Developing strategies to end hunger
 

232 posts categorized "Economic Development"

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

A new report, issued by UNICEF along with other U.N. agencies and the World Bank, highlights a dramatic decrease in child mortality. Since 1990, the number of children under age 5 who die each year has been cut in half: from 12.7 million then to 6.3 million now. This is a remarkable achievement that amounts to saving 17,000 lives every day.

Looking at it another way, the rate of decline in child mortality is falling three times faster than previously projected. As a result, 100 million children are alive who would have died if the death rate had remained at 1990 levels—including 24 million newborns that would not have made it more than a few weeks.

UNICEF pic 091914

Girls playing in Angola, which still has the world’s highest rate of under-5 mortality. Young children there are 25 times more likely to die than those born in the United States.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1773/Nesbitt

The report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, says that the child deaths over the past 20 years were largely preventable. There were large geographical disparities: where a child was born made a big difference as to whether he or she survived.

Together, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the homes of 80 percent of those who died. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday. That is 15 times the death rate in high-income countries, where an average of one in 159 children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Moving forward, the most important area in which to focus health and nutrition interventions is the first month of a child’s life, which is called the neonatal period. Two million infants die within a week of birth. Some effective and low-cost interventions for both mothers and children are available. These could make a big difference, but sometimes this needs to be communicated to pregnant women, their husbands, their families, and their communities. For example, breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 percent—but less than half of newborns around the world have that opportunity.

The “Promise Renewed” of the report title has two goals. The first is to keep the promises of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 — to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and MDG 5 – to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths in this time period.  The second goal is to keep moving forward, beyond 2015, until no child or mother dies from preventable causes. In 2012, nearly 180 governments pledged to scale up efforts and speed up the decline in preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

The Institute has written extensively about the MDGs, most recently in a blog about another recent report, the 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World,  whichconfirms that the goal of halving hunger that is part of MDG 1 is within reach. What’s clear in both reports is that despite recent successes, a concerted effort focused on MDG goals and targets must be sustained. Further country-led development efforts in nutrition, health, and agriculture are key to achieving the goals.

The U.S. contribution to the MDGs is largely made through two USAID programs, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and Feed the Future (FtF).  Congress has enacted legislation on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR (part of GHI), through which nutrition funding is authorized. FtF currently lacks formal authorization through legislation, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering versions of the Global Food Security Act, which will make FtF part of U.S. law.

U.S. efforts in international agricultural development and nutrition largely focus on the 1,000 Days, the “window of opportunity” between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.  Leading economists agree that development assistance investments here yield a very high rate of return. More importantly, these investments save mothers’ and children’s lives.

Scott Bleggi

 

Three Charts, Three Important Stats from New Poverty Numbers

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released its most recent data on U.S. income, poverty, and health care for 2013. The data reflected the first drop in the nation’s poverty rate since 2006, from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013. The poverty rate among children fell more significantly, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent—its first decline since 2000. Thanks to job market growth, 2.8 million more people had full-time, year-round employment in 2013 than in 2012, enabling them to better support their families in 2013.

Beyond the topline national poverty rates for various groups, the data can tell us a great deal more.  Here are three graphics that help explain where the limited growth from the economic recovery is focused, which groups are noticing gains, and which groups still aren’t.

1. Poverty Falls for Every Major Racial/Ethnic Group for First Time Since 2006

Poverty Rates at Recession High, 2012, and 2013 by Race and Ethnicity

2013 was the first year since 2006 that the poverty rate fell across the racial/ethnic board. While the drop was not statistically significant for all groups except Hispanics, this is important news because it signals that the gains from economic growth are finally beginning to be felt by all—a sign of a more sustainable and equitably shared recovery. It should not have taken this long for this to happen, and we can make statistically significant advances against poverty across all groups if Congress and the President make decisive investments in human capital development, job creation, and better wages.

2. Top 10 Percent Gains, Everyone Else Loses

Percent Change in Real Income, 2010-2013, by Income Percentiles

This graphic helps us appreciate even the small poverty rate decline reported for 2013, because in reality, the vast majority of the working population earned less real income that year than they did after the Great Recession. Almost all of the benefits of economic growth since the recession have been captured by those who need them least—the top 10 percent of income earners. This is part of a much greater income inequality story, in motion since the 1970s. Without a robust policy response from our leaders, we will remain on the track of prosperity for a few, not for all. 

3. The Gender Gap Continues to Slowly Narrow

Amount Earned by Women for Every Dollar Earned by Men, 1960-2013

Women’s earnings relative to men’s grew by another percentage point in 2013, advancing the long, slow march to wage equality another step. Women now earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, up from 77 cents in 2012. The gender wage gap has been closing since women started to enter the workforce at an increasing rate in the 1960s. While differences in education and training account for some of the wage gap, much more is due to gender discrimination.

Most of the numbers released yesterday showed nominal improvements for America’s working class and those facing poverty and hunger in 2013, but we should be encouraged by them. We know that with the right steps we can make dramatic progress toward not only reducing, but ending hunger and poverty in the United States by 2030. But 2013 was a dismal year for Congressional action on any of those steps. If anything, inaction through the sequester, the government shutdown and persistent austerity proposals threatened to reverse progress that year.   

If we can sustain economic growth and poverty reduction even through complete Congressional inaction, imagine where we could be if our policy makers were to get serious about ending hunger and poverty.

Read more about the steps Congress and the president must take to end hunger in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Derek Schwabe

Ebola: Enemy of Food Security and Economic Growth

Last month, two U.S. citizens who contracted Ebola in Liberia were flown home for treatment. Their amazing recovery within just a couple of weeks must seem like a fantasy to desperate communities in the outbreak-stricken countries of West Africa.

Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are the hardest-hit by the Ebola crisis, which has killed nearly 2,300 people so far. These three countries are also among the poorest countries in the region and are in dire need of immediate assistance. Domestic food production has declined and markets are shutting down. Economic activity has slowed causing a sharp drop in state revenues necessary to combat the outbreak.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that economic growth is likely to decline from 11.3 percent to 8 percent in Sierra Leona; from 6 percent to 2.5 percent in Liberia; and from 3.5 percent to 2.4 percent in Guinea. In the same report, Liberia's Finance Minister Amara Konneh stated that the outbreak was threatening the country's post-civil war recovery.

If the Ebola crisis was occurring in the United States, it most certainly would not look anything like what it does in West Africa. The U.S. health care system has the capacity to minimize the effects of the outbreak. There would be no shortage of beds, medical personnel, and supplies as we’ve seen in the West African countries.

Bread for the World has always maintained that it’s cheaper to prevent a crisis than to respond after it has occurred. The Ebola epidemic is just one illustration of this principle. The United Nations has stated that controlling the epidemic will cost at least $600 million and will require three or four times the current number of healthcare workers. The funding for preparedness and contingency planning always seems to be in short supply.

Ebola Funding

In a statement last week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah stated, "The U.S. is committed to supporting the African Union's response to the urgent needs across West Africa as a result of this vicious disease." To date, the U.S. government response is as follows:

  • The United States will spend an additional $10 million to fight Ebola in West Africa, bringing its total investment against the epidemic to more than $100 million.
  • The new funds, announced Tuesday by USAID will support the African Union's deployment of roughly 100 health workers to support exhausted medical personnel.
  • The Pentagon announced Monday that it would send a 25-bed portable hospital to Liberia to care for sickened healthcare workers.

Resilience is a popular word these days for people who work on international development. We use it mostly to talk about the capacity to bounce back after a crisis. But we have also began to understand that resilience means the capacity to adapt as necessary to prevent shocks such as Ebola.

The U.S. government must continue to adapt its own approach to development assistance through investments in early warning, closer coordination with development partners including partner countries, the private sector and civil society. Over the last decade the U.S. government and its development partners have made some great progress improving how they provide development assistance. But shocks such as Ebola remind us how fleeting progress can be if it doesn’t include investments in institutions and systems, such as health care. This is why resilience must be prioritized on the global development agenda. 

Faustine_Typepad

Fleeing Gender-Based Violence in Central America

Girls and violence

“In Honduras, violence against women is widespread and systematic,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, July 2014

Between October 2013 and July 2014 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants (UAC) arrived at the U.S. southern border. The large majority were from the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During this time, 22,000 children travelling with at least one parent also arrived from this region. The surge of children – alone and sometimes with a parent – is widely acknowledged as a humanitarian crisis.

Within the broader influx of children and mothers is an even greater increase in UAC girls. Since October 2013 there has been a 77 percent increase in unaccompanied girls going to the United States compared to only an 8 percent increase for boys. Over the same period more than 13,000 UAC Honduran girls under traveled to the United States compared with just over 7,000 for the previous fiscal year. For girls 12 and younger the increase has been even larger – 140 percent.

What would cause parents to go into debt to send their daughters on a dangerous journey more than 1000 miles long – sometimes alone – to the United States? United Nations interviews with child migrants finds that they are typically fleeing a combination of poverty and violence. Among Honduran UACs, the UN found that 44 percent included violence as a reason for migration and 80 percent included work and study opportunities and a chance to help their families.

Some of society’s most vulnerable members – women and girls face additional threats beyond the endemic violence and pervasive poverty in the Northern Triangle. During a recent visit to Honduras, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo, said, “Violence against women is widespread and systematic. The climate of fear, in both the public and private spheres, and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women, is the norm rather than the exception.”

Honduras is the murder capital of the world and presents a dangerous environment for most Hondurans and particularly for the poor. But for women and girls the persistent fear is compounded by gender-driven violence and coercion. Manjoo said the country suffered from “high levels of domestic violence, femicide and sexual violence” with a 263 percent increase in the number of violent deaths of women between 2005 and 2013.

With weak rule-of-law and compromised police and judicial systems there are few options for Honduran women to defend themselves. There’s a laundry list of societal barriers facing women seeking justice: Lack of effective implementation of legislation, gender discrimination in the justice system, and the lack of access to services that prevent future acts of violence are just some of the gaps and barriers Honduran women face. With an estimated 95 per cent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes in Honduras, it shouldn’t be surprising that Honduran women and girls are compelled to flee the country no matter what the cost

  Andrew Wainer

The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Minimum Wage: Two Sides of the Same Coin

What can $1247 a month buy you?  Imagine paying for housing, food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials on that amount, which is full-time work at the federal minimum wage.  Factor in little things that can bust a tight budget: a Christmas present for your mom, an occasional haircut, some tissues and medicine when you get a bad cold.  Could you afford to put aside anything for a medical emergency, a car repair, or retirement? Would you feel motivated and prepared to go back to school, or to get married and start a family?

coins falling into a person's cupped hands
Illustration by taxcredits.net

In this situation, don’t count on public benefits.  A single, childless person with this income would earn $2 too much for SNAP benefits and be $52 a month over income for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  In many states, this minimum wage worker would also fall into a coverage gap, earning too much for Medicaid and not enough to receive a subsidy for private medical insurance. 

There are two big ways to help low-wage workers in this situation: raise the minimum wage, or expand the EITC.  They each have pros and cons, but the good news is we don’t have to choose. 

The EITC arrives once a year.  A lump sum can help pay off debt or create savings accounts for retirement or emergencies, but if it’s November and your car breaks down or your day care bill is due, it doesn’t do much good to have a bunch of money heading your way in April.  Researchers have studied the best way to have EITC payments arrive throughout the year and various forms of this “periodic EITC” are part of Rep. Paul Ryan’s and Sen. Marco Rubio’s anti-poverty plans, but this could be a lot more complicated, inaccurate, and burdensome for employers to calculate than a simple change in the minimum wage would be.

Another difference is while everyone earning the minimum wage would benefit from its increase (so would  many of those earning slightly more, who would get raises to keep their salaries above less senior workers) the EITC is highly targeted.  It’s more generous to married couples and people with children, it is only available to people aged 25-64.  Also, you have to file a tax return to get it.  This might be a good way to encourage people to file tax returns, which helps the government keep track of people’s earnings so they get the right amount of Social Security benefits later on.  The EITC also rewards people who get married and helps ease the financial burden of having kids; that’s good for them but not for younger, older, or childless workers.  There’s bipartisan support for expanding the program, but disagreement on how to pay for that. 

“How to pay for that” is the final difference between raising the minimum wage and expanding the EITC—but it’s not as big a difference as some might think.  Wages are paid by employers, some of whom may cut their profits or raise their prices if they are required to pay their workers more.  This means shareholders and consumers ultimately pay the price.  The EITC is paid by the government, from taxes and other revenues.  Either way, the costs get spread around quite widely.  So does the cost of inaction, of keeping wages and tax subsidies low.  When full-time workers qualify for SNAP or go to the emergency room without insurance, the public pays.

The EITC and the minimum wage are not opponents; they are two roads to the same place.  If the minimum wage goes up, fewer people will need the EITC.  And by increasing the number of people served by the EITC and the benefit they receive from it, we can help people attain the stability they need to train and apply for higher-wage jobs.  The minimum wage and the EITC are different, but they can both make a big difference.

Stacy Cloyd

Moving Forward from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Last week, President Obama hosted the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. The summit, whose theme was Investing in the Next Generation, brought together 50 leaders from across the African continent, members of Africa’s civil society, private sector actors, and various faith communities. The three-day summit, August 4-6, focused on strengthening trade relations between the United States and African nations and opening new economic partnerships that are based on mutual responsibility and mutual respect.

The summit took place in the context of the Obama administration’s deepening engagement with African countries. In June 2012, President Obama released the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which outlined a comprehensive U.S. policy for the region. This strategy reflects and builds on many of the initiatives launched earlier in Obama’s presidency, such as Feed the Future. In addition, the Strategy supports the integration of existing U.S. government initiatives to boost broad-based economic growth in Africa, including through trade and investment.

SummitPhoto: White House

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law in 2000 by President Clinton, remains the most important piece of legislation that defines trade relationships between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the legislation went into effect, the region’s exports have increased by more than 500 percent, from $8.15 billion in 2001 to $53.8 billion in 2011.  AGOA applies to only a small portion of these exports, since during this period, about 95 percent of Africa’s exports outside the continent were oil and gas.

AGOA’s achievements illustrate its great potential to spur economic growth. Agriculture-led growth, which has the greatest impact on poverty, is still urgently needed. The food price crisis of 2007-2008, followed by the worldwide economic downturn, have meant an increase in hunger and malnutrition and continued high poverty rates. An estimated 80 percent of Africa’s hungry and poor people support themselves through agriculture.

AGOA is due for reauthorization in 2015. Bread for the World championed the authorization of AGOA in 2000 and has remained engaged ever since. As Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann said during last week’s summit, facilitating regional trade that supports smallholder farmers and local businesses amplifies the efforts of U.S. government-funded programs such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). U.S. agriculture and trade policy – for example, the structure of import tariffs and an assortment of commodity payments made to U.S. farmers -- has sometimes undermined African countries’ efforts to use agriculture to take the first steps out of poverty. A robust AGOA, however, has the potential to boost the livelihoods of hungry and poor people while allowing them to determine their own development path and invest in the future generations.

During his visit to three African countries in 2013, President Obama announced two new initiatives designed to spur economic growth and investment on the continent. Trade Africa aims to both encourage greater regional integration and increase trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries by aligning U.S. assistance with national government and private sector priorities. 

Power Africa, on the other hand, is led by the private sector. The goal of this innovative initiative is to double access to electricity in Africa, where more than 600 million people currently lack access. At the summit, Obama announced a renewed commitment to Power Africa, pledging a new level of $300 million in annual funding to expand the project’s reach. The new goal is to provide 30,000 megawatts in additional electrical capacity, increasing access by at least 60 million households and businesses. The president also announced $6 billion in new private sector commitments, bringing the total private sector investment in Power Africa to more than $20 billion. Some of the additional commitments are part of Beyond the Grid, a new sub-initiative announced at the U.S-Africa Energy Ministerial meeting in June of this year. Beyond the Grid will foster private investment in off-grid and small-scale energy solutions that focus on remote areas.

So far under Power Africa, 12 U.S. government agencies have begun working closely with African governments, both to identify and overcome the key legal, regulatory, and policy constraints to investment and to implement policies that will enable good governance and sustainable growth for Africa’s growing power sector. Early experience shows that carefully targeted capacity building in trade and investment aids efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition and achieve other critical development initiatives. Significant progress is made possible, for example, by reducing post-harvest losses associated with lack of access to cold storage facilities.

The Africa Leaders Summit highlighted several opportunities for trade and investment to intersect with efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. To make the most of these opportunities, U.S. government initiatives should adopt a coordinated approach that is data-driven, goal-oriented, and strategic, and that builds on the experience of relatively new U.S. foreign assistance programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Feed the Future.

Faustine Wabwire

Data to End Hunger: How to Save 800,000 Infant and Toddler Lives Every Year

As Bread for the World Institute has noted in other posts in our Data to End Hunger series, frequently we are able to identify specific problems related to hunger without necessarily being able to select the solutions that will work best because "we just don't have the data." In fact, just a few weeks ago, our first-ever hackathon helped illustrate the fact that the global community is missing an enormous amount of data that could help drive much more rapid progress on women's empowerment.

In some cases, though, we *do* have the data. It's not new or controversial.

 Breastfeeding week
 Credit: UNICEF.

- See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.3Y1FapP6.dpuf

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. The evidence shows that improvements in breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of 800,000 young children every year. It is the most effective strategy we have to protect babies' lives.

Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf
It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least.  Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade.  In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the - See more at: http://news.thousanddays.org/maternal-child-health/breastfeeding-number-one-impact-last-progress/#sthash.4s5Sz5nL.dpuf

"It is startling then that these facts about breastfeeding are well established, yet it is progressing the least," said Casie Tesfai, technical nutrition policy advisor for the International Rescue Committee. "Globally, only 39 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, and only 20 countries have made any significant progress in the last decade. In Africa, only 15 percent of countries are currently on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets on breastfeeding."

For more from Tesfai, including her perspective on why efforts to advocate and support breastfeeding must focus not only on pregnant women, but on men, midwives, other healthcare workers, and community leaders, see her piece "Breastfeeding: Number One in Impact, Last in Progress."

In addition to the many events, updates, and reflections related to last week's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, the attention of the development community was, of course, closely focused on events surrounding the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. There were reports on the administration's Feed the Future global food security initiative (which has now reached 9.4 million children in 12 African countries with improved nutrition), the New Alliance for Global Food Security, the commitments made at the recent AU summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and a number of other hunger-related efforts.

Here is just one of the useful summaries of the Africa Leaders Summit as a whole, including a list of the "dizzying but encouraging array of new partnerships" that were announced. 

The buzz from last week's events was significant, and that's heartening: the global momentum on food and nutrition security is still very much in evidence. At the same time, the world also continues to largely miss a "no-brainer" opportunity to save children's lives.

Michele Learner

What are Block Grants? Can They Help End Poverty?

Block grants are big news these days, since they form the centerpiece of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty proposal. The plan suggests taking all the money the federal government currently spends on 11 different programs for low-income people (including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and several housing programs) and giving it directly to the states in the form of “Opportunity Grants.” 

Girl holding toy blocks
Photo by Miki Yoshihito

That’s all a block grant is: money given straight from the federal government to the states with a fair amount of leeway to use as they see fit.  In the Ryan plan, states would have to demonstrate that they actually used the money to help poor people, and they would have to follow several other guidelines, but they could each create their own anti-poverty programs.

Block grants have pros and cons. Some of the disadvantages cannot be avoided, while others can be mitigated by careful design and implementation of the grants. Here are three broad ideas about block grants in general and the proposed Opportunity Grants in particular:

They need enough funding. Imagine that you’ve been offered a job getting all the kids in your neighborhood to school. Your new boss says, “You get a choice in how you’re paid. Would you like $1,000 a month, or the cost of a bus pass for each kid?” Those are, respectively, a block grant and an entitlement program. You can see that in some situations, the flat amount might be great -- if transportation is cheap and there are only a few kids in the neighborhood, for example. But what if the bus company raises fares or dozens of new kids move into town? 

The same situations can arise with block grants for anti-poverty programs. When there’s a natural disaster, a recession, or inflation, there’s no additional money to respond. In policy terms, that means that block grants are not “countercyclical”: they don’t work to counter changes in economic cycles. Making block grants more responsive to dire circumstances and emergencies requires setting money aside in a contingency fund—and, of course, that money needs to come from somewhere. 

Also, let’s say you choose the flat rate, and you don’t get a raise for a decade or two. Worse yet, your boss shows up and says, “Next year, we’ve budgeted $850 a month instead of $1,000.”  That’s what has happened to many federal block grant programs — their budgets are cut and/or they fail to keep up with inflation.

What if $1,000 didn’t meet the costs of getting all the kids to school in the first place? This is the situation for some of the federal programs that would be folded into an Opportunity Grant: they are already insufficient to meet current needs. SNAP doesn’t last the whole month, TANF only serves a fraction of poor families, and there are long waitlists for other types of assistance (New York City alone has nearly a quarter-million residents on the waitlist for public housing). Keeping the same level of funding is better than making cuts, but it does not solve problems that are there at the outset.

States are not magicians. Giving states money and hoping they have better ideas than the federal government about how to use it may or may not be a good idea, depending on the state and the situation. But it is certain that block grants aren’t a panacea for poverty.  They don’t do anything specific to get community groups more involved. Paul Ryan’s plan refers to the wonderful work of Catholic Charities and other groups, but the reality is that such organizations are already receiving a significant amount of federal funding. States will need oversight to make sure they use their money well. And what happens when a state chooses to focus assistance on people it deems “deserving,” leaving others hungry and destitute?

As our recent experience with  Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act shows, allowing states to set up their own systems can create a confusing patchwork of programs, and some states might even choose to reject the money altogether. States already get a fair amount of leeway in how they administer programs; here, for example, are the state options for SNAP. By creating a menu of possibilities for states to choose from, the federal government is able to evaluate what works—and to expand the best practices nationwide.

One of these things is not like the other.  Some of the programs that Paul Ryan wants to fold into the Opportunity Grant are already block grants – for example, the Community Development Block Grant. Other programs focus on particular groups of people or provide very specific forms of assistance. Rep. Ryan says his goal is to allow states maximum flexibility, so that families who need child care but not rental assistance—or vice versa—can be better served.  But one thing absolutely everyone, rich or poor, needs to do is eat.  As Bread for the World has pointed out, block-granting SNAP would make it harder for the program to handle spikes in need. And people can wait longer for almost anything else than for food.

Another reason that including SNAP in an Opportunity Grant is a bad idea: it would enable states to cut off people’s nutrition assistance more easily. This includes children, who are 44.5% of all SNAP participants but have no role in setting or meeting their families’ goals. States would also be allowed to use block- grant funds for things other than nutrition assistance. While transportation passes and job training are wonderful, they can’t replace food. 

 Bread for the World has welcomed Paul Ryan’s proposal, calling it “an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.” But it’s far from perfect, especially in its Opportunity Grants provisions. Block grants aren’t a new idea, and they aren’t an inherently good or bad idea. Whether they are effective in reducing poverty depends on how they are funded and structured, on how states use them, and on whether they are accompanied by policies that create more jobs and ensure that those jobs pay a decent wage. Any legislation that comes from Rep. Ryan’s plan would need to be carefully crafted to take advantage of the benefits of block grants while avoiding their many problems.

Stacy Cloyd

Too Many SDGs?

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Vuk Jeremić, President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, opens the first session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Photo source: UN Multimedia.

Late last month, the U.N. General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) submitted its proposal for a set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when their deadline, December 2015, passes.

The SDGs, to be presented for approval at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, are an effort to accelerate and intensify the gains in human development that the MDGs began. The MDGs galvanized remarkable global political commitment from rich and poor countries alike – and this is why they inspired significant progress against poverty and hunger.

The eight MDGs are concise and easy to remember – e.g., cut the rate of extreme poverty in half, reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths. They have proven to be easy to explain to the public and to adapt to the circumstances of individual countries.  At this writing, there are 17 proposed SDGs – which run the risk of losing the simplicity that made their predecessors so popular and effective.  It may sound simplistic, but it is also accurate:  in order to spur lasting improvements, the SDGs must be marketable.

One of the most significant critiques of the MDGs has been the non-inclusive way in which they were formulated. The voices of developing country leaders, civil society, and low-income people themselves were largely absent from the MDG discussion. This is something that the UN has worked very hard to remedy this time around. A list of 17 proposed SDGs is a good sign— many more people have contributed their thoughts, making it more likely that the SDGs will avoid the blind spots of the MDGs.

Stronger global partnerships based on mutual respect are also a major theme of the Africa Leaders Summit, taking place this week in Washington, DC. The emphasis on trade in this first-ever event reflects the evolving view of U.S.-Africa relations – and U.S. relations with all developing regions – as focused on shared goals that are nonetheless country-owned. Thus, each country will pursue goals such as ending hunger by 2030 according to its own national circumstances and priorities. If well-packaged and well-presented, the SDGs will undergird this partnership model.

Keeping the list of SDGs wieldy is essential, however. Early research in the psychology of memory found that generally, human beings do not retain lists of more than seven or eight meaningful concepts at once. The results of a more recent study by psychologists at the University of Missouri, Columbia indicated an even smaller list, placing the optimal number of distinct ideas that a young adult can store in short-term “working memory” at three to five. Conventional wisdom, from speeches and sermons to advertisements, affirms this finding.  Three-point speeches are the norm, and you will never see a commercial that tries to sell you on 17 concepts at once.

Like many other stakeholders, we at Bread for the World Institute have made our case for why the issues most important to us—a goal to end hunger and a nutrition target—should be represented in the SDGs. And there are many other critically important concerns. But there are only so many seats on the plane. What’s most important in the end is that the plane is light enough to take off. If people can’t grasp the goals easily, they will have a much harder time getting behind them.

The General Assembly should explore practical ways to preserve the breadth of the proposed SDGs while making them as accessible as possible. Grouping is one possibility:  the 17 goals could be sorted into four or five descriptive categories that are easier to name and summarize.

Communicating complex ideas without oversimplifying or alienating your audience is about striking a delicate balance. The potential impact of the SDGs hangs in that balance.       Derek Schwabe

A Perfect Opportunity to Make Progress Against Hunger

Photo for African Leaders Summit

 Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Heads of state and government have converged on Washington, DC,  for President Obama's historic summit with African leaders, taking place today, August 4, through Wednesday, August 6.

In addition to its focus on advancing trade and investment in Africa, the summit will "[highlight] the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent and... enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership," according to the White House.

One sign that this deeper partnership is becoming a reality is the U.S. government's four-year-old global food security initiative, Feed the Future. As we've discussed frequently on Institute Notes, Feed the Future focuses on smallholder farmers as the key to the agriculture-led growth necessary to significantly reduce hunger and poverty. In just the past year, Feed the Future has reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers, and Bread for the World Institute President David Beckmann calls the initiative "a down payment on global food and nutrition security." For more on the future of Feed the Future, listen to a Voice of America interview with Institute senior foreign assistance policy analyst Faustine Wabwire.

The African Union, for its part, committed to ending hunger by 2025 at its 2014 summit, held in late June in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. This year also marks 10 years since the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), where governments committed to making agriculture a higher priority. As discussed in the Institute's short paper, The Push-Up Decade: CAADP at 10,10 of the 54 African Union member states have reached the target set at the outset of allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

Equipping Africa's next generation with the tools needed to build a more peaceful and prosperous future is a top priority for both African countries and the U.S. government.  The African Leaders Summit is paired with another first-of-its-kind effort, a U.S.-based training program and White House summit for 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched by the administration in 2010.

Simple numbers tell us why the focus must be on the next generation: as of 2012, the median age in sub-Saharan countries was 19.7 (by comparison, the U.S. median age is about 37). A startling 85 percent of all the people in sub-Saharan Africa are younger than 45.

The potential of such a young continent is enormous. But the data also point to an immense barrier to realizing that potential: hunger and malnutrition. In some countries, stunting -- an indication of chronic malnutrition early in life that affects a person's health and intellectual development for a lifetime -- affects more than 40 percent of all children.

Of the current 53 member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, 34 are sub-Saharan African nations. SUN member countries have identified malnutrition, particularly during the 1,000 Days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday, as a critical problem in their societies. They are working together to bring proven nutrition interventions  -- many of them straightforward and inexpensive actions such as providing iron supplements to pregnant women -- to many more women, infants, and toddlers at risk. 

The African Leaders Summit, particularly today's discussion of "Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate," is a rare chance for leaders to use the growing partnership links between the United States and African countries to solidify global goals and concrete actions on hunger and nutrition. 

Michele Learner

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