Finding hope in a gloomy view: the state of SDG 2

SDG report picBy Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

On 19th July, the first annual report on the progress of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was launched as part of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016 is designed to set the benchmark for the next 15 years over which the goals will be implemented by evaluating where the world stands now against them.

Although agricultural development will have an impact on every one of the 17 SDGs, it is nowhere more evident than in SDG 2, which aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” So where do we currently stand against this goal?

  1. Nearly 800 million people are still hungry

Despite progress made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), more than 790 million people around the world still suffer from hunger. According to the report, at the start of the new millennium 15% of people in the world were undernourished, and by 2015 this proportion was down to 11%. Although this is certainly progress, there is still a long way to go. Experiences from the MDGs indicate that, where countries failed to reach their target for reducing hunger, it was predominantly due to natural or human-induced disasters, and political instability. With a rising global population and a changing climate, resources such as land and water are likely to become increasingly limited, exacerbating these risk factors. This could destabilise progress towards SDG2, particularly in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the report, more than 50% of the adult population face moderate or severe levels of food insecurity. [Read more…]

Eight TED talks about the environment

In 2013 we brought you our six favourite TEDx talks about food security, which we followed with 9 more in 2014. This time, to celebrate World Environment Day on June 5th we bring you some of our favourite TED talks about climate change, biodiversity and the environment. We’d love for you to share your favourites and to hear your thoughts about our list on twitter using #TEDenvironment and our handle, @Ag4Impact


  1. Jonathan Drori: Why we’re storing billions of seeds highlights the importance of biodiversity for supporting life, and looks into the Millennium Seed bank where billions of seeds, including non-food plants, are being stored for posterity.



2. Cary Fowler: One seed at a time, protecting the future of food takes this idea further, by looking at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that stores millions of specifically food-crop seeds. Cary describes biodiversity is the ‘raw material’ of agriculture and highlights the importance of storing these seeds for “whatever tomorrow may bring”


[Read more…]

Searching for questions: global development issues to prioritise in 2016


Image by Ventrilock from

As 2016 begins many international development issues are threatening to intensify – the crisis in Syria and the thousands of people now refugees, the growing global power of ISIS, and the World Bank’s recently released flagship report, Global Economic Prospects, which predicts a “perfect storm” of financial turmoil coupled with slowing of growth in emerging markets this year. A recent article named the 10 news stories most likely to dominate the news this year as being:

  1. The Syrian refugee crisis
  2. Climate change
  3. Data security
  4. The US presidential election
  5. Regulating drones And self-driving cars
  6. Gun violence
  7. ISIS
  8. Global internet access
  9. Regulating the sharing economy (companies such as Airbnb and Uber)
  10. Online social justice

And while news organisations are looking ahead to the events that will shape the world in 2016, others are focused on how we can prevent and solve some of these global development challenges. 14 Academics and 21 NGOs recently put together a list of the 100 most important development issues and research questions that need to be answered. The list, published in Development Policy Review, has focused on identifying the most relevant and important research questions around the Sustainable Development Goals, set in September 2015, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. The questions or research themes are divided into nine main themes: [Read more…]

Tracking progress and spending on nutrition

ID-100328810The Global Nutrition Report 2015: Actions and accountability to advance nutrition and sustainable development, has as a key theme the notion of tracking progress on tackling undernutrition as an important factor in holding donors, governments and other institutions to account. The data in the report itself plays a role in monitoring progress. At present, data allowing the monitoring of impact and reach of nutrition-specific interventions is limited. Lack of consensus on data, metrics and methods make monitoring difficult to undertake, analyse and compare, although improvements are being seen in actions to track nutrition.

Approaches to tackling undernutrition need to be multi-sectoral, which makes tracking both nutrition spending and progress towards targets difficult. As the Global Nutrition Report 2015 states, countries make progress when actions from multiple levels converge and reinforce each other in a virtuous circle. Nutrition-sensitive approaches, which seek to both reach a direct nutrition goal as well as address the factors underlying undernutrition, further complicate accurate measurement and monitoring.

Ickes et al (2015) calculated, based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, estimates of nutrition aid received by countries with a high burden of undernutrition as well as investigated the relationship between this funding and nutrition measurements such as national stunting prevalence, stunting burden, and under-five mortality. In 2010, some US$379.4 million was given to nutrition specific projects and programmes and US$1.79 billion was committed to nutrition sensitive spending. The 25 highest burden countries accounted for 85% and 82% of this funding, respectively. The main areas of nutrition-sensitive spending were Reproductive Health Care (30.4%), Food Aid/Food Security Programs (14.1%), Emergency Food Aid (13.2%), and Basic Health Care (5.0%). The amount of nutrition sensitive and total nutrition Official Development Assistance was significantly correlated with stunting prevalence while the total number of stunted children in a country’s population was correlated with the amount of nutrition specific ODA. These results indicate not only the importance of nutrition-related funding in reducing stunting but also the importance of reliable estimates for nutrition spending for planning.

International funding for nutrition has, over the last five years, significantly increased. This rise has stimulated demand for greater accountability in the distribution of resources. As said, tracking nutrition expenditures is made difficult because nutrition spans several Ministries and involves multiple stakeholders. An Oxford Policy Management working paper by Picanyol et al (2015) entitled, Tracking Investments in Nutrition in Africa, reviews the experience of four countries (Tanzania, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Malawi) in tracking nutrition spending using different methods. Authors outline multiple ways in which nutrition spending can be tracked: through budgetary analysis, public expenditure reviews, National health accounts, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) resource mapping tool, the OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) Credit Reporting System (CRS) online database. The report also introduces suggested desirable characteristics of tracking mechanisms, based on standard principles of good practice in public financial management and aid effectiveness (OECD, 2008; World Bank, 1998): [Read more…]

4 ways to reduce malnutrition


Image courtesy of [rakratchada torsap] at

Tackling undernutrition is, as the full extent of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies becomes apparent, critical for human wellbeing and development. In the past we have tended to focus, with limited success, on ensuring people have enough to eat, on making the world “food secure” and on fighting hunger but now we are beginning to understand that if we are to lead healthy, productive lives, it is also about having enough to eat of the right mix of nutrients. And unlike hunger, often viewed as a more common problem in developing countries, poor nutrition, whether through famine or feasting, can be universal.

In 2008, when The Lancet published their Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition, global policymakers began to take notice and the Scaling-Up Nutrition movement was born. Today this momentum is continuing and the new Sustainable Development Goals focus more on nutrition and non-communicable diseases than the Millennium Development Goals did. We are also learning more and more about what can be done to lessen the burden of malnutrition. Here we discuss four approaches, all of which will be needed for malnutrition to significantly decline: the scaling up of successful and cost-effective direct interventions; prioritisation of the first 1,000 day window in a child’s existence; the development of food systems that deliver enough healthy food and prioritise human health; and coordination and collaboration across government sectors to put nutrition at the heart of relevant policies and programmes.

Scale-up direct interventions where they work

Nutrition, while impacted by agricultural productivity, poverty and income, is unlikely to be improved through more general programmes aimed at bringing about economic and social development. Income growth alone will not reduce rates of malnutrition, and so we need direct interventions to tackle malnutrition. Things such as vitamin, mineral and micronutrient supplementation; delayed cord clamping after birth, kangaroo mother care, early initiation of breastfeeding, promotion of dietary diversity, fortifying staple foods, cash transfer programmes, community-based nutrition education, and school feeding programmes. [Read more…]

Healthy Food for a Healthy World- Working towards nutrients security

By Stephanie Brittain

More than 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger and two billion suffer from nutrient deficiency. One in four children is stunted and one in two is malnourished. At the same time, 1.9 billion people are overweight, of which 600 million are obese. This is the current state of global nutrition; unbalanced and unequal.

healthly food for a healthy worldIn recognition of this, the Chicago Council held the London launch of their latest report “Healthy Food for a healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food Security to Improve Global Nutrition” on the 2nd of June 2015.  A distinguished panel discussed the key issues that are raised in the report, including Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Chair, High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, Montpellier Panel member Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Catherine Bertini, Distinguished Fellow, Global Agriculture and Food, The Chicago Council and Jeff Waage, Technical Advisor and host of the Secretariat of the Global Panel of Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. [Read more…]

International Women’s Day 2015

internationalwomensday_topObserved since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day (yesterday) arose from the campaigning of women in a time of rapid industrialisation and social change for equal rights, most notably the right to vote. As a result of a 1910 conference in Copenhagen, attended by over 100 women from 17 countries, a day to celebrate, to inspire and to shed light on gender inequality, International Women’s Day, was born. Although it began with just a handful of countries, IWD is now recognised as an official holiday in countries around the world such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Laos, Nepal, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia, celebrated in a variety of ways.

This years also marks the 20th anniversary of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, which presents achievements on women’s rights, the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women and 15 years since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was adopted. This is also the year in which the post-2015 development goals will be agreed.

Although in the 100 or so years since IWD began we have seen a significant change in women’s role in society, from more women in the boardroom to female prime ministers and astronauts, the battle for true equality is not yet won. Around the world women are more likely to be victims of violence, to have poorer health and lower levels of education.

Work to be done

A post on Duncan Green’s blog From Power to Poverty highlights some key lessons from Oxfam’s work on gender. The most interesting lesson being that it is not just about projects and policy advocacy but to achieve true equality we need to challenge social norms that underpin identity and injustice”. A recent report by the Gender and Development Network, Turning promises into progress: Gender equality and rights for women and girls – lessons learnt and actions needed, supports the importance of tackling the underlying causes of gender equality, and that failure to do so, in part due to “insufficient political will” has hampered real progress in the last 20 years. The report details extensive recommendations for rectifying this in several areas of work such as Violence against women and girls; Sexual and reproductive health rights; Women’s participation and influence in decision-making; Education; and Women’s economic empowerment and equality. Overarching recommendations include such things as:

  • Prioritising and funding interventions to tackle structural barriers to gender equality such as institutional and governmental discrimination, unequal access to resources and exclusion from decision-making.
  • Greater funding for women’s rights organisations.
  • Investment in promoting positive social norms.
  • Reformation of economic policies to explicitly include gender equality.

Overall the report states that we need to mainstream gender across institutions and governments, hold them accountable for their policies and actions, protect women’s rights agendas in the face of multiple growing and emerging global threats and ensure women are part of the decision-making process.

Similarly a guest commentary on The Chicago Council’s on Global Affairs blog, Catching Up on Gender and Nutrition, states that, “the recipe for women’s empowerment and gender equity is…complicated because it must overcome pervasive, seemingly intractable social norms”. The post also mentions Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, which discusses how to build women’s bargaining power, aim for a more equitable sharing of unpaid work and achieve greater representation of women in structures of power such as government.

Although there is much work to do, as these posts and reports highlight, working towards gender equality will produce many positives for women and men, boosting productivity, improving health and nutrition and perhaps bringing a fairer, more balanced society. International Women’s Day is not just a day to reflect on the challenges and the barriers women and girls face but to share inspirational stories, to celebrate wins and to show support. Read women’s stories and hear about the events that took place yesterday here.

The Budongo Forest Landscape: Balancing competing land uses

In several blogs we’ve discussed topics around minimising trade-offs and balancing competing land uses at a landscape scale, particularly in terms of agriculture and environmental goods and services. Many theories and methods of analysis have been suggested that aim to reconcile competing interests and objectives in a landscape and, while fascinating and valuable, these endeavours rarely seem to feature the views of the people that live in such landscapes nor is it always clear how findings relate to current social and political settings. As part of my PhD research on the potential impacts of land sparing and land sharing on forest habitat, ecosystem services, incomes and food security in a rapidly changing landscape, I recently spent several months in western Uganda, around the Budongo Forest Reserve meeting farmers, local government, NGOs and big businesses to better understand the impacts and drivers of land use change in the area. The landscape around the Budongo Forest Reserve is a good example of what can happen when the objectives of the few (and most powerful) are prioritised over those of the majority. In a series of blogs I’ll be exploring the way the landscape has changed, how it may change again and options for reducing poverty and food insecurity with the hope of, through discussion, finding broader lessons applicable to landscapes elsewhere. To this end, readers, your thoughts, comments and questions are both welcome and essential.

To start off the series let me introduce you to the landscape in question.


Map showing the location of Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda (Wallace & Hill, 2013)

The Budongo Forest Reserve landscape

The Budongo Forest Reserve in western Uganda is one of the largest tropical forests in the country, containing the highest number of chimpanzees in Uganda. Budongo Forest is located within the Albertine Rift, part of the East African Rift, which spans five countries, and contains more vertebrate species and threatened and endemic species than anywhere else in Africa.

South east of Budongo Forest Reserve, the landscape is characterized by gently rolling hills and a mosaic of rainforest, woodland, grassland, small-scale farms and large-scale sugarcane farming, a mosaic that has seen marked changes particularly in the last two decades. The main land use and source of income in the region is agriculture with many households relying on subsistence farming and forest products for their livelihoods. The most important crops are cassava, maize, bananas, sugarcane and beans.

A rapidly changing landscape

The expansion of cash crops, rapid population growth and migration from within and outside of the country driven by civil war and conflict, as well as poor forest governance have led to vast deforestation, natural resource shortages in such things as firewood and timber, and disputes between residents over, what is fast becoming infertile and exhausted, land. The soils are being depleted rapidly due to slash and burn agriculture, poor access to fertilizer and over cultivation. Many of these drivers continue unchecked and, without intervention, unprotected forest in the landscape is expected to all but disappear in the next 15 years while yields may continue their largely downwards trend. Given the importance of forests for maintaining productive agricultural land, reliable weather patterns and as a source of food, medicine and energy such deforestation is likely to have significant detrimental and perhaps irreversible consequences for the livelihoods of people in the landscape.

Deforestation is thought by both residents and government alike, to have exacerbated poverty, landlessness, changed weather patterns, reduced soil fertility and led to the out migration of once common species. Forests are disappearing quickly in the Budongo Forest Reserve landscape, a trend that is thought to have begun in the 1980s with the growth of sugarcane farming, influxes of migrants and the introduction of pit-sawing, charcoal production and more extensive mechanized farming systems. As of 20210, in the area between Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserve to the south, approximately 90,000 ha of high forest and 120,000 ha of woodland remain in the landscape outside protected areas, predominantly in small patches of up to several 100ha. Mwavu & Witkowski (2008) investigated land use change in and around Budongo Forest Reserve between 1988 and 2002. Area under sugarcane expanded 17-fold from 690 hectares (ha) in 1988 to 12,729ha in 2002. The loss of 4,680ha of forest (a reduction of 8.2%) occurred on the southern border of the reserve to allow for sugarcane expansion. [Read more…]

Conflict & Food Security: Two sides of the same coin?

By Stephanie Brittain

Food insecurity and malnutrition can be ended sustainably within a generation, it is said. However, with one in eight people in the world today still undernourished and approximately two billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies, the challenge is immense.

Further, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and at the current rate of development, the number of people at risk of hunger in the developing world will grow from 881 million in 2005 to more than a billion people by 2050.

78 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and agriculture remains fundamental for their economic growth and for food security for our expanding global population. Further, agricultural development is found to be about two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest than growth in other sectors.

Conflict impedes agricultural development

Credit: UN/Tobin Jones 2013

Credit: UN/Tobin Jones 2013

However, many of the countries that rely on agriculture are also in conflict or suffering from environmental, economic or political instability. With rapidly changing politics, widening economic inequality, climate change and increasingly scarce natural resources, instability and insufficient rural development are two sides of the same coin.

Conflict can reduce the amount of food produced and disrupt people’s access to food, worsening food insecurity. Conflict can be also be exacerbated by environmental shocks and stressors, or by a weak political governance when incapable of meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and affected. Somalia is an example of national governance failure, prolonged drought and increased temperatures, fuelling a vicious cycle of food scarcity and instability.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported significant declines in agricultural production in the Central African Republic (CAR) following its worst political and human crisis that sparked mass migrations, leaving more than 600,000 people displaced in 2014. Cassava production was 58% lower in 2014 than the 2008-2012 pre-crisis average and the agricultural sector contracted by 46 percent. 1.6 million people are now food insecure.

[Read more…]

Nine more TEDx talks on food security

Last year we brought you six of our favourite TEDx talks on food security and since then we’ve discovered a whole lot more. Here are nine more interesting talks we think you might like.

JosetteJosette Sheeran, former head of the UN’s World Food Program, talks about why, in a world with enough food for everyone, people still go hungry, still die of starvation, still use food as a weapon of war. Her vision: “Food is one issue that cannot be solved person by person. We have to stand together.” Watch the video.

BittmanMark Bittman, New York Times food writer, weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk. Watch the video.

HalweilBrian Halweil, publisher of Edible Manhattan, was on track to become a doctor until he realized that repairing the global food system could help to conserve people’s health and wellbeing more. Halweil believes that the local food movement is a truly powerful medicine. Watch the video.

RedmondLa Donna Redman, Senior Program Associate in Food and Justice at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and long-time food activist, examines how the root causes of violence and public health concerns experienced by her community are strongly connected to the local food system, and are best addressed by making changes in that system. Watch the video.

BaehrBirke Baehr, at the time just 11-years old, presents his take on a major source of our food — far-away and less-than-picturesque industrial farms. Keeping farms out of sight promotes a rosy, unreal picture of big-box agriculture, he argues, as he outlines the case to green and localize food production. Watch the video.

mark-post-900x506Mark Post, a specialist in tissue engineering at Maastricht University in The Netherlands introduces Cultured Beef to the world and explains the process behind its growth and the future he envisions for in-vitro meat. Watch the video.

[Read more…]