Developing strategies to end hunger
 

232 posts categorized "Economic Development"

The 10-Year Outlook for International Food Security

Blog 072314The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently issued a report that projects the food security of 76 low- and middle-income countries for the years 2014-2024. The assessment was based on two main factors: capacity to produce food, and capacity to import.

The report is a follow-up to ERS’ first report that made 10-year food security projections, which covered 2013-2023 and was based on the same factors.

The ability to produce food domestically is, of course, especially important in the parts of Asia and Africa that rely most heavily on local agriculture. The ability to pay for food imports is a much more significant factor in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North Africa, where countries import a large proportion of the food they need. ERS weighed both factors in order to project the number of people in each country or region who will be food-insecure.

Over the short term, ERS believes that the overall situation in the 76 countries will improve. The share of the population that is food-insecure fell 1.6 percent during the year 2013 to 2014. This is expected to translate into a 9 percent drop in the overall numbers of hungry people, from 539 million in 2013 to 490 million in 2014 (for the 76 countries in the report).

However, over the decade 2014-2024, ERS projects that the number of people who are food-insecure will increase. This is because the share of the population that is food-insecure is expected to grow from 13.9 percent now to 14.6 percent in 2024. As might be expected, the main reason that ERS identified is that the food supply – what can be produced domestically plus what a country can afford to import – is expected to grow slowly, while demand for food is already strong and will grow more quickly.  

What does the report mean for global hunger? The ERS says that short-term improvements in improving food security in these countries, while positive, will not be sustained in the long-term due to population growth, weak country infrastructure and other factors. Improving production capacities of small-holder farmers, most often women, is essential.  Giving women farmers improved access to land, seed, fertilizer and markets in these countries is an important key to this, and will help build the foundation to a future where food insecurity and hunger are a thing of the past.

Scott Bleggi

 

A Shameful Anniversary: Five Years, No Minimum Wage Increase

The Minimum Wage Leaves Families in Poverty
This Thursday is the five-year anniversary of the last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage. Despite growing worker productivity and ever-rising living costs, the minimum wage has been immobile at $7.25 an hour since July 2009. If the minimum wage had kept up with U.S. productivity growth since 1950, it would be $18.67 today.

Minimum wage workers and their families know that $7.25 an hour means life is little more than a daily struggle just to survive. A full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns only $15,080 annually. This is well below the poverty line for a family of four ($23,850 in 2014), and only a fraction of what an American family of four actually needs to support even a modest standard of living (see the graphic above). Monthly costs for family of 4 in Topeka, Kansas

It’s simply not possible for one or even two adults working full-time for minimum wage to provide for their families’ basic needs. The graphic to the right provides a breakdown of what the Economic Policy Institute has calculated a worker living in a part of the country with average living costs (Topeka, Kansas in this example) needs to sustain a secure living for a family of four. 

In 2012, 10 million full-time workers in our country were paid poverty-level wages -- 28 percent of all full-time workers. Low-wage workers and their families are, by and large, the face of American poverty. If these 10 million workers had earned enough to put them over the poverty line – that is, the $23,850 figure, not the $63,364 to meet basic needs – there would have been 58 percent fewer families living in poverty.

Every American who works 40 hours each week should earn enough to keep her or his family out of poverty. There have been times in U.S. history when that principle was upheld. This week’s anniversary is nothing to celebrate. Instead, it reminds us once again that the time to resume honoring our country’s values of fairness and the work ethic is long ov
erdue.

Some Americans are raising awareness for the five-year anniversary by taking the Live the Wage Challenge--attempting to live on a minimum wage income for just one week. After housing costs and taxes, that's just $77 per week. You can read stories and find instructions for how to take the challenge at livethewage.com

Read the 2014 Hunger Report to learn more about the key role of the minimum wage in ending hunger in America. Also, check out Todd Post’s reflection on minimum wage myths and realities. Derek Schwabe

For Families in Central America, Heartbreaking Decisions

Percent Change in Unaccompanied minors
Why are so many more unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border with Mexico? Most (about 75 percent) of the new wave of minors are not actually from Mexico, but have made the long journey through Mexico from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

If the surge of child migrants were caused by softer U.S. policies -- or rumors of softer U.S. policies -- we would expect many to be from Mexico. After all, Mexico, which shares its long border with the United States, is the home country of the majority of undocumented immigrants here. But as we see in the above graphic, Mexico is not the source of the increase. In fact, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children has changed little, and even declined since 2009.

The primary causes are, instead, deep poverty and extreme levels of violence in Central America. The striking disparities between the haves and have-nots in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador sustain high levels of hunger and malnutrition, particularly among young children, whose rates of stunting are soaring. At the same time, the three are the most violence-plagued nations in the hemisphere. Gangs often choose to recruit elementary school children; those who refuse to join are sometimes killed along with their entire families, and girls are frequently targeted for gang rape. This is why so many of those trying to cross the U.S. border are children and teenagers.

Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala Lead the World in Murder Rates
As long as poverty, inequality, and weak governance persist – and often worsen – many families in these three countries face a dilemma no parent should have to face: keep their children home even though they can’t protect them, or send them on long, dangerous journeys in hopes that they will reach a safer place.

To resolve the crisis of the unaccompanied child migrants, border control is not enough. The root causes are at home. Thousands of desperate families have determined that fleeing, even with the risk of never reaching their destination, is the best option their children have. The United States can do a great deal to help alleviate poverty and enable Central American governments to protect their citizens. Read more about specific policy recommendations from the Institute’s senior immigration policy analyst, Andrew Wainer. Derek Schwabe

African Leaders Commit to Ending Hunger by 2025

It was not so long ago— in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011—that spikes in the prices of staple foods accompanied by food price volatility caused a surge in hunger around the world, sending millions more people to bed hungry. Sudden spikes in the prices of essential commodities such as food affect all families, but especially those who are poor since poor people spend so much of their entire incomes—often 50 percent to 70 percent—on food. With so little discretionary money in the household budget, it is very difficult to adjust to rapid price increases. The global food crisis was a wake-up call for the global community, who had by that time dramatically cut back investments in agriculture. The crisis spurred new attention to the vital role of global agriculture—both now and in the future.

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Photo: Laura Pohl/ Bread for the World

Long before the global food crisis, however, member states of the African Union (AU) had already laid out a plan to reinvest in agriculture as a pathway to fight hunger and spur economic transformation on the continent. In 2003, the AU’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) launched the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). That year, African heads of state met in Maputo, Mozambique and agreed, in the Maputo Declaration, both to begin devoting 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture by 2008, and to set a goal of achieving an average annual growth rate of 6 percent in the agricultural sector by 2015. As detailed in Bread for the World Institute’s analysis The Push-Up Decade: CAADP at 10, 10 out of 54 AU member states have reached or exceeded the target of allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, who have already exceeded the 10 percent investment target. At the same time, 10 countries have met or exceeded the CAADP target of 6 percent growth in agriculture: Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania. Another four have achieved growth of between 5 and 6 percent. 

The analysis shows that filling the investment gaps in agriculture is necessary to promote broad-based economic growth. Fifteen out of 19 CAADP countries that have failed to meet the 10 percent CAADP target leave a $4.4 billion total shortfall in funding. On the other hand, Niger and Ethiopia are two of the four countries that have met the target, and both are on track to halving extreme poverty by 2015.

It is thefeore appropriate that at the 2014 AU summit last week in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, African leaders recommitted to doubling their commitment to the Maputo pledge to boost regional food security. Elements of the renewed  focus include:

  • Set a goal of eradicating chronic hunger by 2025
  • Strengthen CAADP by including links to social protection  
  • Establish an Africa Solidarity Trust Fund to support four new sub-regional projects aimed at increasing food security and nutrition in 24 African countries.

These are all timely, encouraging steps.

This is a critical moment for Africa. There are positive economic trends: over the last decade, 10 of the world’s fastest-growing economies have been on the African continent. Yet despite these impressive growth rates, hunger and poverty still plague a large section of the population. The majority of poor people—approximately 75 percent—live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Targeted investments in agriculture are therefore critical and urgent. Investments must take a comprehensive approach that prioritizes smallholder farmers with emphasis on women and youth. Areas of focus should include access to credit; access to protective assets such as land; social protection programs such as cash transfers; and infrastructure—including irrigation, transportation, and energy.

As the world negotiates a new set of global development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after their deadline in late 2015, Africa must step up to the plate and translate its commitments to support smallholder farmers into action. Development partners such as the United States should continue to support Africa’s efforts by helping CAADP strengthen its capacity and fill in resource gaps, particularly in the development of energy, access to markets, and infrastructure to prevent post-harvest losses. These investments should move beyond simply increasing production to emphasize access to highly nutritious foods. They should focus more on the food security of rural populations and provide employment opportunities for youth and women.

Globally, the importance of focusing on smallholder farmers as essential to achieving the first MDG cannot be over-emphasized. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2014 The International Year of Family Farming as a way of raising the profile of smallholder farmers. According to the Food and Agricuture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), family farming is important because:

  • Family and small-scale farming are inextricably linked to world food security.
  • Family farming preserves traditional food products, while contributing to a balanced diet and safeguarding the world’s agro-biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources.
  • Family farming represents an opportunity to boost local economies, especially when combined with specific policies aimed at the social protection and well-being of communities.

With just three weeks left before the historic 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to be held in Washington DC (August 4-6), I hope that agriculture, climate change and trade will rank high on the agenda. These are critical if Africa is to sustain its recent impressive economic growth path.

Faustine_Typepad

Hacking For Women's Empowerment: What We Accomplished

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This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute, in partnership with the website, HelpMeViz, hosted the very first HelpMeViz Hunger Report Hackathon at Bread's Washington, DC office. The event brought together a diverse group of justice-minded statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks who volunteered their time, skills, and creative energy to take on two  compelling data questions on global women’s empowerment and nutrition. The goal? To scour massive World Bank and UN datasets to find and visualize answers. We gave them four hours. They gave us a lot to think about. Here’s our storify-style recap of how the day went down:

Two Data Challenges—Two Dynamic Groups

Challenge 1:  There’s a lot of data missing on women’s empowerment. How do we tell that story visually?

Challenge 2: Stunting hurts one in four children around the world. When women are more empowered, do stunting rates drop?

Getting Started: Cleaning Data and Brainstorming Ideas

Both teams were thrown a number of very large datasets. Some were manageable and easy to understand—most were not. So the first step was to get to know the data, share some tips on where to start, and find ways to clean it up and make it easier to analyze. The close second step was to begin brainstorming ideas for how to use that data. 

Team 1: How Do You Visualize Nothing?

Team 1 had an atypical data challenge—not to tell a story about the data that we have, but to focus on what's missing. Thankfully, they were up to it. 

Team 2: Reaching Two Audiences

After cleaning their data, team two quickly began to find correlations between increased empowerment of women and lower stunting rates. But they wondered about the best way to tell the story. For advocates and academics, a data-heavy visualization would work, but probably not for policy makers. So the team decided to craft two ways of telling the same story: an infographic, and an interactive data app. They made good use of the sketch pads. 

Four Hours Later: Data—Visualized!

By the end of the hackathon, both teams, with some help from online participants, produced some impressive visualizations and prototypes that attacked the data challenges from all angles. Heat maps, small multiples, scatter plots, bar charts and some very artful designs all brought fresh insight to the nutrition and women’s empowerment policy discussion, and striking content ideas to the 2015 Hunger Report. Here are some of them:

Number of Missing Data Points, East Asia & Pacific

Missing Women DNA Photo

 Stunting rate vs. Rate of Population with Secondary Education or Higher

We Had a Lot of Thanking to Do

New Friends Made, New Projects Started

Next Steps

It’s clear to see that many stellar ideas were born in the three hours that our two teams had to work at this hackathon. The next step in some cases is simply to refine and polish. But in others it may be to continue building out the concept. We at Bread for the World Institute are eager to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work and to ultimately ready their visualizations for publication in the 2015 Hunger Report. We are now following up to decide on the best way to continue partnering with participants to carry on the work to that point. 

Derek Schwabe

Which Country Is Most Committed to Ending Hunger?

This time last year, I  blogged about the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), which combines a number of variables to come up with a ranking of how serious a country’s central government is about fighting hunger and malnutrition. We know that lack of political will is the only reason the world hasn’t ended hunger yet – so efforts like HANCI are important.

Government commitment was measured by indicators such as the creation and implementation of new policies and programs, the strength of existing programs, and whether the efforts are supported with sufficient funding. The first HANCI, last year, ranked Guatemala at the top because of its substantial “improvements in providing clean drinking water, ensuring improved sanitation, promoting complementary feeding practices, and investing in health interventions.” HANCI also noted that the Guatemalan government had launched a national campaign, the Zero Hunger Plan.

The second HANCI report, released this week, once again ranks Guatemala, along with Peru and Malawi, at the top. In these countries, governments, civil society organizations, and international partners are collaborating on programs that are making a difference to people’s health and well-being. It is no surprise that the three are also leaders in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, with active civil society networks that advocate for improved nutrition with their governments. SUN countries emphasize the “1,000 Days” window of opportunity on nutrition, which lasts from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

HANCI 2

In this chart from the HANCI report, nutrition rankings are the Y axis (vertical) and hunger rankings are the X axis (horizontal). The closer a country is to (1,1), like Guatemala (GTM), the higher its score.

Learn more about Guatemala’s efforts by watching a recent PBS NewsHour segment, “Widespread childhood malnutrition is a paradox in agriculturally rich Guatemala".

 

The PBS broadcast features interviews with government leaders such as Luis Enrique Monterosso, head of the country’s hunger and malnutrition agency; leading private sector businesspeople on why they believe that ending malnutrition in Guatemala is imperative; and Save the Children-Guatemala, which implements programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Early successes in Guatemala stem from the recognition that nutrition is important across development sectors; offices devoted to agriculture, health, education, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are all working on nutrition issues. In health, direct nutrition interventions such as feeding malnourished infants are complemented by “nutrition-sensitive” actions in other areas – actions aimed at tackling the underlying causes of malnutrition. These programs together comprise “bundled interventions,” which experts at The Lancet medical journal, the Copenhagen Consensus, and IFPRI consider one of the best uses of development assistance. Bundled interventions fight malnutrition in cost-effective ways; in fact, the benefits they bring are worth many times their cost.

Scott Bleggi

Getting to the Roots of Migration

As Violence in Central America Rises, More Children Flee, 500 pix

For months, immigration reform has been languishing in Congress. But a surge of unaccompanied children and youth crossing the border into the southern United States is a humanitarian disaster that has catapulted migration into the public consciousness and brought to light the conditions that lead desperate parents to send their children to the United States seeking a better life.

So far this year 47,000 children traveling without adults have arrived at the border. About 80 percent are from Central America. According to the International Organization for Migration, children as young as 18 months have been entrusted to smugglers to make the journey. And more are expected. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the total may reach 90,000 unaccompanied minors in 2014 and perhaps more than 100,000 in 2015.

Child migration from Central America --particularly in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador -- has actually been on the rise for several years as already high levels of violence worsen and socioeconomic conditions deteriorate. The U.S. immigration system – mostly along the Texas border where the child migrants are arriving – is overwhelmed. Tens of thousands of newly-arrived women and children are being housed at military bases in California, Texas, and Oklahoma and in converted shelters in Arizona. The administration is seeking additional shelter for the child migrants elsewhere around the country, including in Virginia and New York State.

The more rapid surge this year was largely unanticipated by the administration, which recently asked Congress for more than $1 billion in additional funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement in order to respond to the growing numbers of immigrant children. So far, Congress has not increased the available funding.

Opponents of immigration reform have criticized the Obama administration , accusing senior officials of encouraging the additional unauthorized immigration. Immigration advocates have largely taken the opposite position -- attributing the problem to the current dysfunctional immigration system and the lack of immigration reform. The White House says the immigration surge is caused by poverty and violence in Central America -- yet simultaneously, the administration has begun taking a harder approach to immigration enforcement and deportation along the border.

Last Friday, Vice President Joseph Biden met with leaders from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to convey the message that immigrants entering the United States illegally will be deported. Biden will urge potential Central American immigrants not to count on being granted asylum in the United States. In the past, some pregnant women and parents accompanied by young children have been allowed to join family members in the United States temporarily. According to several sources, this has created a false perception among some immigrants that they can obtain legal status if they make it to the border, even without authorization.

The immigration reform legislation now stalemated in Congress is important and would help in the response to the current child migration surge. But without increased public and policymaker focus on the root causes of immigration, the problem of unaccompanied minors is likely to continue. It’s no coincidence that most of the child immigrants are from some of the poorest and most violent nations in the Western Hemisphere. Sending your child hundreds of miles – alone – to seek refuge in the United States is not a decision that is taken lightly. It is a desperate act.

Immigration reform needs to include provisions that respond to the factors driving people to make such calculations. Without addressing the poverty and resulting destabilization in the region that contribute to unauthorized immigration, the current humanitarian challenge on the border can only be staved off, not solved.

This blog post is the first in a series analyzing the role of violence, poverty, and a lack of economic opportunity in generating unauthorized immigration to the United States.

  Andrew Wainer

What Should Post-Millennium Development Goals Look Like?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed by 189 countries in 2000, are an unprecedented global effort to achieve development goals that are identified collectively, achievable, and measurable. Globally, substantial progress has been made toward many MDG targets. The targets for MDG 1, the first of the eight goals, are to cut in half the proportion of people living with hunger and poverty by December 2015. The poverty target has been met. The hunger target has not, but it is still within reach if all countries are willing to do their part. According to the latest State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report, 842 million people, or roughly one in eight people in the world, suffered from chronic hunger in the period 2011-2013. This is down from the figures for 2010-2012 (868 million) and for 2009 (1.02 billion).

This is a historic time. As the December 2015 MDG deadline approaches, global efforts to establish an agreed post-2015 development agenda are intensifying. The world’s attention and resources will be focused on this new set of goals for the next 15 years. Unlike the MDGs, which were crafted by a team of experts who came mainly from the United Nations, the process of setting a post-2015 development agenda is largely participatory. The U.N. is working with governments, civil society, the private sector and other partners to identify public priorities through the My World Survey.

Informed by the experience of the MDGs, Bread for the World Institute's briefing paper A Global Development Agenda: Toward 2015 and Beyond emphasizes that formulating a universal post-2015 development agenda is critical to promote equity and equitable growth worldwide. It is also an opening to recognize that key areas are clearly interwoven: food security and good nutrition for all; agricultural development; women’s economic empowerment; and good governance and effective institutions. The new goals should be conceptualized and worded in ways that capture the great potential of coordinated approaches, which have proven to be highly effective in responding to complex development challenges with many “moving parts.”

Dao_farmers_harvestingPhoto credit: IRF2015

In May 2013, the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda—a group tasked with advising the United Nations Secretary General—released its report A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development. The report advocates five “global shifts”:

  • Leave no one behind;
  • Put sustainable development at the core;
  • Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth;
  • Build peace and effective, open, and accountable institutions for all; and
  • Forge a new global partnership.

Another group helping to conceptualize and frame the post-2015 development agenda was formed as a result of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (usually called “Rio+20”), which took place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference’s outcome document, The Future We Want, called for the creation of an intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals. The OWG was tasked with developing a proposal that both built on the progress made under the MDGs, and created a single post-2015 framework that placed poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core.

This week, June 14-20, the 12th Session of the Open Working Group met at U.N. headquarters in New York.  The OWG's Working Document outlines 17 Focus Areas that are likely to succeed the current MDGs. They include sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition; gender equality and women's empowerment; and promoting equality among nations.

While the My World Survey, High Level Panel recommendations, and Open Working Group document are all important to the creation of truly global post-2015 development goals, the most critical task is still ahead: to establish effective implementation mechanisms of the goals and their targets so that the world’s poor and marginalized people- wherever they may be- are not left behind. This should apply to all countries.

Faustine_Typepad

Poverty Holds Back Africa's Rise

Photo for Mozambique IMF conferenceRecently (May 29-30), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the government of Mozambique hosted Africa Rising: Building to the Future, a gathering of African finance ministers, central bank governors, and other leaders to look at key challenges and next steps for African economies.

“The gains of the last decade, during which many countries in sub-Saharan Africa saw sustained high rates of economic growth and an impressive reduction in poverty, have been nothing short of remarkable,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.

“However, there is still a long way ahead to meet the aspirations of the continent," she continued. "Extreme poverty is still too prevalent ... Now is the time to look at the policies that will take the region to the next phase of its economic development.”

We know that the link between economic growth and lower poverty rates is not automatic or guaranteed. In fact, Mozambique, the host country, vividly illustrates the idea that growth, while necessary, is not sufficient.

In 2013, researchers reported that although Mozambique has enjoyed economic growth of 7 percent to 8 percent for two decades, more than half of the nation's population lives below the poverty line. Stunting among children under 5 fell only slightly in the decade 2003-2013, from 48 percent to 43 percent.

Carlos Castel Branco, an economist at the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE) in Maputo, pointed out that over the same decade, 2003-2013, food production per capita in Mozambique did not increase. In fact, it has declined slightly, while food prices have increased. Castel Branco said that less than 1 percent of all private investment went to basic food production for the domestic market.

Edna Possolo, head of the nutrition department at Mozambique's Ministry of Health, said it is encouraging that Mozambique is part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement. The government has prepared a multi-sectoral plan to fight malnutrition; Possolo said that the greatest difficulties are in implementing the plan. Many people believe that malnutrition is purely a health problem, and thus, only the Ministry of Health needs to be involved. Donors often prefer to fund programs to cope with the symptoms of malnutrition, rather than structural approaches that take longer to achieve tangible results.

But more donors are involved than five years ago, Possolo said. And Mozambique's civil society is receiving support from the SUN Multi-Partner Trust to help ensure that the full plan is implemented.

The priority measures that Mozambique has identified and begun to carry out include: a large-scale vitamin A supplementation and deworming program for children ages 6 months to 5 years; iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant and postpartum women; treatment of acute malnutrition; optimization of infant and young child feeding practices; and large-scale fortification of wheat flour and edible oils.                     .

These two areas of focus -- supplementation for vulnerable people and fortification to supply the nutrients everyone needs -- are in line with the emphasis on ordinary low-income people that the Africa Rising meeting participants agreed is needed to fight poverty in Africa. A deeper structural transformation is needed so that ordinary citizens can benefit from the boom, participants declared. As the joint declaration approved at the meeting points out: "Policies need to be designed in such a way to ensure that a surge in growth can also spur structural transformation."

Photo: Gustavo, 2, with his mother Constantia in Cobue, Mozambique. Gustavo has recovered from severe malnutrition -- the result of a bout of malaria at a year old. Photo by Rebecca Vander Meulen.

Michele Learner

“Nutrition for Growth” At One Year: Tracking Global Pledges

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Nutrition and education link in Guatemala school feeding. (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World)

We recently marked the first anniversary of the historic global nutrition event “Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger Through Business and Science” (N4G), held in London in conjunction with the 2013 G-8 Summit. Co-hosted by the governments of the U.K. and Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the event brought together leaders from business, government, science, academia, and civil society. They made ambitious financial and political commitments to provide better nutrition to women and children in the 1,000 Days “window of opportunity” from pregnancy to age 2; reduce the numbers of stunted children; and help put an end to deaths from severe acute malnutrition. More specifically, they agreed to prevent at least 20 million children from being stunted and to save at least 1.7 million lives by 2020.

How pervasive a problem is malnutrition? The number of people suffering from chronic hunger declined from 868 million in 2012 to 842 million in 2013. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of undernourished children has been reduced by 17 percent in 20 years. Yet undernutrition is still the cause of nearly half of the deaths of children under age 5.

Globally, nearly one in four children younger than 5 is stunted due to chronic micronutrient deficiencies. Stunting is a condition linked to increased susceptibility to common illnesses, lower levels of academic achievement, and lower lifetime earnings, said UNICEF in its recent report, "Improving Child Nutrition: The Achievable Imperative for Global Progress".

Severe acute malnutrition is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. According to the World Health Organization, there is a 30 percent to 50 percent mortality rate for children younger than 5 who develop severe acute malnutrition.

How ambitious were the N4G commitments? Altogether, leaders pledged an historic $4.15 billion to tackle malnutrition via investments in multiple sectors: agriculture; health; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); education; and social protection programs. They did so in the realization that nutrition is intertwined with all these sectors -- and that a person who is malnourished in early childhood can never reach her or his full potential.Commitments were made to new partnerships and scaled-up research. An annual Global Report on Nutrition was announced (the “first annual” report will be released in November 2014 at the Second International Conference on Nutrition). An annual global nutrition meeting alongside the UN General Assembly was initiated.  A Global Nutrition for Growth Compact puts nutrition at the center of the world’s development agenda. A group of businesses has pledged to improve the nutrition (and hence the productivity and health) of 927,000 employees in 80 countries. See a complete list of commitments.

A year after N4G, what progress has the United States made? The U.S. government has made nutrition a higher priority in meeting our global development assistance commitments. In a time of almost universal budget cuts, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement to boost funding for nutrition in the FY 2014 federal budget. USAID recently announced a new global multisectoral nutrition strategy. The agency credits the “strong advocacy and dedication” of civil society organizations such as Bread for the World Institute for the release of the strategy, which will “align our important global nutrition commitments.” The USAID strategy will be used to develop a U.S. Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan, to include USAID, four cabinet-level departments (Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Treasury, State), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Peace Corps, and the White House. The plan is designed to accelerate “progress toward relevant WHA targets and other U.S. government commitments by maximizing the impact of government actions.” 

Civil society organizations, including those in the nutrition stakeholder community such as the Institute, are clearly a driving force in getting this high level of U.S. government commitment to nutrition. Legislative and non-legislative advocates are working seamlessly to increase funding for nutrition activities and to shape an effective policy and program operations agenda. USAID operational partners are designing nutrition projects that encompass several sectors of development assistance.

Of course, commitments and action by the governments of countries with high burdens of malnutrition are essential to success. To date, 51 such countries have come together in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement in order to work -- governments and civil societies together – to expand successful nutrition programs. 

Working together, civil society will monitor the pledges made at N4G to ensure that they are honored. We will help ensure that diverse government nutrition policies and programs come together in the most effective way possible. Malnutrition is a major component of global hunger, so tackling it more effectively will bring us much closer to our very feasible goal, ending global hunger by the year 2030.

In a recent blog post, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Rick Leach, CEO of WFP-US said: “From climate change to civil liberties, the world is at a critical point right now with many issues. Global nutrition is no different, and, as such, deserves adequate attention as its reach is vast and implications deep. Future generations depend on decisions we--governments, NGOs, faith leaders, community leaders, investors, scientists, educators, and others--are making and actions we are taking right now to ensure that they can reach their full potential. Not only can we reduce undernutrition--we must if our children's children are to thrive.”

Scott Bleggi

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