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. 

14 agricultural infographics – The rise and rise of the infographic part two

Last year we posted a blog article about the role of infographics in communicating policy and advocacy messages in a simple, accessible and powerful way. The trend for the infographic to present big data and hard hitting facts to the masses is still growing and here are some more infographics we think you should take a look at:

  1. Oxfam Australia in their infographic, What’s wrong with our food system, look at why so many farmers are hungry.
  2. The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center documents Advances in global agriculture.
  3. Public Health Degree investigate the Two sides of the global food crisis.
  1. Online Schools compare Oil fields with corn fields in terms of their productivity and greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. The United States Agency for International Development’s infographic, The global state of agriculture, looks ahead to how we must increase food for a growing population.
  3. The International Food Policy Research Institute document how conservation agriculture works in Farming for the long haul.
  4. Monsanto explores The role of data science in agriculture.
  5. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, through their FAOSTAT database, explores Our food and agriculture in numbers. The FAO have also created Genetic resources and biodiversity for food and agriculture.
  6. Raconteur presents the facts on Sustainable agriculture.
  7. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have created several infographics entitled Simple innovations help African farmers thrive, Growing rice for a hungry world and Making progress on the MDGs.
  8. Float Mobile Learning examines how Mobile technologies in North American agriculture have developed and progressed.
  9. GSMA M-Agri have published an infographic on the Agricultural productivity gap and the opportunity for mobile.
  10. ONE’s, A growing opportunity: Measuring investments in African agriculture, investigates whether promises by governments and donors have been kept.
  11. The International Food Policy Research Institute look at Meat: the good, the bad and the complicated.


Global Multidimensional Poverty Index

ID-10052869Launched today, the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014 (MPI) is designed to be a comprehensive measure of acute individual poverty across over 100 developing countries. Developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), since 2010 it has been published in the UNDP’s flagship Human Development Report. The MPI is said to be complementary to traditional income-based measures of poverty, capturing scarcities people face in terms of education, health and living standards.

The complete set of indicators includes nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, water, electricity, floor and assets. If an individual is deficient in a third or more of these (weighted) indicators then they are defined as poor. The severity of poverty being a measure of the number of indicators for which they are experiencing deprivation. Income is not included as an indicator due to data deficiencies. The datasets that inform the MPI include the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS), and the World Health Survey (WHS).

The MPI can be used to compare between countries and within countries by ethnic group, location, and other key household and community characteristics. Thus the MPI is a tool for identifying the most vulnerable people, for understanding the drivers of poverty and to aid policy makers target resources and design effective poverty eradication policies. Case studies reveal the translation of measures of poverty into practical action, for example, Mexico’s poverty targeting programme and Colombia’s poverty reduction strategy are informed by nationally adapted MPIs. [Read more…]

Hungry for land: big farms getting bigger and small farms getting smaller

ID-100131830Smallholder farmers produce the bulk of the world’s food with only minimal resources such as land and water. In fact small-scale food producers farm less than one quarter of the world’s farmland, a proportion that is declining. A new GRAIN report, Hungry for Land, investigates whether the shrinking size of land under small-scale farming poses a potential threat to the global production of food. The conclusion was clear, “we need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems”.

As a multitude of media articles tells us land is a hot commodity, one that is fought over and one that increasingly small-scale farmers are being evicted from. Be it for large-scale oil palm plantations, the creation of protected areas or the discovery of oil, insecure systems of land tenure and opaque policy decisions are taking land away from the marginal to give to a variety of domestic or foreign stakeholders. Land, as the report states, is being concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.

Previous estimates of the amount of land farmed by smallholders range between 60-70%, according to various UN agency reports. Using data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and national authorities, GRAIN investigated how much land was really in the hands of smallholder farmers. And the answer…24.7%. This was at its lowest in Africa (14.7%), although this is expected to be an underestimate, and highest in China (70.9%). Average farm size was recorded at 2.2ha. The smallest average farm sizes occurring in India (0.6ha), the largest in North America (67.6ha). The full dataset is available here.

The report, while acknowledging the limitations of the data available, draws several conclusions:

  • The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller. In India farm size roughly halved between 1971 and 2006.
  • Small farms currently cover less than a quarter of the world’s farmland. In countries such as DR Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Paraguay, Russia, Bulgaria, Malaysia and Iran, the picture is more extreme where 70% of farms are small yet occupy less than 10% of the land.
  • We’re fast losing farms and farmers in many places while, big farms are getting bigger. In the EU farms over 100ha in size make up just 3% of the total number of farms but occupy 50% of the farmed land. In Colombia small farmers have lost approximately half of their land since 1980.
  • Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world. Smallholder farmers are estimated to produce around 80% of food consumed in non-industrial countries.
  • Small farms are overall more productive than big farms. If all farms in Kenya had the current productivity levels of the country’s small farms, overall crop production would double.
  • Most small farmers are women. Because FAOSTAT define farmers as those people who earn an income from farming, women, who may work on family farms but not directly receive money for their work, are not effectively captured and statistics can be misleading. Other studies report that in developing countries, 60-80% of food is produced by women.

[Read more…]

State of the world’s mothers 2014

SOWM_2014_COVEREvery year Save the Children publishes, in conjunction with Mother’s Day in the US, its report on the State of the World’s Mothers. In this, the 15th report, the focus is on the millions of women and children living in fragile communities beset by conflict and natural disasters, and the effective solutions and recommended policy changes needed to support mothers living in such precarious environments.

More than 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance this year and over half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in crisis-affected places. 800 women die every day because of preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and 56% of maternal and child deaths take place in fragile settings. Worldwide, women and children are up to 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster. During the course of a pregnancy, almost 225,000 women and over 5 million children will die.

To understand the geographic pattern of threats to women and children, Save the Children has, since 2000, published its annual Mothers’ Index, which shows those countries where mothers and children fare best, and where they face the greatest hardships, using data on health, education, economics and female political participation. Over the years it has become clear that armed conflict, political instability and natural disasters play a major role in undermining the well-being of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. The 10 toughest places to be a mother in this year’s Mothers’ Index all have a recent history of armed conflict and are considered to be fragile states. Six of the bottom 10 countries suffer from recurring natural disasters.


Violence and conflict have uprooted more families than at any time on record. By the end of 2012, more than 45 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to conflict or persecution. In addition, natural disasters, displaced more than 32 million in 2012. Of the more than 80 million people projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2014, over three-quarters are women and children. [Read more…]

7 online games for understanding international development: let the edutainment begin

mpg-with-textA major challenge for those working in international development is being able to understand the lives and needs of people in developing countries and being able to understand the challenges facing global decision makers. More and more online games are being developed by the international development community to help us gain insight into global development challenges and increase engagement around these issues, albeit in a virtual world. Here’s a list of some of these online games.

  1. Cyber Nations – Allows you to create and rule a nation, choosing a government type, a national religion, tax rate and more. You can choose and purchase infrastructure, land to expand your borders, technology to increase your effectiveness, and military to defend your national interests. You can build trading ports to enhance your ability to trade with other nations, build clinics and hospitals to increase your total population, invest in schools and universities to increase your people’s literacy rate and choose which economic sectors to support. See how your developmental decisions affect your population’s happiness.
  2. Climate Challenge – You are the president of the European nations and must tackle global climate change from 2000 to 2100. You choose Europe’s policies and try to persuade competing regional blocs to reduce their carbon emissions.
  3. African Farmer: The Game – Allows you to simulate the complex decisions and uncertainties faced by small-scale farmers living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Your challenge is to manage a farming household in a village by making decisions on what to grow, what to buy and how to feed your family all while managing emerging threats such as price rises, bad weather and disease. See how your decisions affect your family’s welfare.
  4. Food Force 2 – Aims, through the development of a storyline, to make people more aware of hunger-related problems in under developed nations and of the work of the World Food Programme. The game is aimed at educating and motivating people to solve world hunger and achieve self-sustenance.
  5. Spin the Plate – A tool developed to increase understanding of the problems of micronutrient deficiencies or hidden hunger. By investigating common meals from around the world, the game aims to educate on what vitamins and minerals many children are missing in their diets as well as on the work of the Micronutrient Initiative.
  6. Third World Farmer – A game meant to be both educational and provocative, it lets you investigate the challenges facing farmers in poor countries such as corruption, lack of access to resources, war, drought, disease and market failures. The aim is to motivate discussion and understand better our role, wherever we are, in contributing to the eradication of hunger and poverty.
  7. Stop Disasters! – Aims to engage children in learning how to build safer villages and cities, covering different factors that can mitigate the impacts of disasters such as location of buildings and their construction materials, early warning systems, evacuation plans and education. The aim of the game is to plan and construct a safer environment for your population, assess disaster risk and try to limit damage when natural disasters strike.

Of course the question is whether these games, really lead to a better understanding of development challenges? One article investigates how such games, designed to engage young people, can be better designed to really inspire change, emphasising that it is through the making rather than the playing of such games that young people can be truly empowered. While games present an opportunity to interact and learn in a fun way, true social impact will require a multi-instrument approach that includes participation, creation and ownership of these tools.

Earth Overshoot Day

OvershootOn the 20th August 2013 (last Tuesday) the planet reached a yearly milestone. Unfortunately not a birthday or something else traditionally celebrated with cake but rather the day when we have used as much nature as our planet can regenerate this year. We are overdrawn, so to speak, when it comes to Earth’s natural resources and now we are living in ‘ecological overdraft’.

The Global Footprint Network calculates demand for the Earth’s ecological resources such as food provisions, raw materials and carbon dioxide absorption, also known as its Ecological Footprint, against the planet’s ability to replenish those resources and absorb waste.

The evidence of this overshoot is clear to see: the accumulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse and the loss of tropical rainforests, to name a few. Our overconsumption of what should be renewable resources impacts human wellbeing and economic development. Two billion people lack access to resources to meet their basic needs.

Consumption is also increasing and will continue to increase with population growth unless an understanding of the limits to the world’s resources and the hardships competing for such resources will cause is at the heart of policy making.

While the planet as a whole is ‘overshooting’ the limits of resources, not all countries are. Here is an interactive map that shows which countries are ecological creditors such as Australia, Russia and Brazil, and which are ecological debtors, USA, UK and China.

In 1993, Earth Overshoot Day fell on 21st October. In 2003, it was on 22nd September. This year it is on 20th August. Earth Overshoot Day arrives a few days earlier each year. If each decade Earth overshoot day is one month earlier then by 2093 we will constantly be in overshoot, a pretty scary thought.



Assessing African Land Grabs

landgrabsLand grabbing is a hotly debated topic and nowhere is it more contentious than in Africa. On the one hand large-scale land investments are praised for their potential to bring job opportunities and boost economies while on the other, some deals have led to irresponsible and damaging use of natural resources and to the displacement of inhabitants without compensation.

Launched last year, the Land Matrix Global Observatory aims to analyse what appears to be a growing trend for private and national investors to acquire large tracts of land in developing countries. Early results show that over 46 million hectares of land have changed hands in 756 verified land deals. Approximately half of all these deals have taken place in Africa, many in Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Contrary to media reporting, the Observatory’s database finds China’s involvement and the impact of an increasing demand for biofuels to be less than estimated. But there are major concerns. While agriculture needs both private and public sector investment if it is to meet the needs of a growing population, this investment must be transparent.

Obtaining information regarding acquisitions can be very difficult, especially as private investors can act almost invisibly through such things as contract farming or by buying stakes in local agribusinesses. Instituting fair systems of land titling would at least ensure fair compensation is paid to those individuals whose land is appropriated.

In a new book, The Great African Land Grab?, Lorenzo Cotula, discusses the history of land acquisitions, the situation now and the impacts of land grabbing on African people. The book appraises the consequences of land deals, both good and bad, and provides a balanced account of what is a controversial and polarised issue in a bid to generate open and, in Cotula’s words, “a more constructive debate”.  As Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, states, “Invest in small-scale farmers, not in the land on which they depend, and read this book, if you care at all about the future of agricultural development in poor countries.”

Food for fuel

ID-100136340 (2)A new report produced by ActionAid calls attention to the impacts that growing food for biofuels can have on poverty and hunger. The amount of food crops produced and used for fuel by G8 countries per year could have fed over 441 million people. This is around half the number of people, estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, to be chronically hungry in the world.

There are other implications of growing food for fuel beyond directly removing food sources.  Land availability and food prices, are affected which can further impact on poverty, particularly for those who are net buyers of food and who rely on local natural resources for their livelihoods.

In sub-Saharan Africa some 98 European biofuel projects covering 6 million hectares of land have begun since 2009, when the European Union introduced the Renewable Energy Directive, subsequently driving up biofuel demand in Europe. 30 of these are from the UK. Many of these investments are occurring in food insecure countries and pose the threat of displacing local communities.

A report by the World Bank in 2011 concluded that ‘Food prices are substantially higher than they would be if no biofuels were produced’. And future prices are expected to rise further under the EU’s biofuel targets: by 2020 vegetable oils could increase by 36%, cereals by 22% and oilseeds by 20%.

But biofuels are important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector and for lowering fuel costs in the face of oil scarcity. Not true, says ActionAid. Biofuels currently being used in cars are worse for the climate than fossil fuels and, under projected levels of use to 2020, will add an additional 56 million tonnes of CO2  emissions by 2020 – the equivalent of over 26 million new cars on the roads. [Read more…]