Developing strategies to end hunger
 

197 posts categorized "Africa"

A Climate to End Hunger: Climate Change, Food & Nutrition Security, and Poor People

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said recently that there is increasing scientific evidence that food and nutrition security are at risk from climate change. The report concluded that African countries are the most vulnerable from the “profound and irreversible” changes that have already taken place.   Blog1 

In a world projected to have a population of 9 billion by the year 2050, requiring an increaseof 70% in food production, climate change could instead cause losses of up to 25 percent in the world’s major cereal crops: corn, wheat, and rice. This, clearly, will lead to grain shortages and increasing hunger unless steps are taken to better manage natural resources dedicated to farming and pasture land.

Another danger in an era of climate change is increases in “hidden hunger,” defined as malnutrition caused by deficiencies in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In its two landmark series on maternal and child nutrition, The Lancet medical journal helped bring the world’s attention to vulnerable people – especially pregnant women and children under age 2, those in the 1,000 Days window where nutrition is most critical – who eat enough calories but have hidden hunger. This is primarily because their diets are composed primarily of corn or rice and contain few micronutrients. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 2 billion people globally already suffer from hidden hunger.

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So how can we get additional nutritious foods to people in an era of rapidly growing population and climate change? In the past generation, research scientists have developed seed varieties with traits that make them more drought resistant, or more heat resistant, or ready to harvest more quickly, or biofortified (meaning that micronutrients have been added). In the last decade, though, a new generation of seed varieties that combine two or more of these desirable traits have been developed. These more resilient and “climate smart” seed varieties are adapted to different climactic conditions.  So far, though, poor farmers in the developing world don’t have access to seed containing multiple, or “stacked”, traits and improved genetic profiles.

The challenge today is to bring sustainable farming practices together with efforts to increase crop production in ways that are resilient to climate change. This will require a renewed Green Revolution. The pioneering plant science research done by Dr. Norman Borlaug and others did a great deal to reduce mass hunger in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. To extend the work of the Green Revolution and ensure that plants can survive under new conditions will require major investments in plant research. The World Bank and regional lending institutions can lead efforts to make these investments.

In the words of Nigerian Minister of Agriculture Akinwumi Adesina, who leads agricultural research efforts in a country where 240 million people are undernourished, “We invest in roads, in power, in ports, and we must recognize that building this infrastructure along with improving nutrition is investing in the economy today and in the future of our societies.”

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A Climate to End Hunger: What’s Cooking?

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Photo: Todd Post

In the developing world, women and girls are expected to collect firewood for cooking. The amount of time they spend on this chore varies depending on the local environment, but it is not uncommon to have to travel for hours to collect firewood several times a week.

A lot of trees are cut down as a result. The collection of firewood contributes to deforestation, and deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint. But what are the real-world choices of people in developing countries? It is one thing to gripe about people in rich countries who won’t part with their gas-guzzling automobiles, but quite another to expect people in poor countries to cook fewer meals in the interest of staving off climate change. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the effects of their reliance on firewood. There are cost-effective ways to help solve the problem -- and nobody has to go hungry as a tradeoff.

In Malawi just last week, I saw how a simple clay stove—sold for less than a dollar—can significantly reduce the amount of firewood families use. And in turn, it frees up the time women and girls spend collecting it – time that they can now devote to more productive activities, such as work that produces an income or attending school.

A group of women I spoke with, participants in a program implemented by the National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi (NASFAM), had been using open fires to cook their meals. They estimated that before they received clay stoves, they spent about 10 hours a week collecting firewood. With the new stoves, though, they’d reduced that time to less than an hour.

In addition to the stoves, NASFAM gave members of the group some seedlings to grow trees. If only the stoves had been provided, the women and girls would still have needed to walk for hours to get to the forest to collect their wood. They would not have needed to make as many trips as when they cooked over open fires, since the stoves need only a fraction of the firewood – but with trees right outside their homes, they can get firewood without going to the forest at all. Similarly, it would not make sense to plant trees without providing the stoves, since all the wood required to cook using open fires would have decimated the trees in no time.

But here’s the best part of the story: the community is now building stoves themselves and selling them in volume to a buyer, who in turn sells them in other villages for $1 each. They were able to do this because they pooled their resources to purchase the molds needed to make these clay stoves. They’ve also built a kiln. The enterprise is lifting families out of poverty, increasing their food intake, diversifying diets, and making it possible to keep children in school.

This story shows that it’s quite possible to improve people’s lives in significant ways without increasing the size of their carbon footprint. A little bit of technology goes a long way. Todd Post

Data to End Hunger: Specialized Food Aid Products

Traditionally, food aid from the United States meant bagged cereals and pulses (such as dried peas and lentils), flour, a blended corn-soy product designed to be mixed with water to make porridge or gruel, or a combination of these. Purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the American Midwest, it was sent by rail or barge to U.S. ports and then continued its long journey by ship. Finally, food aid arrived in the places where it was needed, where it was distributed through emergency and development programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For decades, this was the personification of the bounty of U.S. farmers and the generosity of the U.S. public toward hungry and vulnerable people.

Since the beginning of the main U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, developments in food science and nutrition have taught us a lot about the effectiveness of food aid commodities. For example, while general distribution food aidBlog graph 040914such as that delivered in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, provides the calories necessary to avert starvation, it is inadequate as a person’s sole source of sustenance for long periods of time. Studies by Tufts University and the Government Accountability Office found that there is a risk of malnutrition because the commodities are deficient in essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). This is a significant problem because in recent years, more than 96 percent of all food aid recipient countries have received food aid for four or more years.

Also thanks to advances in food and nutrition science, new food aid products have been developed and are increasingly being used in programs to treat both moderate and severe malnutrition. Food aid products began to be targeted to the specific groups of people for whom they would be most effective. For example, micronutrient-fortified formulations of Corn Soy Blend and Wheat Soy Blend were made (from a blend of partially cooked cornmeal, soy flour, iodized salt, and vegetable oil). Other formulations that have been tested contain soy- or milk-based (whey) proteins, which have been shown to help the body absorb nutrients. This is most critical to malnourished children younger than 2 -- those in the 1,000 Days window of opportunity.

Other new types of food aid belong to the category “lipid-based nutritional supplements” (LNS). One of the first therapeutic LNS foods is a peanut-based product with a name that’s now widely recognized – Plumpy’nut. This and related products marketed by the Nutriset company show tremendous success in helping children with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

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Specialized food products like these are used with mothers and children in the highlands of Guatemala

A study in Niger found that giving Plumpy’nut to children younger than 2 with Severe Acute Malnutrition reduced mortality by about 50 percent – a result heralded as a significant change in the way food aid is used.

Additional LNS products have been developed by U.S.-based companies.  Also, there have been pilot projects that base the therapeutic foods on locally-grown chickpeas, peanuts, cashews, sesame, corn, and soybeans. Using local crops will significantly reduce the cost, which can be a barrier to increasing the use of LNS products in donor-funded programs.

In addition to LNS-based foods, Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) products, micronutrient-fortified/enriched milled flours and blends, and meal replacement emergency foods have all been developed and are now in use. Meal replacement products include dairy and legume protein pastes as well as grain-based protein bars. 

Increased use of specialized products is an integral part of the food aid reforms in the recently passed U.S. farm bill. It is noteworthy that the farm bill contains specific language instructing USAID to explore ways in which these products can be stockpiled in food aid pre-positioning sites around the world.  Pre-positioning can make them immediately available in emergencies where children are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition. Better targeting of specialized foods to the most vulnerable populations will save lives.

Other food aid reforms currently under way include increasing the percentage of local and regional purchase of food, and allowing additional flexibility to provide help in the form of food vouchers or cash where appropriate, as opposed to shipping bagged food aid products from the United States. These reforms will reduce program costs and ultimately feed millions more people with the same resources.

This is critical, because according to the Lancet medical journal, malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of all child deaths, more than 3 million children per year. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that one in four children in the world is stunted (below the median height for age of a reference population), a condition related to chronic malnutrition with life-long social, health, education and economic consequences.

Research and data have enabled the development of specialized therapeutic food aid products.  Increasing the use of all forms and formulations of such products is our best weapon against acute malnutrition, particularly among severely malnourished children whose lives are at stake. This is one battle in the war against hunger that we can win.

Scott Bleggi

A Timely Call to Action

Photo 2 for IFPRI
Photo by Todd Post/Bread for the World


IFPRI’s Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) has become an annual reminder that global food security must remain very much at the top of the development agenda. This year’s report, the third, underscores that with more than 840 million people hungry, addressing hunger and malnutrition is a moral imperative. The report comes out just as the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals begins to discuss the Focus Areas for the post- 2015 global development framework. Its recommendations are very timely to feed into the working group’s discussion, which starts March 31, and I hope they do.

The report captures the recent political momentum on nutrition and makes very clear that we can no longer talk about ending hunger without also addressing malnutrition. Undernutrition in the first 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 accounts for nearly half of all preventable deaths of children under 5. For children who survive, the consequences are life altering. They suffer irreversible physical and cognitive damage that affects their long-term health and productivity.

Stunting is the outward manifestation of the devastation caused by undernutrition. Today, there are 162 million children who are stunted. That is one in four children under 5. From the very beginning of their lives, their potential and their ability to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty is severely compromised. In addition, they are more likely to become overweight and obese as adults—the double burden of malnutrition. Two billion people are obese or overweight globally; the number of obese or overweight children under 5 has doubled since 1990 and is expected to double again by 2025. This is a global crisis that affects all countries.

The GFPR raises the level of ambition ahead of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development framework by calling for the end of hunger and malnutrition by 2025. Analyzing the success of four countries, the report makes a compelling case that the right mix of agriculture, social protection, and nutrition policies can lead to dramatic progress in reducing hunger and stunting.  This multisectoral approach to nutrition has been embraced and championed by the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement.

Nutrition is included in the OWG’s Focus Areas along with Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. The two indicators directly related to nutrition under consideration in this focus area are: ensuring year-round access by all to affordable, adequate, safe, and nutritious food; and ending child malnutrition and stunting. It would be great to see these indicators make it through into the final recommendation from the OWG. In addition, given the multisectoral nature of malnutrition, the OWG should include indicators under the health, gender, WASH, and education focus areas. NGOs working on nutrition advocacy have developed a set of recommended goals, targets, and indicators. These build and expand on the World Health Assembly nutrition targets.

In addition, the GFPR calls for a data revolution. This is vital and should include data that is disaggregated by gender, income, age, race, and ethnicity. Since even short bouts of hunger and undernutrition can lead to irreversible damage in children, we need timely data and improved indicators of dietary quality and diversity, especially among women of reproductive age and young children. Asma Lateef

Day Four in Rwanda

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Some time back I went to Iowa to talk with farmers.  It was then I learned an important thing about agriculture. A farmer explained to me, “I never used to care about the price of corn and soybeans. Raising hogs was my business. I grew corn and beans to feed to my hogs.” 

Those are bygone days for small to medium-sized farmers of the two biggest commodity crops in the United States. The concentration of the livestock sector has made it impossible for farmers like the ones I spoke with to compete against the handful of giants who control the market.

I knew what he was telling me was an important lesson then. On a small farm in Rwanda I relearned it and it made me think about what is the best way to help smallholder farmers in developing countries get out of poverty.

In the Kirehe District of Rwanda, I met farmers there benefiting from a program funded primarily by the Rwandan government - and to a lesser extent by the US government - being implemented by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

IFAD has donated cows to a group of farmers in the program. Smallholder farmers in Rwanda are some of the poorest people on earth and would never be able to afford a cow without such support. One of the requirements of the farmers receiving a cow was to pass along a heifer to one of their neighbors. This sounds a lot like what the organization Heifer International does, and it is except there are several other components to the IFAD program, but the main thing I want to focus on is the livestock.

Joseline Umugwaneza, a 26-year old woman who was orphaned as a child after the 1994 genocide and has been homeless for most of her life, received a cow on February 28, 2012. This was the beginning of the end of her living in extreme poverty. Joseline’s cow produces 10 liters of milk per day.  She is earning well above a dollar per day now. She has earned enough from the sale of the milk to allow her to open a tearoom and small shop. 

When a smallholder farmer has a cow, she has a source of income far greater than she can ever earn from cropping. Joseline still farms but like the U.S. farmer above, the livestock is the value-added of her enterprise. The cow eats grass predominantly. With a cow she doesn’t have to sow seed, she doesn’t have to weed, she doesn’t have to worry about the vicissitudes of the weather, and she doesn’t have to endure the invariable stretches of hunger between each harvest. Cows are indifferent to the ‘hungry season, they go on producing their milk, providing Joseline with a source of income all the yearlong. Indeed it is the gift that keeps on giving.

The other thing about a cow is it provides a source of nutrition for the family - especially children. Maternal and child malnutrition has become a major focus of our work at Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. Thanks to new research over the last five to ten years, it is much clearer that it is not enough just to feed people, we need to get them nutritious foods. The name of the game in agricultural development assistance is no longer just production but also nutrition.

It may not be possible to provide every smallholder with a cow. Some just won’t be able to succeed at animal husbandry. But when I see how much of a difference it has made to Joseline and other farmers like her that IFAD has helped, and in such a short time, I wonder why donors—governments, multinationals, and NGOs—don’t do more programming like this.  

American farmers have been harmed by the loss of their value-added; smallholders in the developing world have barely begun to realize their value-added.  Todd

Day Three in Rwanda

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda. Read about days one and two here.

Today, we’ll focus on the work of nongovernmental organizations. The NGO community in Rwanda is busy helping to empower women. But what does empowerment mean in real terms? Does the word “empowerment” make any sense to you without an illustration?

So here is one—provided by ActionAid Rwanda. About a decade ago a small group of women came together, widows of the 1994 genocide or the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poor to begin with and isolated by grief. First, ActionAid worked with them to develop a skill, weaving baskets, and then to find markets for the finished product to generate a little income. Basket weaving was no mere activity to keep their hands busy. In Rwanda, a basket is a symbol of peace, and their weaving as a group symbolic of the national as well personal struggle of healing.

Together, the women gave each other support and strength and eventually they desired a more substantial income-generating activity. They formed a farm cooperative and grew maize. This led to value-addition by converting the maize into maize flower. The cooperative increased in size as they brought more broken women into the enterprise.

The more successful they were the more time it took to run the enterprise. They realized the work was interfering with their household responsibilities, particularly care giving to their children. They were less poor economically, but more time-poor than before and they found that almost as stressful as when they had no income at all.

The cooperative established a child development center so that the women did not have to choose between employment and their children’s well being. The child development center became an enterprise of its own, opening to other families in their community.

Let’s discuss another kind of empowerment activity that evolved out of their relationship with ActionAid. The women were more confident, more poised to advocate for themselves and their Rwandan sisters. ActionAid provided the women with training to engage with local leaders. The women shared their experience with government officials, particularly their struggle to achieve a balance between employment and household responsibilities, and they exhorted officials to improve policies to allow all Rwandan women to earn a decent income without sacrificing their role as mothers. Policies are improving in Rwanda, maybe not as fast as the women in this example would like, but it has not been for their lack of attention. Todd Post

Day Two in Rwanda

Connie Bwiza, member of Rwandan Parliament (Photo credit: IGIHE LTD)

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda.

On Monday we met with Connie Bwiza, a member of parliament, to hear how women in Rwanda are shaping policy and helping to transform the country. Connie has been in parliament since 1998. She represents Kiyovu, an area of Kigali.

We learned of Connie back in Washington, DC. She has played a prominent role in Rwanda's post-conflict reconcilaition and rehabilitation. She is also involved in several international women's organizations. 

When we contacted her before leaving Washington, DC, she was excited to meet and share what women have accomplished in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994. She also arranged for us to meet with her teenage sons and niece in a separate interview to talk with them about Rwandan youth, the generation born after the genocide, but we’ll say more about that later in the week.

The same day as our interview with Connie an article about Rwanda appeared in the New York Times discussing some of the latest developments in the country’s meteoric rise since the genocide. The article scarcely mentions the role of women and conveys how much of a secret it remains to the public at large.

It turned out to be a mournful day for East African women, especially Faustine, because the parliament in her native Kenya had just passed a bill legalizing polygamy. Connie was outraged and explained how damaging the bill is to all East African countries. Not only is it an affront to women in the region, but it threatens to wreck the close economic ties that countries in the region are building. 

The difference between attitudes towards women in Rwanda and Kenya is not as gaping as this bill might cause you to think. Faustine describes it as a shocking anomaly, and I should add that it remains to be seen whether the president of Kenya will sign the bill into law. Public pressure is already mounting to strike it down.

Such a bill would never come up in Rwanda. A female majority in parliament would not allow it. Moreover, it would not be possible because it does not comply with the rule of law. In Rwanda, the law mandates that every bill introduced in parliament must be evaluated for its effect on men and women, and if a bill is not deemed gender neutral it has no chance of passage.

There is something to be said for the importance of reaching critical mass. Rwanda has held three elections since a new constitution was passed. In the first election cycle, women gained 48 percent of the seats in parliament, and then increased it to 56 percent, and in the most recent increased it still further to 64 percent. Norms don’t change all on their own, change requires a prod from policy, and in Rwanda with a majority of women in parliament there is a veritable guarantee there will be a prod working to up end gender inequality. 

 Countries all over the developing world have passed laws reserving a share of the seats in parliament for women. Thirty percent is the most common figure because the gender equality goal of the Millennium Development Goals includes a 30 percent target. But what is equal about 30 percent, when women make up 50 percent of the population? Todd Post

First Impressions in Rwanda

Rwandan women

Rwanda is the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament (photo credit: Women Hall).

Most of the world knows more about the Rwanda of twenty years ago than about the country today. The genocidal killing that lasted for three unbelievable months in 1994 should not be all this tiny nation is known for. Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Given where the country was twenty years ago, the progress it has made is remarkable. Bread for the World Institute’s Todd Post and Faustine Wabwire have come to Rwanda to learn more about this.

Rwanda has the distinction of being the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament. While the president is a man—indeed a very strong man—the women of Rwanda are playing an uncommonly powerful role in the country’s development. Women were involved right from the start in the post-conflict reconciliation, and they continue to shape policy and drive progress against hunger and other hardships associated with poverty. The 2015 Hunger Report will be about women in development, and so Rwanda was an obvious choice to visit. We will report on some of our meetings while we’re here and share our reflections as we learn about the relationship between gender and development.

As we shake off our jet lag, we do what most people from abroad do while they’re in Kigali, the capital, i.e. we visit the genocide memorials. They are ubiquitous. There is one for a group of Belgian soldiers who gave their lives trying (unsuccessfully) to protect the Rwandan prime minister. Outside the building where the killing took place is the memorial. Bullet holes cover outside and inside of the building to show the extent of the carnage. There are no blood stains but the imagination can do the work.

There were no other visitors at this memorial when we arrived so we had time to talk with the man who is paid to welcome people to the site, what must be a lonely if not sorrowful job for any Rwandan. He was sixteen in April 1994, he told us. His parents and all his siblings were slaughtered in their home; he was elsewhere when the killers came. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for him to be reminded of it all the day long and I ask him about this. It is steady work and better than being unemployed, he explains. He has a wife and two children, the oldest six years old and just starting school. The job pays a small wage and he doesn’t eat more than one meal per day consisting mostly of rice. We thanked him for sharing this with us, put a bill in his hand and wished him the best. This is the beginning of our visit to Rwanda. Todd Post

Starting the Chat on Women's Empowerment

Hunger Report Monday 2

This past Friday — the eve of International Women’s Day — Bread for the World and the Institute hosted a Twitter chat with senior policy analyst Faustine Wabwire on how women’s empowerment can help end hunger. Research continues to show that, in nations and communities all over the world, gender bias is a principal cause of hunger. In fact, 55% of the reduction in hunger from 1970-1995 can be attributed to improvements in the status of women.

Senior Hunger Report editor Todd Post, Faustine, and other members of the Institute are currently at work developing the 2015 Hunger Report, to be released in November 2014, which will propose policy changes to improve women’s economic, political, and social status. International Women’s Day offered a prime opportunity to expand the discussion to the Twitter-sphere, resulting in a fruitful dialogue that  touched on the varied dimensions of women’s empowerment in the United States and around the world and gave us a chance to hear new perspectives.

Here’s a brief recap of where the chat went, with a smattering of sample tweets:

We had a lot of help getting the word out.  

We started by asking "Why women's empowerment?"

We examined the role of women in agriculture and the food system.

We looked back to the role of the Millennium Development Goals, and ahead to the threat of climate change. 

We pondered where hunger and poverty rates correspond — and where they don't. 

We acknowledged the influence of culture.

We heard from health experts on the role of good nutrition and access to health care. 

We shared resources with each other. 

We talked jobs and wages as next steps toward gender parity in the United States. 

We had many to thank for a rich online discussion. 

Derek Schwabe

Join us for a Twitter Chat on Women's Empowerment to End Hunger

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Gender bias is a principal cause of hunger. Women produce well over half of the global food supply and are more likely to spend additional income on food. We won’t be able to end extreme poverty by 2030 without tackling gender inequality around the world. This is why women’s empowerment will be the focus of Bread for the World Institute’s (@breadinstitute) upcoming 2015 Hunger Report, currently being developed.

Join Bread for the World Institute Senior Policy Analyst Faustine Wabwire (@fwabwire) for a Twitter chat on the linkages between hunger, poverty, and women’s empowerment this Friday, March 7—the eve of International Women's Day. We want to hear your recommendations and stories to help answer the question:

What can we absolutely not leave out of the 2015 Hunger Report on women's economic empowerment to end hunger?

Be sure to include the hashtag #IWD2014 in your tweets. Here are the details:

What: Twitter Chat on Women’s Empowerment to end Hunger and Poverty

When: Friday, March 7, 2014

Time: 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. EST

Chat Hashtag: #IWD2014

Primary Twitter Accounts: 

@Fwabwire 

@breadinstitute

@bread4theworld

@asmalateef (Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute)

Faustine and the Institute will start the conversation with a few questions—but we hope to do a lot of listening. We look forward to hearing from you!

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