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One of Bangladesh's main exports is fish. Photo credit: USAID.
Dr. Muhammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank are well-known pioneers of microfinance -- i.e., making modest loans to poor people that enable them to create sustainable improvements in their lives, largely by building small businesses. When Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, the necessity of country-led development, let alone decision-making by poor people themselves, was not recognized. Lending a woman $75 to buy a sewing machine was a revolutionary concept.
Much has been written since then about the microfinance movement, its accomplishments, continuing debates, and more. Here, we emphasize one of Grameen's contributions to our understanding of global poverty: a very concrete definition that can help educate policymakers in donor countries about its realities and solutions.
In the United States, we tend to define poverty in terms of dollar income. So we readily understand the idea of an international poverty line -- originally $1 a day, now $1.25. Donors also realize that poverty has many implications for hunger, health, education, and other spheres. But the Grameen Bank recognized early on that poverty occurs in a context, and that communities themselves must determine who is poor and what it means to leave poverty.
Yunus and Grameen developed a checklist of 10 indicators that gauge whether a microfinance participant and her family have, in fact, escaped from poverty in Bangladesh. It's a helpful counterbalance to our sometimes abstract notions of who "the poor" are and what their priority needs might be. The specifics are:
- The family home has a tin roof or is valued at 25,000 taka or more (about $300-$325). Each member of the family sleeps in a bed rather than on the floor.
- The family drinks clean water -- either from wells, or boiled, or purified using arsenic-free tablets.
- All children age 6 or older are either going to school or have finished primary school.
- The microloan is being repaid in installments of at least 200 taka a week (about $2.50).
- The family uses a sanitary latrine.
- Family members have adequate everyday clothing, warm clothing for winter (such as sweaters and blankets), and mosquito nets.
- The family has a source of additional income, such as a vegetable garden or fruit trees, that they can fall back on when necessary.
- The microloan borrower maintains an average savings account balance of 5,000 taka (about $60-$65).
- The family has no difficulty providing each member with three square meals a day throughout the year.
- The family can afford necessary medical treatment if someone falls ill.
Grameen's indicators proved to be a reliable way of identifying those most in need and gauging their progress. Later, the indicators were broadened to form the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). The PPI uses similar data -- including what material a family's roof is made of -- to enable development organizations to calculate how likely it is that a given family lives below the national poverty line. So far, PPIs have been tailored to conditions in 45 countries.
couple of weeks ago, Yunus was here in Washington, DC, to receive
the Congressional Gold Medal. Along with the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, it is the highest American award for civilians. In 2006, Yunus and Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Price. Both have clearly made major contributions to Bangladesh's significant progress against hunger. For more on how that progress is being sustained, see the introduction to the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals.
Michele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.
Last week the Senate introduced an 844-page immigration reform bill that could prompt the most sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy since 1965.
The bill includes major changes to almost all sectors of immigration policy. It establishes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, increases border enforcement efforts, mandates job-based enforcement within the United States, and revamps our legal immigration system in ways that begin to shift the emphasis from family-based immigration to a system that takes U.S. labor force needs into account.
The bipartisan bill was met with widespread accolades by the full spectrum of immigration advocates, albeit with caveats on a variety of issues. While the Senate bill has garnered broad consensus across the political spectrum, the House bill – expected to be introduced within weeks – is likely to be more restrictive. Reconciling both of these bills in a way that will be acceptable to the varied interests promoting immigration reform will be a major challenge in coming months.
One component missing from the bill is an acknowledgement of the international “root causes” of immigration, which include poverty, inequality, and lack of economic opportunity in Mexico and Central America.
While the reasons behind immigration are often seen as a secondary issue – less important than the bill’s major provisions on legalization, border enforcement, legal immigration reform, and guest worker components – any comprehensive immigration policy reform should include an analysis of the “push factors” of unauthorized immigration. As the bill enters the amendment process, this will be one of the key issues for Bread for the World; we will continue to monitor and advocate on “root causes.”
Let's start today's Hunger Report Monday post with a poll in honor of Big Data Week, which just wrapped up yesterday. What percentage of all data in the world do you think was created in the last two years? Cast your vote above -- then click submit to see how others voted.
Once you’ve voted, click here to see the correct answer according to IBM. The current scope of the world’s data creation boggles the mind: 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.
But where is all of this new data coming from? The short answer is: human activity on the Internet. Images, articles, videos, posts, tweets, music, maps – all the things we’re now used to seeing online. But the more interesting part of “big data” goes beyond this content to the ways human beings interact with it – as explained in this short clip from The Economist.
Big data has given rise to a huge controversy about the potential for unethical use of all this information being gathered on individuals’ online activity. While this is clearly a justified debate, the other side of the coin is how big data is already being used to improve the world.
Chapter 1of the 2013 Hunger Report stresses that reliable data is the bedrock of effective policy to reduce hunger and poverty. Without it, there’s no way to know for sure whether the solutions are responding to the actual causes. The conventional data, supplied by global organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, gives us semi-annual numbers on poverty rates, child mortality, and the like. But researchers for these and other institutions are discovering that big data can augment and fill in gaps in what we already know.
For example, the U.N. Global Pulse is an initiative recently launched by the U.N. Secretary General's office to begin using big data to track crises such as the 2011 Horn of Africa famine in real time – so prediction and prevention can actually keep up with current circumstance. To do this, the initiative is using new digital data sources and analytic technologies. One of Global Pulse’s early successes is the use of rapidly spreading cell phone technology to gauge food shortages.
A close cousin of big data is open data, which uses many of the same technologies to make information on the activities of governments, corporations, and other entities publicly available. This can help tremendously in citizens’ efforts to hold their public officials accountable, for example. Thanks to the World Bank Open Finances initiative, all of the Bank’s major disbursements can now be instantly downloaded to your computer (or a smartphone through their
new app). The Bank is also now working with new organizations specializing in big data, such as DataKind, to fashion alternative development indicators from large data sets made from content like tweets and light intensity numbers. The solutions they were able to generate in one recent weekend event are pretty impressive.The world of big data is, as its name indicates, enormous -- and still mostly unexplored. But the potential is there to radically change the way we conceptualize and react to serious problems such as hunger. Read more about using accurate data to fight hunger and poverty in Chapter 1 of the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals.
Hunger Report Senior Editor Todd Post is currently researching the 2014 Hunger Report, whose focus is “A Plan to End Hunger in America.” Here’s a story from his visit earlier this month to Eugene, OR:
In another city, this diner might be called a soup kitchen, a place where people who are homeless or living on very low income can go for a free or low-cost meal. But unlike most soup kitchens, the Family Dining Room in Eugene treats the people who come as though they are customers in a more conventional diner.
Diners are seated at tables by a hostess. There are flowers in vases on the tables and menus. A server comes by to take people’s orders. The meals are prepared in the kitchen by volunteer cooks. In fact, everyone who works at the diner is a volunteer. The effort is coordinated by Food for Lane County, the regional food bank located in Eugene.
The diner is open three or four nights each week and serves approximately 300 customers per night. When it first opened, it was serving as many as 475 people. The volunteers were exhausted, so they had to cut back on the number of meals served.
“The diner is the busiest restaurant in town,” Dawn Woodward tells me, which tells you a lot about Eugene, OR. Dawn works at Food for Lane County. More than 1 in 3 county residents is eligible for federal nutrition assistance. According to the 2012 Lane County Hunger Factors Assessment, at least 70 percent of all households worry at some point during the month about how they will get their next meal.
Another thing the diner tells us is how Eugene sees itself as a community. The diner’s slogan is “Brewing dignity with respect.” That’s the message Eugene wants to give to people who are poor, pushed to the margins of the community, and/or isolated by their shame over being poor.
We all know that being hungry or poor is heavily stigmatized in the United States – whether we have lived in poverty ourselves, seen others living this way, or simply heard the way people talk. Everyone wants to feed children since they are seen (correctly) as innocent. But our society seems to believe that on a person’s 18th birthday, hunger and poverty become his or her own fault. Their country and community no longer feel any responsibility -- to them or to any other hungry adult.
As you get closer to the households where hunger lurks, the role of communities becomes much more pronounced. I’ve been studying community responses to hunger, trying to understand why hunger is more contained in some communities than in others whose economic situation is similar or even better. I’ve come to realize that what communities do to reduce the stigma associated with asking for help is a big, big part of it.
So it is not just about offering help. It’s about changing the way help is offered. Communities may always have people living on the margins, but do they feel welcome in the center of town? People in Eugene and many other Oregon communities are taking seriously the idea of community food security – welcoming those who struggle to put food on the table back into the heart of the community. Of course, communities must have hearts for this to happen.
Food for Lane County also operates a summer feeding program.
Dawn Woodward shared a story about a little girl at one of the schools that
offers summer feeding. When Dawn mentioned the Family Dining Room in a passing
comment during a visit to the school, the little girl’s eyes lit up and she
said proudly that she loved going to the Family Dining Room; it was her favorite place
to eat. It’s likely that her parents, and others in similar situations, can
rarely if ever afford to take their child to any other restaurant. Giving
parents the opportunity to provide that meal to their daughter is so much more
meaningful than if the family had simply been given an equivalent amount of
By Anna Wiersma
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were proposed at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 as one way to extend the work of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) beyond 2015. The SDGs are intended to compensate for the lack of focus on climate change, biodiversity loss, and other environmental problems missing from the MDG framework. Table 3.1 shows the proposed SDG focus areas alongside the existing MDGs.
The proposed SDG framework includes both opportunities and challenges for anti-poverty efforts. With any expansion of goals comes the risk of losing clarity and ocus. Each of the MDGs has a direct link to the goal of ending poverty. The proposed SDG focus areas do not include important ways of ﬁghting poverty—ways that go beyond simply providing food—such as education, empowering women, improving child and maternal health and nutrition, and ﬁghting HIV/AIDS.
In spite of these concerns, elements of the SDG agenda could well enhance future anti-poverty efforts. Climate change affects poor people disproportionately, and feeding a rapidly rising global population will require more sustainable forms of agriculture.
Expanding the post-2015 development agenda to address the urgent problems posed by climate change and the need for sustainable food production should not come at the cost of losing the focus on key health, education, and equality issues or the overall clear anti-poverty message. Finding a balance that includes both these essential elements of the MDGs and the essentials of the SDG agenda is the challenge, particularly with numerous stakeholders already vying to shape the SDG agenda and the relationship between the SDGs and MDGs. But just as the MDGs brought global attention to the ﬁght against poverty, the SDGs could serve as a platform for the need to act on climate change.
Anna Wiersma is a senior at Valparaiso University in Indiana pursuing a degree in international economics and cultural affairs. She was a summer 2012 intern in Bread for the World’s government relations department.
This exerpt is borrowed from the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals. Visit hungerreport.org to learn more about the MDGs, sustainable development, and the post-2015 agenda.
A smallholder farmer in Kenya with her maize (corn) crop. Photo credit ACDI/VOCA.
It's easy to get the impression that for hungry and poor people overseas, foreign assistance is the most important part of the U.S. budget.
There's no doubt that it's an important aspect of our efforts to end hunger and extreme poverty. This despite its small size -- contrary to the public opinion polls that show, year after year, that Americans believe it makes up about 25 percent of all federal spending, development assistance makes up well under 1 percent of the budget. As we've previously pointed out, foreign aid saves millions of lives every year, whether through disaster relief or through one of many less visible efforts such as vaccinations against childhood diseases. Development assistance is a valuable tool for countries, communities, and families working to build a more prosperous future. Those of us who advocate for better policies on hunger and poverty devote a lot of attention to highlighting the reasons to maintain U.S. development assistance, analyzing how limited funds could be better used, dispelling myths such as the above-mentioned "it's 25 percent of the entire budget," and more.
But in some cases, the impact of U.S. policies on trade and/or agriculture can actually cancel out the development assistance a nation receives -- or more than cancel it out, leaving countries worse off. That's why it's so important that the administration's budget request for FY 2014 proposes reductions in farm subsidies. Subsidies for crops such as cotton enable American growers to export overseas at artificially low prices -- prices that developing countries often cannot compete with, even given much lower labor and production costs. Economists would say that a country such as Burkina Faso has a comparative advantage in cotton -- but not if it's undercut by subsidies paid for by U.S. taxpayers. The World Trade Organization has ruled more than once that some forms of U.S. farm subsidies violate international trade agreements.
For a number of years now, analysts from various vantage points have offered numerous valid arguments for cutting farm subsidies. Looking through a hunger "lens," among the most persuasive reasons is to enable a smallholder farmer in Benin or Mali or Burkina Faso to get a fair price for her crops in her local market.
Michele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.
Photos from the immigration reform rally last Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (Photos by Derek Schwabe/Bread for the World)
A path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States may be closer to reality than it has been in more than 25 years. This week, a bipartisan group of senators — the so-called “Gang of Eight” — is expected to make public its proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. The proposal is believed to represent an agreement between Congress and the president. It could reach the Senate floor for debate before the Memorial Day recess.
Thousands of advocates descended upon the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday in an effort to jump-start the reform process. They carried flags of Latin American countries together with U.S. flags, as well as signs and banners in English and Spanish with phrases like “The time is now” and “We are all immigrants.” Rally leaders described the event as vital to building public momentum for reform in what they see as a window of political opportunity.
As U.S. policymakers and advocates alike weigh in on the necessary discussion of how to fairly draw the nation’s current undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows,” we cannot neglect the other half of the problem. As we’ve mentioned before, there is no question that undocumented immigrants will continue to come. The more important (though less often addressed) question is why.
The 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals, opens a discussion of “why” with information about the economic situation in many Latin American communities:
Immigration from Latin America is at the center of the debate on immigration policy in the United States—yet very little attention has been paid to the conditions that drive people in Latin America to enter the United States illegally. Migration as a coping strategy is not unique to Latin American immigrants in the United States. Around the world, people have escaped poverty by migrating to places where there is a better chance of earning a living. This includes the rural youth in Uganda mentioned earlier in this chapter, migrating to cities in search of opportunity, and it includes young people from village after village in Guatemala who head to the United States or sometimes to jobs on sugar and coffee plantations in Guatemala or Mexico. The United States is a more popular destination—despite the risk of crossing the desert—because the plantations pay little more than they would be able to earn at home.
While thousands speak out for a better life for immigrants here in the United States, we should remember that the voices we aren’t hearing are those of more than 40 million people in Latin America who struggle to feed their families. Global initiatives such as the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have driven economic progress in many countries, but efforts to end hunger and extreme poverty must come from both sides of the border for an effective response to the “supply” side of undocumented immigration.
Visit the 2013 Hunger Report website to read more about the relationship between hunger and poverty and immigration.
It’s easy to forget that hunger and malnutrition are still big problems here in the Western Hemisphere. The focus tends to be on countries in Africa and South Asia, where malnourished women and children are more visible and international organizations more active. In previous posts on Institute Notes, I’ve written about traveling to Guatemala and described efforts now under way to reduce the country’s stubbornly high rates of maternal/child malnutrition.
Today 1,000 children will be born in Guatemala. If the past predicts the future, half of these babies will grow up stunted (far too short for their age). Stunting causes children to be more susceptible to illness and less likely to do well in school. People who are stunted have lower lifetime earnings than their peers, and they are more likely to raise stunted children themselves. Does this make you a little angry? When a national survey in Guatemala revealed that less than 1 percent of the respondents thought malnutrition was a problem in the country, it angered President Perez Molina more than a little. He ordered every member of his cabinet to spend time living with a family facing chronic food shortages and malnutrition. Many such families are indigenous Guatemalans in difficult to reach mountainous regions.
It didn’t stop with the cabinet. In the end, 6,212 middle- and high-income Guatemalans -- officials, families, members of church and civil society groups -- connected with some of the poorest people in their country. The result was a nationwide commitment to break the cycle of malnutrition and stunting. It’s an ambitious goal in the sense that malnutrition is an entrenched problem that has persisted for decades despite earlier attempts to solve it. In a country whose president is limited to one term (four years), it has proven difficult to muster the political will to initiate actions that might not be sustained. But the Perez Molina administration reconvened after the rural visits to launch a concerted nationwide effort to scale up nutrition in Guatemala. The Zero Hunger Pact was born.
“Zero Hunger” has two main goals: to reduce chronic malnutrition among children by 10 percent and to prevent deaths caused by acute malnutrition by focusing on seasonal hunger (the spike in hunger that generally comes just prior to harvest time). A series of specific actions to combat malnutrition and to encourage people to participate have been developed. The pact’s other areas of focus are to include promoting development and fighting poverty, especially among indigenous rural women. Activities have now begun in various parts of the country, and plans call for expansion in 2014 and 2015.
Last week, I attended a meeting about the Zero Hunger Pact at the State Department, along with Guatemalan government leaders; the State Department’s Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security, Jonathan Shrier; and USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau of Food Security, Paul Weisenfeld. With the strong backing of Guatemala’s president, leaders from government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society are working together on a plan to make sustainable improvements in nutrition.
Guatemala has been active in the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which now brings together 34 countries committed to improving maternal and child nutrition. The world now knows what to do and how to do it. What Guatemala has added is political will at its highest level, a national budget allocation, and public commitment.
The Zero Hunger Pact says it best:
“Today we dare dream about a different Guatemala, in which children with smiles are free from hunger and reach their full potential. We have launched the process of change and as a society we are ready to pay the cost for reaching our collective success. What used to divide us, brings us together now in the fight for one single cause: to eradicate malnutrition.”
So with this blog we can salute Guatemala for its efforts, along with other SUN Movement countries who are making political decisions and changing government policies to reduce malnutrition.
Posted by Scott Bleggi on April 15, 2013 in Agriculture, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Hotspots, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Obama administration's FY2014 budget request includes several reforms to U.S. emergency food assistance that Bread for the World has long supported. Perhaps most important, it allows greater flexibility in where and how food aid can be purchased and distributed.
This week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah explained very clearly why the change is needed. Here's part of what he said about his visit to a refugee camp in Kenya at the height of the Somali famine of 2011:
"Armed groups ... attacked our food convoys and targeted food distribution centers. In the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where these militants ruled, food aid couldn’t save lives.
"But cash transfers could. Through electronic cash transfers and vouchers, we could extend a lifeline to communities our food aid couldn’t reach. Thanks to this flexibility, we were able to help more than 90,000 families in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food in their communities."
Saving lives in emergencies is, of course, the primary goal of food aid. That's reason enough. But look again at the last phrase in Shah's quote: "readily available food in their communities." It's a reference to a second highly persuasive argument for increased flexibility for local and regional purchase of food aid, one that dovetails perfectly with our focus here at Bread on longer-term solutions to hunger. Often, food is available, even as large numbers of children die of malnutrition. The problem is that local food prices skyrocket during droughts and other natural disasters, and families cannot afford to buy food. Supporting community-based solutions to emergencies -- i.e., enabling families to purchase food locally, thus generating income for other local families -- will help communities recover.
Once the acute phase of a hunger crisis is over, communities are left to rebuild their food systems. As an April 11 statement endorsed by Bread and 10 partner organizations explains, the proposed reforms would "Promot[e] sustainable solutions that build local food markets and support small producers to become more productive and resilient in countries that struggle to overcome chronic food insecurity."Shah said that the administration's reforms would enable food assistance to reach an additional 4 million children each year, without increasing the U.S. food aid budget. He was speaking on "The Future of Food Assistance" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
For more information, read Bread's statement on the FY2014 budget proposal.Photo: Local food production, such as these crops headed to market in Sudan, plays an important role in transitioning from a crisis that requires food aid to sustainable food security. Photo by Margaret W. Nea for Bread for the World.
Michele Learner is associate editor for Bread for the World Institute.
It could be only a matter of days before the Senate introduces a historic immigration reform bill.
We’ve already heard about some of the major proposed reforms: a link between border security and a path to citizenship, new visa programs for high- and low-skilled workers, and increased workplace enforcement.
Once the bill is introduced, there will likely be another front opened in the immigration reform debate – cost.
But almost absent from all these discussions is the potential impact of immigration reform on poverty. For centuries, immigration to the United States has provided a way for hungry and poor people to feed their families and, in time, thrive economically. Immigration could still play this role today -- but without a fair path to legalized status, unauthorized immigrants are blocked from most economic opportunities.
One result of Bread for the World’s efforts to raise awareness about how immigration reform can contribute to reducing poverty was the publication this week of an op-ed on the topic to the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.
As details of the Senate immigration reform bill emerge, Bread for the World will continue to highlight the historical and contemporary role of immigration as a poverty reduction tool.