they’d choose the chips instead of the grapes.”

Davis doesn’t believe it’s his job to stop kids from eating chips, or to get them to prefer grapes to chips. Instead, he wants to expose them to healthy foods they might not see at home. He sees that as his role as an educator. “In five or 10 years, these kids will be making their own food purchases.  I hope when they go shopping for themselves or for their families, instead of two bags of chips they might decide to get a bag of grapes and a bag of chips. If we don’t expose them to these foods early, we lose the opportunity to affect that decision.”

Parents choose not to serve their kids certain foods for many reasons. For low-income parents, it may first be an economic decision: when food dollars are scarce, families simply can’t afford to waste money on foods that kids might refuse to eat. Exposing children to healthy foods in the child nutrition programs reduces that risk somewhat. It can support parents who crave healthy foods but don’t feel they can give themselves permission to buy them without knowing that their children will eat them—this lack of knowledge is part of what makes food choices tougher than they should be. Yet parental fruit and vegetable intake is one of the strongest predictors of fruit and vegetable consumption in young children.

Fruits and vegetables are often spoken of in one breath as if they are one and the same, but research shows that children gravitate more naturally towards fruits than vegetables. One way schools have gotten children to sample unfamiliar vegetables is by including them on salad bars. Schools that want a salad bar find they have a supporter in First Lady Michelle Obama, whose "Let's Move" campaign is championing public-private partnerships to add thousands of new salad bars to school cafeterias. A salad bar in every school may sound like a dream, but there are measures USDA can take to help make it a reality. The agency shouldn’t relax its rules on food safety or ignore salad portion sizes, but it should work with food service directors to help them make rules and standards work “on the ground."

+ Read more from the 2012 Hunger Report's feature on Women and Children First.

Kate Hagen is Hunger Report project assistant at Bread for the World Institute.

India Debates Nutrition and Food Security

India, a country more often associated with economic growth than malnutrition, is debating a National Food Security Bill that will ensure that 63.5 percent of its population will have access to low-cost rice and wheat. On one side of the discussion are those who feel the new legislation will be too costly. On the other side are those who feel it will do little to lower the country’s child malnutrition rate, currently the highest in the world.

According to an Indian government survey last month, 42 percent of children under age five are underweight, a rate almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa.  Little improvement has been noted in the last five years -- even though this was a period in which the national economy grew 8-9 percent annually.  Just yesterday, Save the Children released a report that highlighted food insecurity in India, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan, and Nigeria, the five countries where half of the world’s malnourished children live.

Indian Mom Child
Photo Credit:  Celia Escudero Espadas

The report said India’s progress on reducing malnutrition has been limited over the past 20 years.  It says further, "Despite rhetorical commitment to tackling under nutrition, strong commitment and political will is lacking. As a result, food and nutrition has become a hotly debated issue. The proposed National Food Security Bill has been severely criticized by the Right to Food campaign for being half-hearted."

Opposition to the bill comes from those who feel the law will only be a short-term solution to a systemic problem:  they say India needs to produce more food.  A group of 15 Indian governors has proposed that major reforms in the agriculture sector coincide with the enactment of the Food Security Bill. They say that depending on food imports to feed a growing population is not a sustainable path.  Instead, what needs to be emphasized is a market-led agricultural strategy focused on reforming markets and boosting private investment in food production.

According to Save the Children's report, “Hunger and malnutrition are political problems and therefore need political solutions.” The report also says that the responsibility for action lies with three interconnected groups of world leaders.  The first  group are the leaders in countries with high levels of malnutrition.  Brazil, Ghana, and Bangladesh can serve as examples of political commitment to reducing malnutrition that have made a difference.

Secondly, leaders of global institutions with programs to fight hunger and malnutrition need to have coherent strategies.  Finally, leaders in wealthy countries need to give nutrition the support it deserves, as many have already done in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement.

As mentioned in our previous blog post, leaders from the world’s economic powers will gather at the G-8 meeting in Chicago on May 18-20.  The timing is perfect for them to reduce global hunger and poverty by addressing one of its root causes -  undernutrition in women and children.

Scott Blog Pic  Scott Bleggi is senior international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

New Survey Says Malnutrition Kills 2.6 Million Children Each Year

According to a report released today by Save the Children, 2.6 million children will die from causes related to malnutrition this year, and another 450 million will not grow properly or reach their full potential in life.  In their survey of developing countries, it was also determined that one in four children is already stunted (a height for age measurement) as a result of malnutrition.

In some countries as many as one in three children are stunted, and in India the figure is nearly one in two.  Other developing countries with rapid population growth are experiencing malnutrition at very high rates.  According to the Save the Children report, persistently high food prices are an aggravating factor.  However, with a concerted global effort, starting with political commitment at the highest levels of government, the trend can be reversed.

Save’s chief executive Justin Forsyth said that the “hidden hunger crisis” of malnutrition “could destroy the lives of nearly a half a billion children unless world leaders act to stop it.  He said further that in every hour of every day, 300 children die from causes related to malnutrition.  Progress has been made in the health field with immunizations and health education that is saving lives.  A similar commitment must be made to eliminate malnutrition.

A malnourished child is weighed in Guatemala. Photo:  Scott Bleggi, Bread for the World Institute

Momentum and political will is building in the fight for improved nutrition, but the challenge of reducing hunger and malnutrition is only going to get tougher.  The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement is already helping build commitments in many developing countries. To feed an expected world population of over 9 billion people by 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says agricultural output will have to increase by an estimated 70 percent.

Since 2009, the US government’s efforts on global hunger have created a tremendous positive effect. President Obama's references to addressing hunger in his inaugural address and US leadership in programs like Feed the Future are playing an essential role in galvanizing the global community to end hunger.  At the 2009 G8 Summit, commitments of $22 billion over three years to address the long-term underlying causes of hunger were obtained.  The United States is leading the way with its pledge of $3.5 billion in new funding over three years.

The United States will host the next G8 meeting in Chicago on May 19 and 20, 2012 and economic issues are high on the agenda.  A growing body of scientific evidence shows that improved nutrition can be directly linked to increases in economic growth.  Bread for the World and other organizations who address hunger and poverty issues are pushing hard to see that increased commitments to battle malnutrition will be a priority at the meeting.

  Scott Blog Pic  Scott Bleggi is a senior policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

Who Knew? Another Face of a Revolution

Think back 20 years. Hardly anyone would have believed that a low-income country in Africa would become a 21st century powerhouse of global innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Thanks to a combination of strong leadership and vision in both business and government, the concept of “mobile money” took off in Kenya as nowhere else. Since 2000, the Kenyan ICT sector has grown on average 20 percent each year, outperforming every other sector by a wide margin. All evidence indicates that although this is among the first times an African country has become a world market leader and exporter of a key innovation in technology, it will be far from the last.

I recently learned that of the world’s 35 million mobile money users, one in two is a Kenyan. Mobile money uses mobile devices adapted by cutting-edge local innovations in technology to enable low-income people to conduct business transactions at incredibly low rates. It has been transformational in Kenya, and it is one of the most striking global innovations of the last decade.

M-PESAMobile Money Transfer

Mobile money, which allows cash to travel as fast as a text message, is not a mere extension of traditional banking: it is a new form of banking. Unlike mobile banking, mobile money does not require a banking infrastructure, which makes it ideal for many low-income Kenyan households that cannot afford a bank account. Mobile money has achieved in Kenya what decades of experiments with microfinance around the world have failed to win: financial inclusion for the large proportions of households that are poor. The essential difference is the low-cost transaction platform that mobile money offers. In 2006, before the advent of mobile money, only 20 percent of Kenyan adults had access to financial services.Today, just four years after its introduction, more than 80 percent of Kenyans are connected to their nation’s financial system. Is this not a “revolution” in its own right?

By far the most successful example of mobile money is M-PESA, launched in 2007 by Safaricom in Kenya. The “M” stands for mobile, while Pesa is the Swahili word for money. M-PESA now has over 10 million users—not bad in a country of 40 million people and 18.3 million mobile phone owners. M-PESA first became popular as a way for young men who had migrated to work in the cities to send money back to their families in the countryside. Today, it is used to pay for everything from school fees to taxi fares – including even plane tickets. Rather than spend a day traveling by bus to the nearest bank to pick up the money sent to them, people in rural areas can use their time for more productive things. As a matter of fact, a recent study states that the incomes of Kenyan households using M-PESA have increased by anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent since they started using mobile money.

The mobile money tool enables money to move around much more easily not just for individuals but for small and medium-sized enterprises as well. For example, one of the biggest problems of Kenya’s dairy industry   has been getting payment to thousands of smallholder milk producers, many of whom are women without bank accounts. Groups of farmers got together and decided to create payment systems using M-PESA.

Until now, banking services have been largely inaccessible to smallholder farmers in rural areas, due to high transaction costs coupled with other infrastructure limitations such as limited or no Internet access. Today, none of this will stop farmers from conducting their business transactions. All they need is a mobile phone -- which they have! But who knew?

Faustine-wabwireFaustine Wabwire is foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.

Strong Child Nutrition Programs and the U.S. Military

Photo: United States Department of Agriculture

Today, President Obama will send his FY2013 budget request to Congress, marking the beginning of the FY2013 budget process.

 As Congress debates support for our national nutrition programs, I hope lawmakers will remember Armed Forces officials’ call for robust improvements in child nutrition programs. Learn why they wrote a letter to Congress in this excerpt from the 2012 Hunger Report:

In recent years, health professionals in the developing world have concluded that nothing is more important to human and social development than good nutrition at critical stages of a person’s life, especially in childhood.

Countries that have expanded nutrition programs, such as Bangladesh, Brazil, and Ghana, have made extraordinary progress in areas ranging from children’s health and school performance to national economic growth and political stability. The United States, too, has used national nutrition programs to fight malnutrition. The first major U.S. nutrition program, the National School Lunch Program, was authorized in 1946, following World War II, when officials realized how many would-be soldiers had been rejected for military service because of malnutrition.

Conditions in the United States today are much different than in developing countries. But the United States, like other countries, must sustain the progress it has made and adapt to changing circumstances. “Obesity is now the leading medical reason why young Americans today are unable to qualify for the armed forces,” reads a statement signed by dozens of retired generals and other senior Armed Forces officials and sent to leaders of Congress in 2010, on the eve of the most recent child nutrition reauthorization. The statement urged policymakers to support robust improvements in child nutrition programs. “At least 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all young Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to enlist,” they noted.

Childhood obesity and hunger both demand our attention since they carry serious consequences for individuals and for the country as a whole. The two problems are frequently interconnected.

Philadelphia, for example, is one of the poorest cities in the United States, which makes it one of the hungriest as well. The obesity rate of Philadelphia’s poor children is higher than that of children who are not poor. In this, Philadelphia is not atypical but representative. According to a national survey of children’s health, “The odds of a child’s being obese or overweight were 20–60 percent higher among children in neighborhoods with the most unfavorable social conditions.” Unfavorable social conditions, in plainer language, are the many problems that add up to what it means to live in a poor neighborhood. These include high levels of food insecurity, intermittent hunger, and limited access to supermarkets or to easy transportation to higher-income neighborhoods where healthy foods are readily accessible.

+ Read more from the 2012 Hunger Report's Chapter 2, Fortifying the U.S. Nutrition Safety Net. 

Kate-hagenKate Hagen is Hunger Report project assistant at Bread for the World Institute.



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