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.

1

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…]

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014

SOFI-2014-Cover-300-resizeThe UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s annual report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) aims to raise awareness about global hunger issues, to identify causes of chronic hunger and malnutrition and to record the progress being made towards reaching global hunger reduction targets.

This year’s report, Strengthening the Enabling Environment to Improve Food Security and Nutrition, provides not only current estimates of undernourishment around the world and progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and World Food Summit (WFS) hunger targets but also presents the experiences of seven countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen) in developing an enabling environment for food security and nutrition.

As the report states, 805 million people, or 1 in 9, are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14. This is a reduction of over 100 million people over the last decade and 209 million fewer than in 1990-1992. In the last two decades, the prevalence of undernourishment has dropped from 18.7% to 11.3 % globally and from 23.4% to 13.5% in developing countries alone. Latter figures show progress towards the MDG of reducing the proportion of people suffering hunger by half is within reach but in terms of the WFS target of halving the number of people chronically hungry, we are still a long way off.

Progress towards these targets is uneven geographically with only Latin America and South Eastern Asia having reached the WFS target. The highest numbers of hungry people live in Asia while the highest proportions live in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is seeing relatively low levels of progress in tackling hunger.

The report also explores a range of indicators of hunger that try to encompass the multiple components of food insecurity, namely:

Availability or the quantity, quality and diversity of food. Indicators include the average protein supply and the average supply of animal-source proteins.

Access or physical access and infrastructure. Indicators include railway and road density and economic access, represented by domestic food price index.

Stability or the exposure to food security risk and the incidence of shocks. Indicators include cereal dependency ratio, the area under irrigation, domestic food price volatility and fluctuations in domestic food supply.

Utilization or the ability to utilize food and outcomes of poor food utilization. Indicators include access to water and sanitation and wasting, stunting and underweight measures for children under five years old.

Results from this wide range of indicators show that food availability in still a problem in poorer regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. Access has improved considerably in many places largely where economic growth, rural infrastructure development, social protection programmes and poverty reduction have occurred. Utilisation is identified as the largest challenge for food security and levels of stunting, wasting and malnutrition in children remain high. Stability is also challenge particularly in regions that are heavily dependent on international food markets for domestic supplies and have limited natural resources with which to produce food such as the Middle East and North Africa. The report summarises that “the greatest food security challenges overall remain in sub-Saharan Africa, which has seen particularly slow progress in improving access to food, with sluggish income growth, high poverty rates and poor infrastructure, which hampers physical and distributional access”. [Read more…]

So many metrics, so few options for resilience

By Stephanie Brittain, Agriculture for Impact

“Poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. We are therefore committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency”.

This introductory quote from the draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) highlights that tackling poverty and hunger are still key targets for the SDG’s, the evolution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). Aims to ‘End Extreme Poverty including Hunger’ and ‘Improve Agriculture Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity’ show that poverty and hunger are intrinsically linked. Indeed, most of the world’s poorest and hungriest are the smallholder farmers that ironically produce 80% of the world’s food. It’s important that the SDG’s meet the needs of these farmers if they are to meet their targets.

So what are the SDG’s going to offer the world that the MDG’s didn’t? Well this time we have metrics, and potentially lots of them. So with an emphasis on developing indicators to measure change, how then are we actually going to make these changes and meet these indicators of poverty reduction and food security? Meeting these development goals isn’t purely about economics as previous development indicators would have you think. Furthermore, since no country has yet achieved all three economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development, we need to approach and achieve progress in a holistic way.

What is resilience? 

Working under a resilience framework may be the answer. Resilience can be thought of as a ‘buffer zone’, providing people with the ability to ‘bounce back’ from socio-economic and environmental stressors. In the latest report the Sustainable Development Solutions Network on the proposed indicators for the SDG’s, resilience is often referred to in the context of building resilience against natural disasters. But there is so much more that could, and should be done to encourage resilience thinking in the new SDG’s with regards to social cohesion and food security, for example.  

Recently, the Agriculture for Impact (A4I) team saw an example of building resilience in practice when we went to the Meki Batu Vegetable Cooperative, a project supported by Self Help Africa in Ethiopia. As the video below highlights, they are building resilience by creating cooperatives, giving access to credit and markets for farmers that helps them to become food secure and generate an income where they previously struggled.

emilyStronger Together: How Co-operatives Help Smallholder Farmers Thrive” 

Entrepreneurship for resilience

Part of building resilience is also creating the enabling socio-economic and political environment for people to develop. The need for entrepreneurship in Africa is highlighted in the June 2014 Montpellier Panel Report, where the Montpellier Panel believe that rural and food sector entrepreneurship can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent and significantly contribute to Africa’s rural and urban economic growth.

Agroways (U)For example, AgroWays (U), a grain warehousing system in Jinja, Uganda was first set up in 1995 by Managing Director Herbert Kyeyamwa with the intention of buying grain at the peak of harvest, storing it, and then selling it in the off-season when prices are higher.

Now in 2014, the business has grown to service 134 farmer groups with a total membership of 8,560 smallholder farmers. Herbert employs nearly 150 full and part time staff to assist with a variety of tasks from harvest, the collection and transport of grain to village aggregation centres and central warehouse staff. 

Herbert is a shining example of an entrepreneur that has responded to market demand to create a company that generates employment and wealth within the agribusiness value-chain. This, however, did not happen without external technical assistance, training, and finance—key components for any business to thrive.

Resilience for development: The SDG’s

By approaching the new SDG’s with resilience in mind, it helps us to acknowledge that development, including poverty reduction and food security is multi-disciplinary. It allows us to plan with a longer term vision and encourages a more holistic way of measuring success and failure that moves away from the traditional ‘deaths’ and ‘income’ indicators. Building resilience also means to build strong and healthy communities, as the video and our experiences in Ethiopia highlight. 

It isn’t just natural disasters that we need to build resilience against – the impacts of seasonal stressors such as poor harvests, pests, volatile food and input prices all negatively impact vulnerable communities and smallholder farmers. A poor harvest will leave vulnerable families in worse shape to recover from a major natural or economic disaster.  Because these stresses continue to drive food insecurity and poverty and increase the gap between the worlds’s richest and poorest, they also risk  endangering our ability to meet the SDG of no extreme poverty or hunger before even starting. Conversely, by building resilience across all sectors, farmers are better equipped to recover or ‘bounce back’, creating a necessary safety net for the worlds more vulnerable communities. In the face of an increasingly volatile environmental and economic climate, resilience should be actively built in to the SDG’s aims and metrics. 

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