Developing strategies to end hunger

126 posts categorized "Food Prices"

Canada Measures Progress on Nutrition, Calls for Renewed Global Efforts

At the launch of the global Muskoka Initiative during the 2010 Group of 8 (G-8) summit, the government of Canada promised to “make a significant, tangible difference in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.” The Muskoka Initiative, signed by all G-8 member countries, focuses on articulating principles, developing measures, and promoting transparency and accountability in health outcomes.

Canada and the other Muskoka signatories have contributed to impressive progress in the past two years. According to the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (CAN-MNCH), in 2012, an extra 700,000 children reached their fifth birthday as compared to 2010. In more than 125 countries, maternal death rates have fallen sharply in the past five years.

Three years into the initiative, Canada is on track to meet its five-year commitment of Can$2.85 billion (the Canadian and U.S. dollars are currently close in value; Canada’s pledge is about U.S. $2.76 billion). It has already disbursed 60 percent of the total. Moreover, encouraged by the results associated with its investment, Canada recently committed an additional Can$203.5 million to support the Muskoka principles. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently hosted a United Nations event on the health of pregnant women and young children, where he made the announcement.

Impact 2025
A symposium, IMPACT 2025: Working Together for Global Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, was held last month in Ottawa by the Canadian government and CAN-MNCH. According to reporting from the event, “…despite some remarkable progress, improvements in [maternal, newborn, and child health, MNCH] have been uneven across and within countries.” Participants came together to make a series of recommendations to the Canadian government to support current investments by:

·         Maintaining political momentum

·         Leveraging global leadership in MNCH to reach the Millennium Development Goals

·         Strengthening accountability frameworks

·         Promoting private sector engagement

·         Collaborating through a “Whole-of-Canada” approach

These efforts by our neighbor to the north remind those of us in the United States that there is global political momentum behind efforts to improve health and nutrition outcomes for women and children. This global nutrition momentum confronts the “massive unfinished agenda” in nutrition that I wrote about previously. Global efforts must respond to these unmet needs through new collaborations that leverage available resources and emphasize best practices.

Such collaborations will help build an evidence base of what has produced successful results—an important tool for moving forward, as emphasized in the 2013 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition. Advocacy groups such as Bread for the World need these successes to help make the case to the U.S. Congress that sustaining robust funding for nutrition is a smart investment of taxpayer resources—prevention efforts that will be leveraged by other donors and by national governments to make a “significant, tangible difference” in the lives of millions. 

Scott Bleggi

SOFI Puts Number of Hungry People at 842 Million -- An Improvement

This morning with the release of its annual report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced a continued drop in the number of people suffering from chronic hunger. The new figure is 842 million, which is 26 million fewer people than last year’s report of 868 million.

This improvement offers additional evidence that the global response to the 2007-2008 food price crisis – a response that included a U.S. pledge of $3.5 billion for food security, agriculture, and nutrition and led to the establishment of Feed the Future – helped prevent a longer-term reversal of global progress against hunger and is contributing to current progress on hunger. The food price crisis, during which the costs of staple grains such as rice and maize suddenly doubled or tripled, is believed to have driven an additional 100 million people into poverty. 

Undernourishment in the developing regions

 FAO reports that if the average progress of the past 21 years continues through 2015, malnutrition in developing regions will reach a level close to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing hunger by half, but “considerable and immediate additional efforts” will be necessary to fully meet the goal. The report recommends that food security and agriculture remain targeted priorities on the post-MDG, post-2015 development agenda in order to sustain progress.

The SOFI report also notes:

  • In some countries, there are many more stunted children than the data on how many people lack sufficient calories would suggest. Because stunting is evidence of chronic malnutrition in early childhood and is accompanied by irreversible damage to a child’s physical and cognitive development, “nutrition-enhancing interventions are crucial” and require a range of food security and nutrition actions in areas such as agriculture, health, hygiene, and water supply.
  • The most signi­ficant decreases in hunger have occurred in East and Southeast Asia and in Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest hunger rates. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and North Africa made only modest progress over the past year, while West Asia recorded no progress.
  • Though economic growth is a key driver of progress against hunger and poverty, it is not always equitably shared. In many countries, particularly middle-income countries, people who are among the “poorest of the poor” are in danger of being left behind.

You can access the full SOFI report, the executive summary, and the most recent country-level data for every indicator here at the SOFI webpage on FAO’s website.

Derek Schwabe


First Global Gathering of SUN Countries in New York

Hunger Report Monday

Efforts to improve maternal and child nutrition reach new heights this week as representatives from 42 member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement gather in New York for their first-ever global meeting.

As one of the events taking place on the margins of this week’s United Nations General Assembly meetings, the SUN Global Gathering will draw increased political attention to the urgent problem of early childhood malnutrition and provide a space where government and civil society leaders can share “best practices” from their experiences in seeking solutions to malnutrition at the national and local levels. As the General Assembly takes up the issue of how to formulate the global development goals that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in December 2015, the presence of SUN leaders will send a clear message: nutrition must become a pillar of the post-2015 development agenda.  

The surest indicator of chronic malnutrition is stunting. One in four children around the world is stunted—and being far too short for their age is only the most visible sign. When children are stunted, they lose—not only in physical size, but in health, physical and cognitive development, and the long-term capacity to lead a productive life. Nutrition is a critical element of human development that affects many other issues, including poverty, education, agriculture, gender equity, economic development, and climate change. (You can read more about the cross-cutting nature of nutrition interventions here).

The timeline above reminds us that much has happened since September 2010, when developing countries founded the SUN movement and donors—led by the United States and Ireland—launched the 1,000 Days Call to Action to support it. What started as the recommendations of a scientific series in the leading medical journal The Lancet on what we know about early childhood malnutrition has grown into a global partnership. To date, 42 countries (up from 35 since this past June) with high rates of maternal and child malnutrition have joined SUN. The movement has grown rapidly as governments and civil society leaders increasingly recognize the irreversible damage that early childhood malnutrition inflicts on whole generations—and, conversely, the tremendous return on national investments that prevent it.

The 2013 Hunger Report is chock-full of stories on maternal and child nutrition, stunting, the 1,000 Days window, and the SUN movement. It’s all related to our recommendation for a bull’s-eye goal of ending mass hunger and extreme poverty by 2040. 

Download the report at to get the full story on Bread for the World’s recommendations on nutrition in the 1,000 days from pregnancy to age 2. Derek Schwabe

Recognizing Nutrition-Sensitive Development Actions

When we look at ways to improve maternal and child nutrition, better availability and access to food first comes to mind.  This has been the traditional response in agricultural development assistance, but evidence has shown that increasing farm yields, while increasing producer incomes, in and of itself will not improve individual and household nutrition status.

If providing more food alone won’t improve nutrition, what other interventions are needed? One is a direct, or “nutrition-specific”, intervention that addresses the immediate causes.  These have been well-defined in the first Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, and have a strong evidence base showing their effectiveness. Interventions such as providing micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) such as zinc, iron and iodized salt were shown to have a profound impact on childhood stunting and early childhood death.

The studies also showed that to be effective in the long-term, these interventions needed to be supplemented by improvements in the underlying, or indirect, causes of malnutrition.  Bread for the World Institute published a briefing paper on defining these other types of interventions, and addressing malnutrition through “nutrition-sensitive” development actions. These can take place in multiple sectors, including agriculture. Interventions that address poverty, gender inequality, food insecurity, education, health and access to basic services can all improve nutrition.

An examination of 14 different studies on improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in ten low and middle-income countries shows that improvements in this area can “slightly improve height growth in children under five years of age”, which is a measure of malnutrition.  Only slightly? Well, that’s disappointing.  Lawrence Haddad reported in his blog that “we shouldn’t give up” on WASH interventions based on this lukewarm report for a number of reasons, including the fact that the study was only 12 months in duration. And the authors stated that “none of the studies is of high methodological quality”.

A Peace Corps latrine project in Senegal nears completion.  Photo credit: Charity Water

Are WASH efforts an effective way to improve nutrition? Yes! A number of current studies will add to what are the first data points in an evidence base of nutrition-sensitive development actions.  The evidence base of successful nutrition outcomes based on these actions is being built. According to the second Lancet series on Maternal and Child Nutrition, nutrition-sensitive development actions “have an enormous potential to enhance the scale and effectiveness of nutrition-specific interventions”.

Key to sustaining improved nutrition outcomes is a combination of both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive actions. Identifying, measuring and reporting on them across developmental assistance sectors in overseas projects will quickly build an evidence base of successful nutrition outcomes.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is developing its agency nutrition strategy, one that will eventually grow to be “whole of government”.  Recognizing that many of its global development assistance activities, especially those in the Feed the Future Initiative, already have substantial nutrition-sensitive components should be an important part of developing that strategy.

Scott Bleggi

Saving more Lives in Syria

Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugees shortly after crossing the border into Jordan. (UNHCR/J. Kohler)

Syria dominates our media outlets, news pages, and Twitter and Facebook feeds. The conflict itself and the prospect of external intervention get most of the attention. The millions displaced (now one third of the Syrian population) and left to face homelessness and severe poverty and hunger somehow don't get as much. More of the world’s refugees are Syrian than any other nationality, and millions more have been forced from their homes but remain in the country. They have lost everything – their homes, livelihoods, and possessions — and are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. 

Humanitarian relief is one of the most important things the United States can do to save lives in Syria. To help cover current and future needs, the United States can stretch the value of its aid dollars to reach more people, even without an increase in the budget. This is important because there is no telling when the conflict will end. Right now, there’s no end in sight.

The United States is the largest donor of emergency food assistance in Syria. A sizable share of that assistance is being provided through cash transfers, vouchers, and locally and regionally sourced food via the Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP). This new program, started just last year, makes the process of providing emergency food aid much more efficient and cost-effective. It eliminates the high costs in time and money of shipping food thousands of miles from the United States to the people who need it. Unfortunately, EFSP is an exception to the way food aid is delivered, not the rule. Syria, Numbers at a Glance

The current food aid system that’s been in place since 1954 requires that bulk commodities be purchased from only U.S. agribusiness corporations  and then shipped through U.S.-based shipping companies before being dispersed at the local level. These shipments take anywhere from three to five months to arrive, which can be far too late to help emergency situations. And once the food is dispersed, it often undercuts the efforts of local and regional farmers to sell their crops, dealing a backhanded blow to longer-term local food security and economic stability. The majority of U.S. food aid is still delivered under this archaic system.

A few months ago, President Obama proposed serious reforms that would help remove the long-entrenched barriers that waste U.S. taxpayer money and, more importantly, innocent lives across the world. These reforms alone would enable the United States to reach an additional two to four million people with food aid, and other targeted reforms could extend that reach to up to 17.1 million people. None of these reforms would increase current aid spending. In a situation like Syria where people are being displaced by the tens of thousands per week, those numbers matter immensely.

There is intense debate about the role of the United States and other countries in Syria’s civil war. But there should be no debate about changing “business as usual” food aid policies to better help the millions of innocent men, women, and children caught in the middle. Derek Schwabe

Climate Change Caused by Humans, Likely to Undo Progress on Hunger


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined with 95 percent certainty that human activity is responsible for Earth’s climate changes between 1950 and 2000, which include rising average surface temperatures and increased climactic volatility. In a draft summary of its forthcoming climate report that was leaked this past weekend, the United Nations panel of top climate scientists notes that the 95 percent figure reflects more confidence in the data than ever before.

The report, the IPCC’s fifth climate assessment since its inception in 1988, also includes an increase in the estimate of how far sea levels will rise because of climate change. The IPCC now believes that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at projected rates, oceans could rise by as much as three feet. That’s enough to severely threaten the very existence of some of the world’s largest cities including New York, Guangzhou (China), Mumbai (India), Nagoya (Japan) to name a few.

Global Mean Sea Level Rise, IPCC Report

This image from the leaked first-order draft of the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report illustrates the group's high-end projections for sea-level increases in the 21st century. (UN IPCC)

Bread for the World Institute focuses primarily on the impact of climate change on hunger -- and on people with the fewest resources to mitigate the damage it is already causing. The world’s poorest people stand to lose the most. The OECD recently reported that climate change is adding another layer of complexity to the already crippling burden of vulnerabilities that poor people must manage. Climate change further reduces access to clean water and threatens agricultural production systems, which in turn endanger the fragile health and food security status of many people in African, Asian, and Latin American countries. In areas where livelihood options are already limited, lower crop yields mean more widespread hunger. Migration is one of the only solutions in areas where climate change is putting coastal land underwater or is projected to do so soon. 

The IPCC’s latest report amplifies a reality that astoundingly somehow still seems to need repeating: climate change can rapidly reverse the world’s hard-won progress against hunger and poverty. Unless decisive action is taken by global leaders in both rick and poor countries to reduce emissions and build resilience in the developing world, one of the worst consequences of climate change – hunger – will become a more intractable and perhaps more widespread problem. Derek Schwabe

A Nutrition Champion Prepared to Outrage and Inspire

This week, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs introduced a new website, Outrage and Inspire, to serve as a launch pad for the work of Roger Thurow, senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy.    IMG_4696 Most recently author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, Thurow is a long-time friend of Bread for the World and a true anti-hunger champion.   He is a former writer for the Wall Street Journal and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council. The site will follow Thurow as he travels to a range of countries reporting on global hunger, poverty, and food and nutrition security.

For The Last Hunger Season, Thurow followed the lives of four farm families in western Kenya for a year, encompassing the cycle of preparing the land, planting the seeds, suffering through the inevitable “hunger season,” and finally harvesting the crops. He wrote about how the One Acre Fund has helped these smallholder farmers, mostly women, by providing training in essential practices such as obtaining high quality seed, planting in rows, and measuring and using precise micro dosages of fertilizer. Thurow’s book balances the horror of not being able to feed a child with the hope raised by economic empowerment. Changes are under way that just might end “hunger seasons” for good.

In his inaugural Outrage and Inspire post, “Making the Invisible Visible,” Thurow tells the story of a birth in rural India, interspersed with findings from the new Lancet series on maternal and child health. The woman giving birth has access to more modern medical facilities and knowledge about the needs of her newborn daughter than women in her village ever have before, but the research shows that both the mother and daughter can expect to encounter the reality of gender inequality, including unequal access to nutritious food.

The 1,000 Days – the critical window for human nutrition that lasts from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday -- will be the subject of Thurow’s next project and a major focus of the new website. By examining chronic malnutrition and the damage it causes in early childhood, Thurow will contribute to the important conversation on what is being done around the world to combat stunting and malnutrition among children, and what is still needed for communities to be able to prevent stunting and the lifelong damage it causes. In order to solve the problem, Thurow says, we will need “outrage and inspiration.”

Building champions for improving nutrition outcomes around the world is an effective way for advocates to advance the nutrition agenda, especially for improved nutrition in women and children.  As we heard at the Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide “Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition” meeting June 10, nutrition champions come in many forms. They can be grassroots organizers, Bread for the World members who contact their congressional offices, or people based in Washington, DC, who visit Capitol Hill or push the administration on nutrition policy issues. Internationally, champions may be members of civil society in countries with significant malnutrition. They can hold their governments accountable for funding and policy commitments to make progress against malnutrition.

Champions certainly include people like Thurow, whose commitment to ending hunger is clear through his efforts to “outrage and inspire” others to action. Congratulations to Roger Thurow on his new blog from his many friends in Bread for the World and the nutrition stakeholder community. We recommend it to all who would like to see a nutrition champion in action – and all who are not afraid to be outraged and inspired by examples of victories over food insecurity and malnutrition.

Katy Merckel

A Revolution in Statistics: New U.N. Standards to Measure Sustainable Development

Hunger Report Monday

Late last week, the United Nations Statistics Division announced its adoption of a new integrated standard to measure progress toward the often elusive target of sustainable development. U.N. member states agreed to use the new System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) to improve and standardize reporting on the interrelationships among the economy, the environment, and society.

It is much harder to prevent problems that we can’t see coming, so quantifying what is “sustainable” is a key step toward preventing the increasing volatility of Earth’s climate from halting or reversing the past generation’s progress against hunger and malnutrition.

Sustainable development is the effort to ensure that all people have a decent standard of living without depleting Earth’s natural resources or endangering its ecosystems. Since 2000, we’ve heard about it most often in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDG 7, ensuring environmental sustainability, has gained a reputation as one of the most difficult to measure and compare across countries and regions. Despite its complexities, sustainable development has become a watchword as the world faces the threat of climate change.

Perhaps the most promising element of the SEEA is its potential to establish a standardized set of definitions and concepts that countries can use to guide their data collection, compilation and analysis. So far, very few indicators of sustainable development have been accepted across the developing world. There are even fewer that all countries are able to collect data for.

Physical flows of natural inputs, products and residualsThis figure from the SEEA central framework illustrates the direct and residual effects of physical goods flows between the economy and the environment.

The innovators of the SEEA claim that the majority of countries already collect most of the data required for it to work. The ingenuity is found in its ability to repurpose that data and integrate it in new ways to better measure the interrelationships among the environment, the economy, and society. U.N. DESA’s head, Alessandra Alfieri, called it a “revolution in statistics,” that will help policy makers better understand how a change in the environment can cause a change in the economy, and ultimately a change for poor and hungry people.

Chapter 1 of the 2013 Hunger Report emphasizes the need for more reliable and better integrated ways of collecting and analyzing data, not only on hunger and malnutrition, but on their causes (like climate):

When the MDGs were launched, it was clear that the capacity of developing countries to collect and analyze data had to improve…Overall, the capacity to obtain accurate data has improved since 2000, but in some countries, especially among the least developed, yawning gaps remain. Reliable data is the bedrock of effective policy interventions. Without rock-solid data, policymakers can’t know for sure whether their interventions actually address the fundamental reasons that people are poor. 

We will not end hunger if we do not shift toward more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. And we cannot separate our food systems from the management and preservation of our natural resources, from food security and from sustainable development itself. The SEEA is a crucial next step that adapts our data collection methods to that new reality.

Read more about data collection for sustainable development in the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals. Also check out guest contributor, Jose Graziano’s article on achieving sustainable development, 'The Greener Revolution.' Derek Schwabe

Improvements in Nutrition Still a “Massive Unfinished Agenda”

Dr. Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University, who spoke at the Bread for the World Institute/Concern Worldwide “Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling up Nutrition” event in Washington, DC on June 10, 2013, recently authored an article offering the opinion of the Lancet’s Maternal and Child Nutrition (MCN) Study Group  on how best to build momentum for impact (registration required to read full article) of nutrition interventions.

Since the Lancet’s historic 2008 MCN series, global governments have committed funding and policy changes aimed at nutrition interventions in the 1,000 days window of opportunity, where they can be most effective and have a high rate of return. Bread for the World Institute reported on these worldwide efforts to improve MCN in a briefing paper in March 2013, which also noted the importance of sustaining the U.S. government’s political commitments.  The Scaling up Nutrition movement was born, and now includes 41 countries where rates of malnutrition are highest and affect an entire range of a country’s development, from child mortality to disease susceptibility to even its gross domestic product (a measure of economic output).

What is the “massive unfinished agenda” that Dr. Black mentions?  It is 165 million children who remain stunted.  It is the fact that undernutrition causes 45% of deaths of all children under age 5 – amounting to three million children. It is also the “other side” of malnutrition, obesity, which is an “emerging burden establishing itself globally, affecting both poor and rich populations”.

Evidence in the Lancet series on MCN supports ten proven nutrition interventions, which if scaled up to cover 90% of a country’s need, would eliminate nearly a million of those child deaths under age 5 and reduce the number of stunted children by 33 million.  The cost of this global 90% scaling up of nutrition interventions is estimated at $9.6 billion dollars per year.  And what is the benefit?  Saved lives and economic progress in developing countries are benefits that can be valued at many times that amount.

The second Lancet MCN series released last month focused on nutrition-sensitive activities across development sectors that address the indirect, or underlying, causes of malnutrition. Lancet II  Creating an enabling environment to have success requires sound data (an evidence base), cooperation and collaboration across development sectors (health, education, gender, water, sanitation, and hygiene), increased local capacities, and sustainable means to finance the interventions, from both public and private sources. Bread for the World Institute’s briefing paper on nutrition-sensitive development actions was instrumental in moving the discussion on nutrition-sensitive actions among government and civil society nutrition stakeholders forward.

Dr. Black notes the impetus for improving nutrition is stronger today than it was five years ago. The World Health Assembly nutrition targets, which include a 40% reduction of the global number of children under age 5 who are stunted, can be achieved by the year 2025 with “sufficient support”.

The support that is needed comes in many forms – political, financial, economic and social. The advocacy provided by Bread for the World and its members to the U.S. Congress and Obama Administration on efforts to reduce maternal and child malnutrition is key to sustaining the political leadership and policy momentum achieved so far. Our work on the agenda is unfinished as well.

Scott Bleggi

USDA Makes Twenty-Year Assessment of Global Food Security

Since 1970, the USDA has published a yearly report forecasting the state of the world’s food insecurity in the coming years.  Using a combination of food consumption and food price data, the USDA looked at 76 of the world’s poorest countries to predict food insecurity for the next 20 years.  ERS In the recently released 2013 report, the predictions are that the growth rate of the global hungry population will surpass the overall population growth rate. In other words, the percentage of people in the world without enough food will increase.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is the most food insecure region in the world, and has the lowest per capita food consumption. Based on its current analysis, USDA predicts this is not going to change. In fact, the distribution gap—the amount of additional food needed to bring all people into food security—is predicted to grow significantly larger in this region.

Asia is home to more undernourished people than any other region in the world. Almost 57% of the world’s population with chronic food insecurity lives in an Asian country, and the USDA predicts that this will continue to be the case in the coming twenty years.

A promising sign, however, is less hunger in the Latin America and Caribbean region, where the number of food-insecure people is projected to decline by nearly 7 percent in the next decade.

All of the report’s predictions are based on projected food prices. With changes in weather patterns, energy prices and political actions, the price of food has been known to fluctuate greatly. A price spike could mean millions more people go hungry than expected, and stable or lower prices could boost a poor country’s ability to feed itself.

The overall negative tone of the USDA’s report can serve both as an early warning and motivation for changes in policies and programs that build local capacities and resilience to withstand inevitable swings in food prices.

Katy Merckel

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