Developing strategies to end hunger
 

145 posts categorized "Foreign Aid Reform"

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

 

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

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.

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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

“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

USAID Launches a New Nutrition Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHA Targets

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

Scott Bleggi

A Global Day of Action for Nutrition

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

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

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

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

The Global Day of Action’s objectives were:

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Bleggi

MFAN Charts “The Way Forward: A New Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond”

A single statistic—the world is home to 842 million chronically hungry men, women, and children—is enough to show that effective U.S. foreign assistance is urgently needed. We must make every dollar count, because the lives of millions of people and the quality of life of hundreds of millions more depend on it.

Last week, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) issued a fresh call for U.S. foreign assistance reform, citing examples of how reforms will lead to more effective development. In its new policy paper, The Way Forward: A New Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, MFAN emphasizes that development and development co-operation need to promote inclusive, accountable partnerships that support country-led processes that will improve the lives of hungry and poor people. The U.S. government is in a better position today to build on past achievements, redouble its reform efforts, and accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is the time.

Roadside Market, NicaraguaRoadside Market, Nicaragua. Photo credit: Bread for the World

Country ownership—the idea that countries should decide on and direct their own development priorities—is the foundation of sustainable development. This is what will bring lasting change.Country ownership was one of four basic principles for development cooperation agreed upon by development stakeholders, including major aid donors, at the most recent high-level forum on aid effectiveness, in November 2011 in Busan, Korea. The Busan forum builds on commitments made in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005 and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action.

For several years now, country ownership has been gaining traction across the donor community. Development partners, including the U.S. government, are making commitments to support capacity development in areas that respond to the needs and priorities of local actors in countries. This commitment recognizes that country ownership requires strong, effective institutions in both government and civil society. These are built over time, not overnight. In turn, countries adopt strategic priorities that focus on long-term impact in order to reduce hunger and poverty.

In the two and a half years since the Busan forum, country ownership has also emerged as a key element of U.S. foreign assistance reform efforts. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development has rebranded the Implementation and Procurement Reform (IPR) component of USAID Forward as Local Solutions.

This is a good first step. The hard work has just begun.

The need for U.S. food aid reform is one good example. The practice of buying food aid on local and regional markets for distribution, for instance, can be both quicker and more cost effective than traditional in-kind food aid. The flexibility and timeliness of such programs mean that humanitarian organizations can deliver food aid when it’s most needed while supporting local systems, markets, and communities so that countries are better equipped to provide for their people in the future.

This is “The Way Forward.”

Faustine Wabwire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Data to End Hunger: Specialized Food Aid Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Bleggi

Day Two in Rwanda

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

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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