Developing strategies to end hunger
 

Data to End Hunger: Specialized Food Aid Products

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

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

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

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

Blog pic 040914
Specialized food products like these are used with mothers and children in the highlands of Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Bleggi

Data to End Hunger: Freeing Data Could Help Improve SNAP

 

Historic food stamps
Food stamps have changed a lot over the years. Data about their use could too. Photo by National Museum of American History

Where do people spend their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) dollars?  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has fought to keep this information a secret. We’re hoping they release this information, since it could be used to improve SNAP and make it more accessible to poor families.

 As this Slate article describes, SNAP doesn’t just help the people who are buying food: it also helps the businesses whose customers they are. More than $74 billion in SNAP benefits was spent during fiscal year 2012 -- at 246,565 stores, farmers’ markets, and other entities. We know this because USDA releases an annual report on SNAP retailers. The report includes some useful information -- for example, it tells us that military commissaries took in eight times as much in SNAP benefits as farmers’ markets. This sort of information could be important to retailers deciding how to operate businesses or policymakers discussing military pay. USDA also provides a map of SNAP retailers.

But more detailed data about how much each vendor accepts in SNAP benefits would help even more. For example, the District of Columbia could find out where its residents’ SNAP dollars are being spent in neighboring Maryland or Virginia. This information on how families balance competing factors such as sales tax, transportation, prices, and selection when buying food could help the DC government decide what incentives are necessary or useful in encouraging food retailers to locate in lower-income neighborhoods.   

Knowing which small grocery stores and farmers’ markets attract lots of SNAP customers would also allow hunger advocates to learn from successful businesses and share best practices. It would also help them identify the highest-volume vendors so that they can offer the stores information and recommendations on how they can supply a variety of nutritious foods

When the government spends money, it usually provides information on exactly where these public funds are going. But data about SNAP benefits are unusually hard to come by. In fact, USDA was recently in federal court over the issue of what information it must make available.

Reporters at the Argus Leader in South Dakota wanted to know which stores in their state were selling the most food funded through the SNAP program and how those numbers had changed over the years. USDA said it could not release that data because it was legally required to keep certain types of information that retailers possess private.

The case went all the way to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided in January 2014 that SNAP sales figures are different:  although stores could supply the information, the USDA in fact never asks them to do so. Instead, USDA gathers the information from the third-party processors that run Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) terminals. The court ruled that the information should be made public upon request. This decision may not be the end of the story, since USDA could appeal to the full panel of judges on the 8th Circuit or even ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. 

We hope that USDA will instead agree to release the information. While stores are generally not eager to have their sales data made public (since it could help their competition), it seems a small price to pay for the extra business generated by SNAP dollars – money that customers would otherwise not be able to spend in their local stores. Also, even this more specific information is general enough that no one could use it to find out where a specific household shopped or what they purchased.

Writer and futurist Stewart Brand coined the phrase “information wants to be free.” In this case, freeing government data about where SNAP is spent might also help poor families afford to put food on the table.  

Stacy Cloyd

Data to End Hunger: Water in Nepal

Welcome to Bread for the World Institute's blog series on Data to End Hunger.  This week, we'll  offer different "takes" on this topic - in the United States and overseas, data collection concerns and data access concerns, personal stories and quantitative information.

But they all add up to our main point: Relevant, accurate information is essential to ending hunger.

Photo for water in Nepal

Rice cultivation in Asia, a common sight that obviously requires abundant water. Photo by Myra Valenzuela/Bread for the World.

In Nepal, where at least 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture and 86 percent of the land area is hilly or mountainous terrain, water is a critical variable. Simply put, whether farmers have access to the right amounts of water at the right times determines whether there will be enough food for everyone.

What Nepal doesn't know about its water supply, though, exacerbates the already formidable difficulties posed by the terrain -- in agriculture, industry, and power generation alike.  (Even the capital city of Kathmandu has several hours of power outage every day, referred to locally as load-shedding).

The Inter Press Service reports, "Nepal's hydrologists, water experts, meterorologists, and climate scientists all call for better management of water. But a vital element of water management -- quality scientific data -- is still missing."

"Most of the high altitude data we have on water and climate change is not our own, it is based on global circulation models... In our context, we don't have much to compare with," said Sanjay Dhungel at Nepal's Water and Energy Commission Secretariat.

 And, as Vladimir Smakhtin at the International Water Management Institute of CGIAR explains, "Simulations without data to verify against are meaningless."

Nepal is considered one of the world's most climate-vulnerable nations because of its elevation and its poor, natural resource-dependent population. And there is no shortage of anecdotal information about climate change -- including melting glaciers, poorer soil quality, new pests and crop diseases,  and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns with more frequent and more extreme floods and droughts -- and its impact on agriculture. 

More and more men are migrating to India to find work because of this "reduced cultivable acreage," said Krishna Raj Aryal from the NGO Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal.

But since there is so little hard data, there is even less information and guidance reaching farmers, particularly those in the increasingly common female-headed households, where literacy rates are much lower. 

Pilot and demonstration projects by international and local NGOs are already under way. For example, Practical Action runs an adaptation program in which farmers replace some of their rice crop with bananas, which are less vulnerable to extreme weather. Involving the national government is a necessary step in scaling up adaptation.

Newer techniques such as remote sensing -- which can measure evaporation and transporation rates, soil moisture, and other variables -- can supply a great deal of information about water, often without needing much input from on-the-ground research. Exploring this and/or other less costly and time-consuming methods of collecting data could help fill the data gap more quickly.

 Michele Learner

 

Legacy of the Great Recession: Latino Child Poverty

 Hispanic Children Hardest Hit by Great Recession

One of the legacies of the nation’s sluggish recovery from the Great Recession is continuing child poverty. Many groups were set back economically by the recession, but perhaps no group endured harsher consequences than Hispanic children, particularly Hispanic immigrant children.

In 2010, more Hispanic children were living in poverty—6.1 million—than children of any other racial or ethnic group. This was the first time in U.S. history that the single largest group of poor children was not white.

Part of this spike in child poverty rates among Hispanics is due to the mixed immigration status of many families. In numerous immigrant families, the children are U.S.-born citizens, but one or both of the parents is an unauthorized immigrant.

Hispanic children with immigrant parents are even more vulnerable to poverty (40 percent) than those with citizen parents (28 percent). This is due in part to the limited job opportunities open to immigrants and their circumscribed access to social safety nets.

Poverty is a complex issue. But it would certainly help the children of immigrants if parents could regularize their immigration status. Immigration reform, by enabling immigrants to better support themselves and their children, would contribute to lower poverty rates among immigrant and mixed-status families.

  Andrew Wainer

 

A Timely Call to Action

Photo 2 for IFPRI
Photo by Todd Post/Bread for the World


IFPRI’s Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) has become an annual reminder that global food security must remain very much at the top of the development agenda. This year’s report, the third, underscores that with more than 840 million people hungry, addressing hunger and malnutrition is a moral imperative. The report comes out just as the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals begins to discuss the Focus Areas for the post- 2015 global development framework. Its recommendations are very timely to feed into the working group’s discussion, which starts March 31, and I hope they do.

The report captures the recent political momentum on nutrition and makes very clear that we can no longer talk about ending hunger without also addressing malnutrition. Undernutrition in the first 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 accounts for nearly half of all preventable deaths of children under 5. For children who survive, the consequences are life altering. They suffer irreversible physical and cognitive damage that affects their long-term health and productivity.

Stunting is the outward manifestation of the devastation caused by undernutrition. Today, there are 162 million children who are stunted. That is one in four children under 5. From the very beginning of their lives, their potential and their ability to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty is severely compromised. In addition, they are more likely to become overweight and obese as adults—the double burden of malnutrition. Two billion people are obese or overweight globally; the number of obese or overweight children under 5 has doubled since 1990 and is expected to double again by 2025. This is a global crisis that affects all countries.

The GFPR raises the level of ambition ahead of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development framework by calling for the end of hunger and malnutrition by 2025. Analyzing the success of four countries, the report makes a compelling case that the right mix of agriculture, social protection, and nutrition policies can lead to dramatic progress in reducing hunger and stunting.  This multisectoral approach to nutrition has been embraced and championed by the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement.

Nutrition is included in the OWG’s Focus Areas along with Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. The two indicators directly related to nutrition under consideration in this focus area are: ensuring year-round access by all to affordable, adequate, safe, and nutritious food; and ending child malnutrition and stunting. It would be great to see these indicators make it through into the final recommendation from the OWG. In addition, given the multisectoral nature of malnutrition, the OWG should include indicators under the health, gender, WASH, and education focus areas. NGOs working on nutrition advocacy have developed a set of recommended goals, targets, and indicators. These build and expand on the World Health Assembly nutrition targets.

In addition, the GFPR calls for a data revolution. This is vital and should include data that is disaggregated by gender, income, age, race, and ethnicity. Since even short bouts of hunger and undernutrition can lead to irreversible damage in children, we need timely data and improved indicators of dietary quality and diversity, especially among women of reproductive age and young children. Asma Lateef

Day Four in Rwanda

Women_africa

Some time back I went to Iowa to talk with farmers.  It was then I learned an important thing about agriculture. A farmer explained to me, “I never used to care about the price of corn and soybeans. Raising hogs was my business. I grew corn and beans to feed to my hogs.” 

Those are bygone days for small to medium-sized farmers of the two biggest commodity crops in the United States. The concentration of the livestock sector has made it impossible for farmers like the ones I spoke with to compete against the handful of giants who control the market.

I knew what he was telling me was an important lesson then. On a small farm in Rwanda I relearned it and it made me think about what is the best way to help smallholder farmers in developing countries get out of poverty.

In the Kirehe District of Rwanda, I met farmers there benefiting from a program funded primarily by the Rwandan government - and to a lesser extent by the US government - being implemented by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

IFAD has donated cows to a group of farmers in the program. Smallholder farmers in Rwanda are some of the poorest people on earth and would never be able to afford a cow without such support. One of the requirements of the farmers receiving a cow was to pass along a heifer to one of their neighbors. This sounds a lot like what the organization Heifer International does, and it is except there are several other components to the IFAD program, but the main thing I want to focus on is the livestock.

Joseline Umugwaneza, a 26-year old woman who was orphaned as a child after the 1994 genocide and has been homeless for most of her life, received a cow on February 28, 2012. This was the beginning of the end of her living in extreme poverty. Joseline’s cow produces 10 liters of milk per day.  She is earning well above a dollar per day now. She has earned enough from the sale of the milk to allow her to open a tearoom and small shop. 

When a smallholder farmer has a cow, she has a source of income far greater than she can ever earn from cropping. Joseline still farms but like the U.S. farmer above, the livestock is the value-added of her enterprise. The cow eats grass predominantly. With a cow she doesn’t have to sow seed, she doesn’t have to weed, she doesn’t have to worry about the vicissitudes of the weather, and she doesn’t have to endure the invariable stretches of hunger between each harvest. Cows are indifferent to the ‘hungry season, they go on producing their milk, providing Joseline with a source of income all the yearlong. Indeed it is the gift that keeps on giving.

The other thing about a cow is it provides a source of nutrition for the family - especially children. Maternal and child malnutrition has become a major focus of our work at Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. Thanks to new research over the last five to ten years, it is much clearer that it is not enough just to feed people, we need to get them nutritious foods. The name of the game in agricultural development assistance is no longer just production but also nutrition.

It may not be possible to provide every smallholder with a cow. Some just won’t be able to succeed at animal husbandry. But when I see how much of a difference it has made to Joseline and other farmers like her that IFAD has helped, and in such a short time, I wonder why donors—governments, multinationals, and NGOs—don’t do more programming like this.  

American farmers have been harmed by the loss of their value-added; smallholders in the developing world have barely begun to realize their value-added.  Todd

Humane Deportation Policy

Removals Rise through Three Administrations

Deportations have risen steadily through the last three U.S. presidencies. Under increased pressure, President Obama has pledged to review his administration's deporation policy.

Immigration advocates are continuing to take a “dual track” when it comes to pressuring the federal government on immigration reform, targeting both President Obama and House Republicans.

This week House Democrats introduced a discharge petition designed to force Speaker John Boehner to act on reform. As was predicted by both Democrats and Republicans, the measure failed, but it did draw more attention to the stalemate in the House.

While Congress remains mired, there may be more reason for optimism when it comes to administrative changes that improve U.S. policies on the deportation of unauthorized immigrants. The White House has been facing increasing grassroots pressure to stop deportations, and this month President Obama announced that the administration would review its deportation policy to see if it was possible to make it more humane within the bounds of the law.  

President Obama is working with both members of Congress and activists. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been directed to review his agency's approach. Reports from the media indicate there are some very sensible and middle-of-the-road solutions under consideration. One of them is to “ease or stop deportations of foreigners who have no criminal convictions other than immigration violations.” According to this report, deportation resources would be shifted to target people who have been charged with or convicted of crimes and may pose a threat to public safety.

Such a change may help ease the outrage of grassroots immigration activists, who point out that the Obama administration has already deported about 2 million unauthorized immigrants. Many of them faced no criminal charges and had been living in a family and working. The proposal would thus also help stem the separation of immigrant families.  Andrew Wainer

Day Three in Rwanda

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda. Read about days one and two here.

Today, we’ll focus on the work of nongovernmental organizations. The NGO community in Rwanda is busy helping to empower women. But what does empowerment mean in real terms? Does the word “empowerment” make any sense to you without an illustration?

So here is one—provided by ActionAid Rwanda. About a decade ago a small group of women came together, widows of the 1994 genocide or the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poor to begin with and isolated by grief. First, ActionAid worked with them to develop a skill, weaving baskets, and then to find markets for the finished product to generate a little income. Basket weaving was no mere activity to keep their hands busy. In Rwanda, a basket is a symbol of peace, and their weaving as a group symbolic of the national as well personal struggle of healing.

Together, the women gave each other support and strength and eventually they desired a more substantial income-generating activity. They formed a farm cooperative and grew maize. This led to value-addition by converting the maize into maize flower. The cooperative increased in size as they brought more broken women into the enterprise.

The more successful they were the more time it took to run the enterprise. They realized the work was interfering with their household responsibilities, particularly care giving to their children. They were less poor economically, but more time-poor than before and they found that almost as stressful as when they had no income at all.

The cooperative established a child development center so that the women did not have to choose between employment and their children’s well being. The child development center became an enterprise of its own, opening to other families in their community.

Let’s discuss another kind of empowerment activity that evolved out of their relationship with ActionAid. The women were more confident, more poised to advocate for themselves and their Rwandan sisters. ActionAid provided the women with training to engage with local leaders. The women shared their experience with government officials, particularly their struggle to achieve a balance between employment and household responsibilities, and they exhorted officials to improve policies to allow all Rwandan women to earn a decent income without sacrificing their role as mothers. Policies are improving in Rwanda, maybe not as fast as the women in this example would like, but it has not been for their lack of attention. Todd Post

Day Two in Rwanda

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

Faustine Wabwire and Todd Post continue reporting from Rwanda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions in Rwanda

Rwandan women

Rwanda is the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament (photo credit: Women Hall).

Most of the world knows more about the Rwanda of twenty years ago than about the country today. The genocidal killing that lasted for three unbelievable months in 1994 should not be all this tiny nation is known for. Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Given where the country was twenty years ago, the progress it has made is remarkable. Bread for the World Institute’s Todd Post and Faustine Wabwire have come to Rwanda to learn more about this.

Rwanda has the distinction of being the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament. While the president is a man—indeed a very strong man—the women of Rwanda are playing an uncommonly powerful role in the country’s development. Women were involved right from the start in the post-conflict reconciliation, and they continue to shape policy and drive progress against hunger and other hardships associated with poverty. The 2015 Hunger Report will be about women in development, and so Rwanda was an obvious choice to visit. We will report on some of our meetings while we’re here and share our reflections as we learn about the relationship between gender and development.

As we shake off our jet lag, we do what most people from abroad do while they’re in Kigali, the capital, i.e. we visit the genocide memorials. They are ubiquitous. There is one for a group of Belgian soldiers who gave their lives trying (unsuccessfully) to protect the Rwandan prime minister. Outside the building where the killing took place is the memorial. Bullet holes cover outside and inside of the building to show the extent of the carnage. There are no blood stains but the imagination can do the work.

There were no other visitors at this memorial when we arrived so we had time to talk with the man who is paid to welcome people to the site, what must be a lonely if not sorrowful job for any Rwandan. He was sixteen in April 1994, he told us. His parents and all his siblings were slaughtered in their home; he was elsewhere when the killers came. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for him to be reminded of it all the day long and I ask him about this. It is steady work and better than being unemployed, he explains. He has a wife and two children, the oldest six years old and just starting school. The job pays a small wage and he doesn’t eat more than one meal per day consisting mostly of rice. We thanked him for sharing this with us, put a bill in his hand and wished him the best. This is the beginning of our visit to Rwanda. Todd Post

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