Developing strategies to end hunger
 

135 posts categorized "Climate Change"

Feed the Future: The Untold Success Story

What is the U.S. government doing to reduce global hunger? Many people would answer – correctly, of course -- that our country provides food aid to save lives during emergencies. And, in fact, the United States has been the leading provider of emergency food aid for decades.

But it is not the whole story, particularly for the past few years. From May 19-21, I attended the first-ever Feed the Future Forum -- deepening my knowledge of an effective and influential program that most Americans have never heard of.

Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger initiative, was launched in 2009. When G-8 leaders gathered in L’Aquila, Italy, in July of that year to respond to the global food price crisis, the Obama administration’s proposal to invest significantly more effort and resources in agriculture won support from other donor countries, who committed to providing $22 billion in financing for agriculture over three years. This became known as the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative (AFSI), and Feed the Future is the primary U.S. contribution to it.

As a whole-of-U.S.-government initiative, Feed the Future is laying a foundation for lasting progress against global hunger by focusing its investments within agriculture on three areas: improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, strengthening maternal/child nutrition, and building the capacity of governments and civil society to promote long-term growth.

Bread for the World members have played a vital role in supporting Feed the Future and advocating for improvements to enable it to reach more of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Bread President David Beckmann was invited to give a keynote speech at Feed the Future’s first Global Forum, which brought together stakeholders from around the world to highlight progress, address challenges, and chart a way toward more progress against hunger and poverty.

 

In his address, Beckmann called on participants to be active in sharing Feed the Future's good-news story.  He stressed that while many Americans know about the U.S. leadership in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic through PEPFAR, very few people know about the role that the United States has played over the last few years to reduce world hunger.

Four Years later-- What Has Feed the Future Achieved?

At the Forum, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced that in 2013 alone, Feed the Future reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and helped to save 12.5 million children from hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

For example:

  • In Bangladesh, Feed the Future reached 3.3 million smallholder farmers with improved seed, fertilizer, and farm management practices, helping farmers increase rice yields by up to 20 percent and creating additional rice sales of $25 million.
  • In Senegal, the initiative helped farmers produce enough additional rice to meet the consumption needs of more than 400,000 Senegalese for a year.
  • In Honduras, the initiative helped more than 4,300 families move well above the $1.25-per-day global poverty line, in part by enabling them to increase their horticulture sales by 125 percent.
  • With Feed the Future assistance, Ethiopian company Guts Agro Industry developed a ready-to-use supplementary food made with specialty chickpeas sourced from 10,000 smallholder farmers, with plans to expand to 52,000 smallholder suppliers.

Read more in the 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report, which outlines how Feed the Future is working to scale up proven technologies and activities, expand nutrition interventions and programs, and conduct research to create the next generation of innovations that can change the lives of food producers and their families.

USAID Launches a New Nutrition Strategy

Today at the Chicago Council’s Global Food Security 2014 event in Washington, DC, Senior White House Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice announced the release of the USAID Nutrition Strategy.

This is a landmark step toward ensuring that nutrition concerns remain at the heart of the U.S. development assistance agenda.

Bread for the World Institute has been an active participant in the development of the nutrition strategy, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (both advocacy and operational partners of USAID). The draft strategy was first released for public comment in December 2013.

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially in the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and carries other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive “whole-of-U.S.-government” nutrition strategy later this year.

Improving maternal and child nutrition has been a major part of the Institute’s non-legislative advocacy efforts for the past three years. The USAID nutrition strategy comes after our successful efforts to clarify exactly where nutrition programs are funded within the federal budget, to persuade the administration to identify a high-level spokesperson for nutrition in the U.S. government (Administrator Shah was named), and to help win needed reforms in U.S. food aid policies and programs.  The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the “farm bill”) authorized changes that will increase the efficiency of food aid programs and delivery, allow greater flexibility to purchase food for distribution closer to where it is needed, and provide additional options for using new specialized food products that have been fortified with vitamins and minerals.

The strategy recognizes that nutrition is “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be done not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and water, sanitation and health (WASH) projects. Direct nutrition interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. Key direct actions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition. Combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets (see box), and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future programs of reducing stunting in the regions where Feed the Future works by 20 percent in five years.

WHA Targets

The Nutrition Strategy will ensure flexibility (as new evidence of successful interventions becomes available) by including a robust learning agenda that supports research to fill knowledge gaps, a rigorous program of monitoring and evaluation, and a means of quickly disseminating and apply lessons learned to ongoing programs. USAID will immediately begin issuing guidance for its overseas missions on how to implement the strategy. A framework document for the wider whole-of-U.S. government nutrition strategy, called the Global Nutrition Coordination Plan, has been completed, and additional information on this plan and a request for public comment have now been released

Scott Bleggi

A Global Day of Action for Nutrition

2013 was an historic year for nutrition advocacy. As part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world committed to supporting and holding their governments accountable on plans of action to improve nutrition. SUN focuses on pregnant women and children in the “1,000 Days” from pregnancy to age 2, since this is the most critical period for human nutrition. CSOs can range from small groups working in community settings to nationwide alliances that advance common interests. The SUN Civil Society Network (SUN-CSN) was formed to establish and support SUN Civil Society Alliances (SUN-CSA), as well as to facilitate, communicate, and coordinate across the network.

In the lead-up to the 2013 G-8 summit in London and its Nutrition for Growth event, nutrition CSOs coordinated actions as part of a “Global Day of Action”. Their goal was to show global support for decisive actions at the G-8 to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition. CSOs from Bangladesh, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia led events in their countries to increase awareness of the need for governments to make greater investments in programs and policies to overcome malnutrition.

This year marks an alignment of several key moments in global nutrition. The 67th meeting of the World Health Assembly takes place the week of May 19-23 in Geneva. This is an opportunity for countries to report on progress in achieving global nutrition targets that were set in 2012. The African Union Summit in June will focus on agriculture, food security, and nutrition. The Second International Conference on Nutrition will be held at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in November.

During the week of May 4-11, 2014,  a second “Global Day of Action” was held in many of the SUN-CSA countries. The goal was to influence both national nutrition policies and regional development agendas while also highlighting SUN-CSN as a “global, impactful, and agenda-setting network.”

The Global Day of Action’s objectives were:

  • Advance multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral efforts to address nutrition as a priority and to scale-up nutrition intervention efforts;
  • Add to continued, growing public pressure on national leaders to continue their focus on nutrition, increase progress toward the 2013 WHA global targets, deliver on commitments to SUN and commitments made at the Nutrition for Growth event;
  • Increase the public and political profile of nutrition in member countries;
  • Highlight SUN-CSN as an effective international campaigning network; and
  • Show an inclusive, global constituency in support of nutrition.

We’ve already seen effective social media and press coverage of Global Day of Action events by SUN-CSAs using the Twitter hashtag of #ActingTogether4Nutrition in Zambia (@wchilufya), Bangladesh (@SUNCSABD), Ghana (@ghaccssun), Malawi (@CSO_Nut.Alliance), and Uganda (@UCCOSUN).

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Village heads in Zambia participate in the Global Day of Action for nutrition. Photo credit: William Chilufya

 Altogether, 19 country-level CSOs committed to displaying strong public support for nutrition issues.

At the inaugural meeting of SUN-CSN, in June 2013 in Washington, DC, I witnessed a real commitment from advocates from all over the world to share ideas and build a Community of Practice on efforts to scale up nutrition. SUN countries are those with the world’s highest burdens of malnutrition. They are working together with very limited resources in ways that are most impressive. I hope political leaders will take note of their advocacy and live up to their governments’ commitments to meet global nutrition targets by 2015.

Scott Bleggi

President Obama: Power to the Young and Optimistic

As we all know, the people who will shape global development in the future -- the people we need to finish the job of ending hunger -- are today’s children, adolescents, and young adults. Their most productive years are ahead of them.

Africa is the youngest continent: nearly one-third of Africans arebetween the ages of 10 and 24, and about 60 percent of the entire population is younger than 35.

A young population can be a resource that leads to innovation and supports governance and political reforms. However, a large youth population that is educated yet frustrated could potentially cause instability which would undermine growth prospects.

The recent  Arab Spring is a good example.

 The African Union (AU) acknowledges the fact that the burgeoning youth population on the Continent could be a “demographic dividend or a big challenge. The AU has established several youth-focused goals including:

  • To reduce youth unemployment by 2 percent per year from 2009–2018;
  • To elaborate on a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) framework; and
  • To provide adequate funding to advance the youth agenda.

These are all good ideas, but there must be greater committment in moving them from policy positions to action.

Our world is increasingly interconnected. This means that global prosperity depends on the contribution of all economies, both large and not so large. The reverse is also true—that instability in one part of the world, even though it may be far away, may cause far reaching negative global consequences.

It makes good sense therefore that President Obama’s Administration is investing in the next generation of African leaders. The President launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.

 

YALIMs. Maness Nkhata Ngoma (in red) a newly selected 2014 YALI  Fellow, poses with Ms. Wabwire (immediate left) of Bread for the World Institute during the Institute's recent field trip to Malawi.

Beginning this year, 2014, The Washington Fellowship, the new flagship program of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative will bring over 500 young leaders to the United States each year, for leadership training, academic coursework, and mentoring. The Fellowship is organized as follows:

A 6-week Academic and Leadership Institute: Fellows will be placed at U.S. colleges and universities for academic and leadership institutes. Institutes will focus on skills development in one of three areas: Business and Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership, or Public Management. Institutes will take place from mid-June to late-July 2014.

A Presidential Summit with President Obama in Washington, DC: At the conclusion of the academic and leadership institute, all Fellows will participate in a Presidential Summit in Washington, DC. The Summit will take place in late July 2014. 

An optional 8-week U.S. Internship: As part of the Fellowship application, 100 Fellows will receive practical training at a U.S. business, civil society organization, or public agency in the United States.

Alumni Activities in Africa: Fellows will have the opportunity for continued networking opportunities, ongoing professional development, access to seed funding, and community service activities upon their return home after the Fellowship.

Bread for the World believes that Obama’s YALI program presents a great opportunity to engage the next generation of leaders on global issues including feeding a growing global population amidst shrinking resources such as water and agricultural land. It is particularly critical at this time as conversations continue on the Post-2015 Global Development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) –which include halving the proportion of hungry people by the September 2015 deadline.

“No matter how old you grow, I say to all of you today, don’t lose those qualities of youth—your imagination, your optimism, your idealism. Because the future of the continent is in your hands."

 --President Barack Obama, South Africa, June 2013

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Climate Change is Happening, and It’s a Hunger Issue

field with old barn and newly planted crops under blue sky
photo by Frederic Rivollier

Climate change is big news this week. The National Climate Assessment, released on May 6, found definitively that human activities have already changed the climate of the United States and continue to do so. The effects are not the same everywhere: some parts of the country will get drier, others wetter. Temperature will increase more in some regions than others. However, the nation as a whole will experience more severe weather events, and changes in the climate will affect every industry and every person.

Climate change influences how much food is grown, where it’s grown, and the nutritional quality of crops. All of these, of course, matter to efforts to end hunger. So do the economic and health-related implications of climate change. That’s why Bread for the World Institute and the Alliance to End Hunger are co-sponsoring a panel on May 14 to discuss Hunger in the Age of Climate Change. Panelists come from academia, advocacy organizations, and the federal government. They include Katharine Hayhoe, one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

Register to attend the event today, or sign up for the webinar version if you live further away. 

And if the Bread/Alliance event makes you want to learn even more about climate change and food security, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Global Food Security Symposium on May 22 is on “Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Weather Volatility and Climate Change.” It’s by invitation only, but everyone can follow along on Twitter @globalagdev and #globalag.

As Bread for the World has said for a long time now, climate change disproportionately affects poor countries and poor people. We cannot reduce hunger and poverty without finding ways of coping with climate change. This is why we are excited to see more discussion of how we can all reduce activities that contribute to destructive climate change effects and adapt to the changes that have already come.  

Stacy Cloyd

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?

Stove9
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

A Climate to End Hunger: U.S. Farming in 2050

We’re hearing a lot about 2050 lately, especially in the anti-hunger community. It’s the year the human population is expected to reach 9 billion, and -- not coincidentally -- it’s the deadline to double global food production to meet growing demand. What will food production look like in 2050?

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) asks: How can agriculture best adapt to climate change? Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity forecasts what the climate will be like in 2050, then tries to figure out which of several farming techniques-- e.g., drip irrigation, no-till agriculture, precision agriculture--would be most effective for growing maize (corn), wheat, and rice under those conditions. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month indicates that worldwide, climate change is already occurring and people are already being forced to adapt to different conditions. Although climate change is a global problem, its effects on food and hunger are likely to be quite localized. 

The report’s North American chapter says climate change could cause “productivity gains in northern regions and where water is not projected to be a limiting factor,” but that heat, drought, and storms in other regions will cause a decrease in crop yields. The report projects that without significant adaptation, the United States will see modest declines in the amount of food grown by the middle of the century, with steeper declines by the year 2100. 

Producing less food can mean higher prices and more hungry people--especially with population growth -- so it’s important for farmers to adapt to climate change and keep crop yields up. The solution isn’t the same for every region or every crop, so the report breaks the world down into square “pixels,” 60 by 60 kilometers. IFPRI has prepared an Agritech Toolbox with country-level data for visualizing which techniques will work best for each crop.  

Map of projected 2050 maize yields in the Americas
From Figure 4.2 of IFPRI report

For example, IFPRI researchers found that for growing maize in the United States, the most successful overall intervention would be to switch to heat-tolerant plant varieties. But as illustrated in a graphic in the report, adopting heat-tolerant varieties of maize wouldn’t change yields much at all in the northern parts of the country. It might not be hot enough there to need new types of corn by 2050. The southernmost corn-growing areas of the United States are likely to have only a small increase in corn yields from using heat-tolerant varieties -- perhaps droughts and storms will kill plants that otherwise could have survived the heat, or maybe it will prove too hot for even the hardiest varieties to thrive. Most importantly, though, there is a large area in the middle of the eastern United States where adopting heat-resistant varieties of maize could increase yields by more than 25 percent.  

Adapting to climate change isn’t enough. We need to change our ways of doing things so as to cause less climate change. For example, we should enable American farmers to not only maintain or increase crop yields despite climate change, but also to reduce waste so that more of the crops in the fields actually reach people’s plates – feeding more people without producing more greenhouse gas. Reducing future climate change can often be done using strategies that also bring people out of poverty, as we discussed in our 2010 Hunger Report.

Even if we succeed in slowing climate change, some of its damage is no longer avoidable. With the planet already experiencing greater extremes of temperature and precipitation, agriculture no longer has a choice about whether to adapt. The IPCC and IFPRI reports show in concrete ways how significantly Earth will change over the next several decades. Ending hunger is possible even in a changing climate, but it will require greater effort than it would have in the past -- on the part of the United States and every other country. 

Stacy Cloyd

A Climate to End Hunger: Agriculture Is Part of the Problem and the Solution

Hunger Report Monday 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors

Editor’s note: Welcome to Bread for the World Institute’s blog series on A Climate to End Hunger. The other day when I realized that Earth Day was approaching, I winced at my conflation of Earth Day with climate change. But it makes sense. Climate change is the biggest threat yet to Earth’s environment – and increasingly widespread hunger is one of its most tragic potential consequences. In this series, we reflect on how we can help prevent such a catastrophe. 

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published the third and final contribution, Mitigation of Climate Change, to the organization’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report. Working Group III, made up of hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, was tasked with surveying thousands of the latest peer-reviewed studies to gauge the current status of climate change, the hazards it poses to humanity, and, of course, what people can do to prevent and/or cope with those hazards. The Guardian’s Leo Hickman summed up the group’s findings best – and at Tweetable length:

Climate change is real. We are to blame. It will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable. But time is short.

The group’s findings support the warning – stronger than ever – of the threat posed by climate change not only to hungry and poor people, but to the entire global economy. Climate change is increasingly straining global food systems. The message to policymakers is that if all countries, rich and poor alike, do not act quickly and cooperatively, the hard-won global progress against hunger and extreme poverty of the past few decades could be rapidly undone.

More specifically, climate change threatens global food security by causing declining crop yields; disruptions in food access, utilization, and price stability; and significantly reduced access to water, food security, and agricultural incomes in rural communities.

As the report’s chart (above) shows, about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use” (AFOLU) sector — more than by the transport and building sectors combined. Sustainable agricultural practices will be crucial to reducing AFOLU emissions while still producing enough food for the growing population. Promising mitigation options include afforestation and sustainable forest management, improved cropland management, and restoration of organic soils.

At its core, responding effectively to climate change means building resilience in communities where people have always struggled to produce enough food. It demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels — local, regional, national, and global. Strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation strategies is vital to building resilience.

Chapter 5 of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, examines how agriculture has been part of the climate change problem, and more importantly, how it must be part of the solution. Visit www.hungerreport.org to read more.   Derek Schwabe

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

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