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213 posts categorized "Malnutrition"
Photo credit: NASA
By Michele Learner
Ending global hunger requires enabling and equipping all people – all 7 billion and counting -- to feed themselves and their families, no matter where they live. As the world makes steady progress against hunger, one inconvenient truth is that the people and communities still living with hunger become harder and harder to reach. This is, after all, why many have not benefited from the progress made so far.
Many of the “last miles” in building food security are in the world’s 50 identified fragile and conflict-affected states. It’s not hard to understand why conflict-affected countries have high rates of hunger. The main aim of conflict – destruction – is directly at odds with what’s needed for sustainable development. Peace is a precondition for lasting progress on hunger. In its absence, local, national, and international humanitarian relief efforts are saving countless lives, but they can at best hold the line on hunger. They can’t enable nations, communities, or individuals to move forward.
What makes a country "fragile"? In its June 2015 report, States of Fragility, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one of the main sources of information and analysis on fragile states, argues that fragility can apply to some degree in any country.
The report identifies five factors, based on indicators in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that help determine a country's degree of fragility. These are:
peaceful and inclusive societies
access to justice
accountable and inclusive institutions
economic inclusion and stability
capacities to prevent and adapt to social, economic, and environmental shocks and disasters
Unsurprisingly, the countries identified as weak in all five clusters form a very similar list of countries as earlier lists of fragile states. These are the Central African Republic (CAR), Guinea, Chad, Swaziland, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, Yemen, and Sudan.
But countries that are vulnerable based on just a couple of the five areas include some that have not traditionally been considered fragile -- for example, Venezuela, Fiji, and Kenya. In fact, the report says, 12 countries on the OECD "50 most fragile" have never appeared on a list of fragile states.
States that have a significant degree of fragility thus vary widely -- in size, location, income level, specific challenges, and more. The world's remaining 795 million hungry people have not yet all been "mapped" precisely, but we know that a large number of them live in fragile and conflict-affected states.
This blog post has only just begun to consider where to start in the world's difficult but essential task of reaching hungry people in such a variety of difficult situations. Future posts will consider some examples of countries where hungry people are concentrated and look at research on policy improvements that could better enable them to feed themselves and their families.
The Third International Financing for Development Conference is well underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Today, July 14, 2015, Bread for the World joined other leaders at a high-level side event—Financing Growth: Mobilizing Leadership and Investment in Nutrition. The objectives of the multi-stakeholder event included:
- Highlight the importance of prioritizing nutrition financing in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals;
- Explore the need for greater cooperation and partnership to mobilize all sources of finance—including domestic and international, public and private—to target both nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive interventions; and
- Provide a launching pad for discussion on the global stunting target, and the first global financial estimates necessary to achieve the six global nutrition targets.
Why does investing in nutrition matter for the SDGs?
Malnutrition is part of the unfinished MDG agenda. Improving nutrition among pregnant women, lactating mothers, and young children, in particular, is key to ending preventable child deaths and to unlocking the potential of the millions of people who face early childhood malnutrition.
Since 2000, there is new knowledge about the manifestation and impact of malnutrition. While significant progress in reducing the proportion of children who are underweight has been made in many regions, stunting is the leading cause of death and disability among children under 5. According to UNICEF, there are 162 million stunted children around the world today. Being far too short for their age is only the most visible sign. Their cognitive and physical development has been compromised by chronic malnutrition, and for their entire lives, they will be more likely to suffer from health problems—all of which will make them less productive than they could be.In the end, stunting is not only a tragedy for individuals and families, it also impedes a nation’s ability to develop economically. Among potential indicators of malnutrition, childhood stunting has proven to be the most powerful, based on its ability to capture inequity; reveal chronic problems of poor health, diet, and child-rearing practices; and focus on the period when the effects of malnutrition are largely irreversible (the 1,000 Days from pregnancy through age 2).
The Third Financing for Development Conference presents a golden opportunity for all of us—world leaders, civil society and the private sector—to commit to make nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions a higher priority in the post-2015 global development agenda. The proposed SDGs include an ambitious but achievable goal: “To end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. Currently, the world is off-track to meet the global stunting target to reduce the number of children under 5 who suffer from stunting by 40% by the year 2025. The Addis Conference presents a call to action to mobilize both financial and non-financial resources. Bread for the World Institute's newly released paper, Strengthening Local Capacity: The Weak Link in Sustainable Development argues that non-financial commitments such as strong domestic institutions, political will, data, monitoring and accountability are just as important to ensure that investments lead to impact.
Posted by Faustine Wabwire on July 14, 2015 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Prices, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Inequality, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Sustainable Development Goals | Comments (0)
Photo courtesy of Bradipus/Creative Commons
By Steve Damiano
The fight to end hunger depends on the fight to find people living with hunger.
At the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July, the international community will pledge money to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which succeed the Millennium Development Goals.
Countries will likely commit to ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of the second SDG. But to end hunger and malnutrition, the world will first have to accomplish a more hidden SDG. Goal 17 (under its target 18) calls on donors by 2020 to increase the capacity of the least developed countries and small island states to collect timely and reliable data on all socioeconomic groups.
The FAO estimates that the world had 795 million food insecure individuals in 2014. Yet among developing countries, many governments lack the income data needed to provide targeted food assistance, largely because the countries have large informal sectors and weak tax systems. Instead, these governments rely on national household expenditure and consumption surveys, which allow them to measure whether households are poor and food insecure based on how much money they spend and the quality and quantity of food they consume.
Just as Bread for the World Institute recently showed that most of the data needed to advance gender equality is missing, Smith et al discovered that a significant amount of data on household food security is absent. They found that only half of all national household expenditure and consumption surveys have the data needed to determine if households receive enough calories or are undernourished. Even worse, the problem goes beyond not collecting the specific information needed to not collecting information at all: the percentage of developing countries that had conducted recent household surveys ranged from 39 percent of countries in the Middle East and North Africa to 85 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
We can see why good data is needed by looking at food subsidies in Egypt and Iran. Both countries have a history of providing bread subsidies to reduce hunger. Both countries also carry out household surveys to measure the economic well-being of their populations. Yet only Egypt asks questions related to household food security as Iran focuses more on household expenditures.
In 2014 and 2010, Egypt and Iran respectively began reforming their food subsidy programs to try to better target poor families. Egypt started limiting the number of subsidized bread loaves individuals could buy to reduce price speculation and began giving people smart cards rather than a monthly food basket so they could buy more nutritious foods. Iran sought to replace its bread subsidies with cash transfers to poor households, but the government lacked the data to identify poor households. In the end, it gave the cash transfer to the entire population. But this was too expensive to sustain. In 2014, the Iranian government resorted to handing out food directly to people in need, sparking national outrage as Iranians waited for hours in lines outside food distribution centers. While Iran has used its oil wealth to achieve lower hunger rates than Egypt, the Egyptian government has collected the data needed to ensure that its limited resources go as far as possible in reducing hunger.
Steve Damiano is a Crook Fellow with Bread for the World Institute this summer. He recently earned master's degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in both Global Policy Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. Aid effectiveness is one of Steve's areas of interest.
By Derek Schwabe
This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute held our first-ever bi-coastal (and second annual) vizathon to expose hidden hunger. The event, held at Bread’s offices in Washington, DC, and the offices of Macys.com in downtown San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of volunteer data heroes (statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks) who gave their time, skills, and creative energy to help us visualize a widespread and growing kind of hunger: hidden hunger. We teamed up with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who shared a rich new dataset that helped our volunteers tackle the issue from all sides. We were grateful to have two fantastic data facilitators who led the charge -- Jon Schwabish of HelpMeViz on the East Coast and Leigh Fonseca of LivingData on the West Coast. Here’s a storify-style recap of our exciting day of data storytelling:
Two Full Rooms Took on Two Forms of Hidden Hunger
Challenge 1, De-Mystifying Micronutrient Deficiency: Micronutrient deficiency harms one in two preschool-aged children worldwide, yet it’s impossible to detect by looking at a child. How can we make the damage caused by micronutrient deficiency visible?
Challenge 2, The Coming Obesity Pandemic: Obesity is hunger for the right kinds of food. In the developing world, we’ve seen steady progress against traditional forms of hunger, but obesity is rising rapidly. With it comes a proliferation of deadly non-communicable diseases. All too often, these don’t have treatments that are 100 percent effective, even in developed countries (e.g., heart disease, stroke). Poorer countries certainly do not have the resources to treat large numbers of patients with these conditions. Help us tell this urgent story.
Getting Started: A Deluge of Data
IFPRI introduced a dataset with household-level information relevant to both data challenges. Sara Signorelli of HarvestChoice, a project led by IFPRI, oriented the Washington, DC and San Francisco teams to available indicators such as those on micronutrient deficiency, dietary diversity, obesity, and body mass. The dataset was specific to Africa South of the Sahara. Signorelli pointed participants to HarvestChoice’s Mappr tool—a nutrition and agriculture data mapping app that lets users isolate specific indicators, years, locations, or groups. HarvestChoice also supplied even more granular datasets on Ethiopia and Malawi. The “vizathoners” had no shortage of data to sift through, but the real challenge was pulling out a story.
The Coasts Connect
By the time the San Francisco team was ready to jump into the data, the Washington, DC, group had already been working with it long enough to begin to notice trends, gaps, and roadblocks. We took advantage of the three-hour time-zone difference to give the two teams a chance to connect and learn from each other. Using Google HangOut, participants in Washington, DC, communicated their most salient findings -- and in some cases, vented their frustrations -- to San Francisco. Twitter was also a cross-coastal communication channel of choice.
Heads up SF #hiddenhunger - in the Malawi micronutrient dataset iron deficiency data may actually be sufficiency data— Siddharth P Kulkarni (@SidKulkarni88) May 30, 2015
Visualizing Answers...and more Questions
Once both teams had a few hours to explore the data, visualizations started to surface, highlighting fascinating trends and raising many new questions. Here’s a smattering of some of them:
The discoveries made and questions raised by vizathon volunteers will not be left alone. In the coming weeks, the Institute, IFPRI, and a smaller group of volunteers will process the day’s findings and start digging deeper. We’re excited to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work, which will (we hope) lead to visualization tools that will make hidden hunger impossible to miss. Stay tuned.
Check out HelpMeViz.com to see more work by vizathon participants, dig into visualizations in greater detail, or even play around with the data yourself. And be sure to read this post by my colleague, Robin Stephenson, in which she recaps the vizathon from her own first-time perspective and introduces us to some of the incredible participants!
Posted by Bread on June 04, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Gender, Global Hunger, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs | Comments (0)
Melinda Gates announced a new foundation pledge of $776 million over a six-year period to fight malnutrition. Gates made the announcement June 3 at the European Development Days forum on development and international cooperation.
Gates said that efforts to end malnutrition are underfunded, adding, “I know of no other problem in the world that does so much damage yet receives so little attention.”
Malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all preventable deaths of children younger than 5. Many millions more who survive—one in four of the world’s children—are stunted, meaning that early childhood malnutrition has permanently damaged their physical and cognitive development.
The 2015-2020 Gates Nutrition Strategy centers around five initiatives: country impact; new solutions; food systems; data, analytics, and evidence; and advocacy, policy, and alignment. The efforts will include reaching more women, young children, adolescent girls, and others at risk with proven solutions such as breastfeeding and food fortification, improving food systems so that people have better access to nutritious and affordable food, and support a data revolution in nutrition to strengthen the evidence for nutrition actions and track progress.
The Gates Foundation will focus its efforts on five countries that have both high rates of child malnutrition and significant opportunities to make improvements: India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.
Gates called on European donors to continue to support maternal/child nutrition efforts, particularly at the upcoming Financing for Development conference, to be held in Addis Ababa in July, and at the U.N. General Assembly in September, where global leaders will be finalizing targets and financial commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will set the global development agenda through 2030, including targets for reducing malnutrition and child mortality. The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (September 2000-December 2015).
Posted by Scott Bleggi on June 03, 2015 in A Climate to End Hunger, Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Weblogs, Women's History Month | Comments (0)
The number of hungry people in the world has dropped below 800 million for the first time, according to this year’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, released today. The report, authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program, takes stock of the progress being made toward global hunger goals.
The report identifies what still needs to be done as the world transitions to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they sunset this year. In 1996, 182 countries at the World Food Summit committed “… to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.” The first of eight MDGs, all adopted in 2000, encapsulates this commitment, including the target “cutting in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015.”
So how is the world doing?
The report reviews progress for every country and region. The news is good overall -- improvements outweighed setbacks. But as can be expected with such a broad and ambitious worldwide goal, problem areas remain, and in some regions hunger is still a stubborn problem.
Twenty-five years ago there were a billion hungry people. According to the new SOFI report, this number has now dropped to 795 million. The countries that improved the most had two features in common: strong economic growth that included investments in poor people, agriculture, and food production; and relative political stability. These countries were largely in East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. A solid majority of countries (72 of 129) have met the ambitious target of cutting hunger in half.
These are certainly impressive achievements. Consider that natural disasters, civil and regional conflict, and weak governments can damage to poor countries disproportionately. Also, the world population has grown rapidly: it is higher by 1.9 billion people than it was in 1990. Predictions of widespread famine have for the most part not come true, but certainly there have been famines, such as the 2011 one in Somalia that killed at least 100,000 children younger than 5.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger rate is still more than 33 percent, and more African countries (24) are experiencing food insecurity now than in 1990. Hunger rates in countries with continuing crises are more than three times higher than elsewhere, according to SOFI. In Africa and South Asia, “progress has been slow overall, despite success stories at country and sub-regional levels … there is no one size fits all solution.”
This is why sustaining the development work being done in USAID’s flagship hunger and poverty reduction initiative, Feed the Future, is so important. Feed the Future’s focus areas were developed specifically to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. It has demonstrated progress in “significantly reduc[ing] both poverty and stunting (a measure of chronic food insecurity)” in countries where it operates, and adequate funding is essential so this progress can continue.
Posted by Scott Bleggi on May 27, 2015 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Data to End Hunger, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Success in Fighting Hunger, Trade, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
On May 20,, the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition released its annual publication, SCN News 41. This year’s edition focuses attention on the opportunities to end malnutrition in all its forms in the post-2015 development agenda. As the international community negotiates this agenda, which will be adopted in September to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are high hopes that the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will be bold and visionary. For the first time in history, global goals would aim to end extreme poverty and hunger. They would set a deadline of 2030 to accomplish this.
This issue of SCN News features voices from governments, civil society, academia, expert groups, U.N. agencies, the private sector, and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement—representing very broad consensus that good nutrition is key to ending extreme poverty and preventable child deaths. It is also critical to improving education and health outcomes.
Three agreements reached this year—in September on the SDGs, at the Financing for Development conference in July, and at the climate change conference in December—will set global priorities and guide actions for the next 15 years. The articles in this issue make the case that how nutrition is positioned and resourced is important. The international community has recognized the urgency of reducing maternal and child undernutrition and of responding to the growing crisis of overweight and obesity. The Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, now with 55 member countries, promotes nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive actions across sectors, especially agriculture, health, education, gender, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). The World Health Assembly (WHA) has endorsed six targets on maternal and child nutrition and a global action plan on non-communicable diseases. The Second International Conference on Nutrition reaffirmed support for these and called for a decade of action on nutrition.
Given the importance of nutrition to sustainable development, it is significant that the SDG negotiators support a goal to improve food security and improved nutrition for all, with targets on stunting and wasting. Over the next few months it will be important that advocates make the case that along with these goals and targets, the post-2015 development agenda should include nutrition indicators across goals -- to reinforce the fact that it will take a multi-sectoral approach to end malnutrition in all its forms. This issue includes a proposal to adopt all six WHA targets, plus dietary diversity among women and budget allocation for nutrition, as indicators. These indicators serve multiple goals and would drive progress towards ending malnutrition in all its forms. As guest editor of this issue of SCN News, it is my hope that its impressive contributions and perspectives on nutrition will inspire many more people to get involved in making the case for nutrition in the SDGs. Now is the time to educate and advocate.
We're excited to announce our second annual HelpMeViz Data Vizathon event. On Saturday, May 30, we will partner with HelpMeViz.com and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to bring back our community of data heroes -- coders, data scientists, designers, and data visualizers -- to help shed light on the elusive problem of hidden hunger in the developing world. We’re especially happy to be expanding this year’s vizathon to two volunteer sites—one on the East Coast in Washington, DC, and the other on the West Coast in San Francisco.
IFPRI and Bread for the World Institute have drawn from several brand new hunger and nutrition data sets from Africa South of the Sahara to develop two data visualization challenges centered on two forms of 'hidden hunger':
Challenge 1: Exposing Hidden Hunger
“The ‘hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiency does not produce hunger as we know it. You might not feel it in the belly, but it strikes at the core of your health and vitality.” -Kul C. Gautam, former deputy executive director of UNICEF
Find a way to bring the problem of hidden hunger out of the shadows. Use the latest global data on micronutrient deficiencies to expose the story of hidden hunger and its massive human costs.
- Demonstrate the mounting costs of hidden hunger (in lost potential, years, GDP, etc.).
- Combine data with graphic art and photos to humanize the problem of hidden hunger, giving it a name and a face.
Challenge 2: Showing How Hunger Feeds Obesity:
Use new data on obesity and body mass index (BMI) to tell the story of obesity’s stunning rise across the developing world and the array of health problems that are beginning to mount as a result. This will mean finding ways to count the economic and health costs of obesity as well as showing the gaps in national healthcare systems being revealed by the rise in obesity.
You can read more details on the data challenges at the event announcement on HelpMeViz.com.
HelpMeViz, IFPRI, and Bread for the World Institute are inviting up to 50 guests to each site on Saturday, May 30, from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to work on these two challenges. The Institute will provide the challenge data and space for participants to work. Breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks will be provided. Participants will also receive a printed copy of the 2016 Hunger Report, which focuses on hunger and health and will be released in November 2015.
The event will be blogged live on HelpMeViz. We hope that interested people all over the world will want to lend their voice and their skills to respond to these challenges. Data will be made available at the beginning of the event. Visualizations, conversations, and comments from both coasts and elsewhere will be posted to the vizathon’s website in real time.
If you would like to attend in Washington, DC, or San Francisco, click the links below to register.
Participate Online: Register to participate in the HelpMeViz Vizathon online from anywhere!
Jim Kim and David Chang discuss the Future of Food. Photo credit: Asma Lateef for Bread for the World.
By Asma Lateef
The world is much clearer now about the irreversible damage that undernutrition causes to children’s brain development and their lifelong health. Evidence is mounting that countries with high rates of undernutrition among their children also bear enormous economic costs. And there is consensus on the actions to take to scale up strategies that boost nutrition.
Last week as the world’s Finance Ministers came to Washington for the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, these issues were not up for debate. Decision makers are moving on – from asking whether undernutrition is an important problem, to finding ways to fund nutrition efforts.
A few key moments focused the spotlight on underinvestment in nutrition, with some hopeful signs that this is changing:
Nutrition for Growth Scorecard: Are Previous Commitments Being Met?
ACTION released its first scorecard on the pledges made through Nutrition for Growth in 2013. The scorecard was discussed at a civil society forum event, Funding Nutrition for Growth, during the Spring Meetings. It assesses how ambitious the pledges of the major donor countries were and whether they are on track to meet their commitments. The scorecard gives a mixed review on donors’ levels of ambition in their pledges. It also notes that there are too many unknowns, particularly as to donors’ spending on nutrition sensitive actions (programs that improve nutrition but are not “nutrition programs” per se – for example, water and sanitation efforts). Accountability is key: the promised resources must make their way to the communities, mothers, and children who most need them. This scorecard helps us get one step closer.
The Power of Nutrition: Mobilizing Resources from Diverse Sources
At the Spring Meetings, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the UBS Optimus Foundation, and the U.K. aid agency, the Department for International Development, partnering with the World Bank and UNICEF, launched the Power of Nutrition. This new trust fund, to be housed at the World Bank, hopes to leverage private and public resources to raise up to $1 billion to support nutrition action in the African and Asian countries that bear the highest burdens of child undernutrition. Some of these resources will come through the World Bank’s concessional lending/grants arm, IDA.
The Power of Nutrition is the first dedicated fund for nutrition. It is an exciting step forward in filling the resource gap, especially in a year when the international community is setting an ambitious post-2015 development agenda. These plans will need action on nutrition to be successful in ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, the target date.
The Future of Food: What Needs to be Done
Also related to the post-2015 goals, World Bank President Jim Kim hosted a conversation with acclaimed chef David Chang at the release of the Bank’s new report, Ending Hunger and Extreme Poverty by 2030: An Agenda for the Global Food System. The report (and the conversation) focuses on improving agricultural productivity sustainably; improving the nutrition of women and children, especially during the “1,000 Days” window between pregnancy and age 2; and linking smallholder farmers to markets.
More on what needs to be done: across town, on the same day as some Spring Meeting events, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs launched a report on agriculture, nutrition, and health at its annual Symposium. “Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition” focuses on recommendations for the United States:
- Congress should commit to a long-term global food and nutrition strategy focused on agricultural development. It should also convene a bipartisan commission on how to tackle global nutrition challenges.
- The U.S. government, in partnership with universities and research institutes, should increase funding for nutrition research focused on expanding access to nutrient-rich foods and reducing malnutrition.
- The United States should draw on the strength of its research facilities and universities to train the next generation of agriculture, food, and nutrition leaders -- both here and in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
- Government and industry should work together to support wider, more efficient delivery of healthy foods, especially through technologies that can reduce food waste and enhance food safety.
At the Symposium, Shawn Baker, Director of Nutrition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave a preview of the foundation’s nutrition strategy that will be released in June. More to come on that!
Connex and Dyna Malera, Malawian farmers. Photo: Todd Post
When I was researching and writing the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, I was advised to make sure I looked at how men are involved in what are identified as “women’s empowerment” programs. This advice came mainly from women who are well acquainted with development programs.
It was good advice, and when I was in Malawi I saw why. My Bread for the World Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I contacted the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), asking to see how their women’s empowerment program works. They told us that in a sense all of their programming is about women’s empowerment. You can’t help female farmers overcome the challenges they confront unless gender inequities are a focus of the program.
If you’ve been reading the Institute blog, or Institute publications such as the Hunger Report, you already know that most women in the developing world earn their livelihood by farming small holdings of land. The same is true of men. In rural areas, where hunger is most pervasive, there is really not much else to do to earn income.
Married couples may farm a single enterprise that contributes to the overall well-being of the household, but that doesn’t mean either is farming in the best interest of the whole household. It starts with the crops. The man takes the cash crops for himself, the woman gets the subsistence crops. The husband controls all the income and decides how much to share with his wife, regardless of what she needs to manage her part of the enterprise. None of the decisions about inputs or investing in assets are made jointly. This type of arrangement is virtually universal, making it hard to convince men that it should be -- or even could be -- any other way.
NASFAM provides farmers with training in running a farm enterprise. The training is also an opportunity to use specially designed tools to help both women and men think less rigidly about household gender dynamics. Connex Malera, for example, initially resisted his wife Dyna’s appeals to attend a meeting of the producer group she had joined as part of a NASFAM program in her village. But after he consented and attended one meeting, he could see that working within a group had its advantages. What happened next is something he didn’t expect.
The gender dynamics tool was straightforward: couples described and mapped the various areas of each person’s work, expenditures, property, and decision-making influence. This opened up space for discussion and reflection. Families can use the tool to identify and track changes they would like to make, and it can function as a household contract or plan.
By working together with his wife on a vision of what they wanted to accomplish together within the group, Connex was in a sense forced to listen to his wife’s thoughts on farming. It came as a surprise to him how smart she is — smarter than he is, he told Faustine and me. “I used to say this is a wife and her job is to cook and take care of the children. I am the head of the household and it is my job to make all the decisions. Now we discuss and make decisions together.”
The value of having men in the group extends beyond the changes among just the men in the group and their families. The men become ambassadors for change among other men in the community. They have more credibility with other men than women do, so they can more persuasively make the case for suspending their prejudices against women. Connex recruits other men now. But he does this in subtle ways. For instance, he talks to them at informal gatherings, often when the other men are playing a board game or drinking. At first they dismissed his advice that there was any benefit in working with women. Eventually they grew curious -- first after seeing that his income was rising, and then when a hungry season arrived and he had plenty of food while they were running out. One of the men Connex recruited was Sungani Selemani, who used to think, as Connex did, that it was useless to discuss business with women. Today, he has joined the group with his wife and they discuss all of their household matters and make decisions together.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.