Developing strategies to end hunger
 

266 posts categorized "Global Hunger"

Benefits of Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition in Tandem

(Blog was originally submitted to the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases in support of their policy brief Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition, endorsed by 22 global health organizations)

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

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WASH activities are nutrition-sensitive! Photo credit: Sabin Vaccine Institute

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during 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 impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions 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, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, 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 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 of reducing stunting  by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

On the Way: The 2015 Hunger Report

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On November 24, which is the Monday of Thanksgiving week, Bread for the World Institute will launch our 2015 Hunger Report: When Women Flourish … We Will End Hunger. Just before Thanksgiving is when we launch each new edition of the report. What better time of the year in the United States to draw attention to hunger?

In the coming weeks, as the launch approaches, I plan to preview the report on this blog. I’ll share a little of what’s in the report and offer some personal reflections. I write most of the report, but I don’t get the opportunity within it to discuss how writing it has affected me.

When Women Flourish is about women’s empowerment, and why women’s empowerment is so important to ending hunger. The last several editions of the Hunger Report also had plenty to say about women’s empowerment, but this is the first one where we’ve put the issue front and center.

Hunger persists mainly because poverty persists. To really eradicate hunger, you have to address the root causes of poverty, and discrimination is the most fundamental of all root causes. Discrimination defines who we think people are and what we believe they are worth. It determines the limited aspirations that too many parents have for their daughters. If girls are seen as an economic burden to a family, for example, it is not surprising that they die in greater numbers than boys as a result of underinvestment in their health -- including the share of food they receive.

Ending hunger ultimately depends on working with and through women: in the developing world, women work predominantly as subsistence farmers, and subsistence farming is the backbone of community food security. In addition, at the household level, women are responsible for preparing the food that nourishes children and other family members. (This holds true for the most part in rich countries, too).

Yet we did not want to instrumentalize women – seeing and talking about them only as foot soldiers in the fight against hunger. Empowerment is about much more than food production and preparation.

Similarly, discrimination is about more than just gender discrimination. Race, ethnicity, religion, caste, and other drivers of social exclusion also figure into who goes hungry and who doesn’t. We could have done a report focused on race, ethnicity, or any other layer – they all interact. But in this report, we start with gender.

The report looks at three fundamental topics: improving women’s bargaining power in the economy and in the household; reducing the burden of unpaid domestic work and sharing it more equitably between men and women and between families and government; and strengthening women’s collective voice by increasing their political representation and leadership in civil society. I’ll write more about each of these in the coming weeks. For the remainder of this blog post, I’d like to offer a personal reflection.

I learned a great deal while working on the 2015 Hunger Report, as I do on each edition, but on this report there were some real jaw droppers. Let me single out child marriage. When I learned that one out of nine girls around the world becomes a child bride – that’s 39,000 per day -- it was a moment when amazement doesn’t seem too strong a word.

Why was I so surprised? Maybe because child marriage isn’t a big issue here in the United States. I was already aware of the grotesque levels of gender-based violence, the one in three women who will experience it during their lives. Gender-based violence, on the other hand, is also common right here in the United States as elsewhere, so even though the statistics are still disturbing and I wouldn’t say I’ve become indifferent, there’s a certain degree of numbness that sets in after time.

The child marriage figure one in nine is for the whole world, so when you zero in on the countries where this is a common occurrence, you find statistics like three out of four girls in Niger, two out of three in Bangladesh, and one in two in India. Most countries where child marriage is prevalent have laws against it, but changing cultural norms is not as simple as changing laws.

Five years ago, I was in Bangladesh visiting an agricultural program and talking with beneficiaries. The program officer brought me to the farm of probably the most successful farmer in the village. She was not only an able farmer but clearly had charisma. She was probably no more than 30 at the time, and her daughter, a girl about half her age, walked with us by her mother’s side. Behind us was a much older man, over 60 at least, possibly beyond 70. He had trouble keeping up. Only when we stopped and she described what she was doing on each part of the farm did he catch up, standing quietly off to the side until we charged on ahead again. He was her husband. The word marriage doesn’t seem to fit this situation, though. Given the age of their daughter, the farmer could have become this man’s wife when she was as young as 12 or 13. Find out more about child marriage and the damage it does here. Todd Post

World Food Day 2014: A Clearer Look at Climate Change

  Photo for World Food Day 2014

This year's World Food Day focuses on supporting and strengthening the 500 million smallholders growing food in developing countries, including Joao, a maize farmer in Mozambique. Photo by Kate Raisz.

Over the past few years, most lists of global problems have come to include climate change -- along with older concerns such as hunger, poverty, limited resources, and population growth. It often appears to be simply another challenge on the list. But although our mission of ending hunger requires facing and overcoming a number of challenges, climate change is different from other problems.

We can't make an "apples to apples" comparison between climate change and longstanding human problems. Climate change is much more like an apple tree than simply an apple among other apples. If we don't find ways to prevent further damage to Earth's climate and to mitigate the impacts that poor communities in particular have already been suffering for years, it will not matter nearly as much what we do about individual apples. Responding effectively to the dangers of climate change (improving the health of the tree, if you will) is a precondition for responding effectively to any other development challenge.

As we mark World Food Day (and, bracketing today, the three-day Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa), I've been thinking about the concept that language shapes our reality. What people think about the importance and urgency of climate change depends partly on how we talk about it. For example, when the administration launched its Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture last month, it said that climate change poses "a range of unprecedented threats to the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people..." [emphasis added]. By definition, "unprecedented" can only be used once for any given category of events -- otherwise, it's just hyperbole. It's a word that should catch people's attention, information overload notwithstanding.

The evidence shows that human activity is causing the changes in the world's climate that are now so readily observable. Climate change must be an urgent global priority for the foreseeable future if we are to contain the damage we have already caused to the planet that sustains us.

One pressing need is for communities to be able to access data on climate issues specific to them, so that they can make informed decisions at the local level. This is a relatively neglected middle ground between global- and continent-level data, and a myriad of anecdotal accounts from people who are witnessing climate change firsthand.

Three U.S. agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), are making available higher-resolution elevation datasets based on information collected by sensors on the U.S. space shuttle. Datasets for Africa have been released and are available at the USGS’s Earth Explorer website. Datasets for Latin America are to follow in the coming months. 

Designed "to empower local authorities to better plan for the impacts of severe environmental changes," the data resolves to 30 meters (compared to the 90 meters that was the clearest previously available) and will be used to "improve environmental monitoring, climate change research including sea-level rise impact assessments, and local decision support."

Of course, better data alone will not enable local leaders to solve a global problem with roots in faraway developed countries. But equally obviously, informed decision-making requires information. Climate change is enormously complex. Distilling what is happening in particular locations will help support country ownership of a global problem.

Michele Learner

 

Teenage Wives Are Girls Too

Photo for 2014 Day of the Girl

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

Two years ago, on the eve of the first-ever United Nations Day of the Girl, 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was in the hospital. We reported here on Institute Notes on her courageous advocacy for girls' education in Pakistan -- advocacy that so angered conservative Taliban forces that, in a now world-famous act of barbarism, they shot her in the head at point-blank range.

Tomorrow, October 11, we celebrate the third Day of the Girl. Things have changed. Malala Yousafzai has just been named a a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Her work has galvanized support for adolescent girls denied the right to go to school. World outrage greeted the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by another reactionary armed group, Boko Haram. The global rate of girls' enrollment in secondary school is catching up to boys' enrollment, at between 97 and 98 girls for every 100 boys.

Also in recent years, there has been an intensified global campaign against child marriage, an all-too-common form of gender-based violence. An unwitting activist even younger than Malala published a book about her story, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Media coverage of girls who have fled marriage has become more frequent. Numerous education and advocacy campaigns have helped communities understand that the poverty that often leads them to arrange for their young girls to marry much older men is only being perpetuated by child marriage, and have supported them in finding alternatives.

Poor communities cannot afford the waste of human potential when a 13-year-old becomes a mother rather than studying algebra in a junior high school. She has a much higher chance of dying in childbirth --as a girl under 15, her risk is five times that of a woman older than 18. She and her surviving children are far more likely to be malnourished than women who married as adults. As we have said many times here on Institute Notes and in our other materials, education for girls is the factor that has made the biggest difference to child malnutrition -- it has helped more than having more food available.

They don't seem to get much attention, even on the Day of the Girl, but girls of 13, 14, 15 who are married are girls just as much as their peers who are closing those secondary school enrollment gaps. Very few (estimates are 2 percent) continue to attend school once they are married, and even they drop out once they become pregnant. Prevention of child marriage is, of course, an urgent necessity. So are efforts to help married girls and young women who were married as children regain hope for a better life.

Very often, they are the most isolated from their communities. One way to reach them is through the health sector as they come in during complications of pregnancy and childbirth and afterwards -- for example, with conditions caused by giving birth at an age when a person's body is not yet mature, such as obstretric fistula. Another time when community services can reconnect with married girls is when the teenagers bring their babies and young children in for vaccinations and medical care.

Programs can build on those contacts to put girls in touch with other community services and with each other in support and self-help groups, as well as with programs such as bridge schools that allow them to resume their education to some degree. These efforts exist, but are far more rare than they should be given the world's tens of millions of child wives. On this Day of the Girl, the world should recommit to helping teenagers whose lives, though marred by child marriage, are not over. Barriers can be removed so that they may yet take their places as empowered contributors to their societies.

Michele Learner

 

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Bleggi

 

World Hunger Drops from 868 Million in 2013 to 805 Million in 2014

Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released the 2014 edition of The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI). The report, Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition, confirmsthat the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of cutting the rate of hunger in half is indeed within reach. But the MDGs expire at the end of December 2015, so time is growing short.

According to the report, the global number of hungry people fell more than 100 million over the past decade, and by more than 200 million since 1990-92.

Despite all the progress, several regions and sub-regions still lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people are chronically undernourished, while Asia, as the world's most populous region, is home to the majority of hungry people - 526 million.

SOFI2014The absolute number of hungry people—which takes into account both progress against hunger and population growth—fell in most regions. The exceptions were Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and West Asia.

According to a statement by the heads of the three U.N. agencies (FAO, IFAD, and WFP) that jointly publish the annual SOFI report, "This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed.”

                                                                                                        

Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General provides an overview of the SOFI key findings

Additional information on global hunger:

2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World (Executive Summary)

Food security indicators – download the data

Quick Facts on Hunger

1.  Some 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.

2. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished.

3.  Asia is the continent with the greatest number of hungry people – two-thirds of the total. The percentage in South Asia has fallen in recent years, but West Asia’s rate has increased slightly.

4. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest percentage of hungry people:  one in four people.

5. Malnutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of all deaths in children under 5 – that’s 3.1 million child deaths each year.

6. One in six children in developing countries -- roughly 100 million -- is underweight.

7. One in four of the world's children are stunted. In some countries and in the poorer regions of others, the proportion rises to one in three or even higher. Stunted children do not reach their full physical or intellectual potential.

8. Studies estimate that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

9. Across the developing world, 66 million primary school children attend classes hungry.

10. The WFP calculates that $3.2 billion is needed each year to reach all 66 million.

Faustine Wabwire

Ebola: Enemy of Food Security and Economic Growth

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

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

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

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

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

Ebola Funding

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

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

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

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

Faustine_Typepad

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

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

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

 Breastfeeding week
 Credit: UNICEF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Learner

Too Many SDGs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfect Opportunity to Make Progress Against Hunger

Photo for African Leaders Summit

 Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Learner

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