Past, present and future: IFPRI’s 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report

CAeEPQKUQAA9iSc.png largeIn the fourth instalment of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s annual report on food policy, launched on 18th March 2015, authors report on the major developments that have happened at a global, regional and national level in 2014 but also, and for the first time, discuss the challenges to tackling food insecurity we face in the near future.

Looking to the past, the report highlights achievements as well as setbacks. For example, achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, of 64 countries meeting the MDG of halving the number of hungry people since 1990, of global undernourishment having fallen from 19% to 11% in the past 2 decades, the commitments made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome to end malnutrition, the African Union committing to end hunger by 2025 and membership in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement continuing to grow.

But 2014 also experienced shocks and disasters such as the largest ever outbreak of Ebola, continuing civil war and conflict in the middle east, extreme weather conditions such as drought in Central America and typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, and continuing distortion of the agricultural markets with the US passing the Farm Bill and the EU implementing the latest Common Agricultural Policy. And ongoing is a lack of food security and adequate nutrition for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

While disease, conflict and climatic upheaval are expected to intensify over the coming years, this year could be a window of opportunity to mitigate and build resilience to future shocks, and to step up in the fight against hunger and poverty as the Sustainable Development Goals are shaped and come into force and as a new climate agreement is (hopefully) adopted.

IFPRI’s report highlights some key food policy aspects of hunger and malnutrition such as the importance of sanitation, social protection and food safety, which need to be considered in future policy making. The report also discusses the role of middle income countries in combating hunger and the future of small family farmers.

Middle income countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Mexico are growing fast economically but they are also home to almost half of the world’s hungry (363 million people). These countries must be part of any strategy to combat hunger and malnutrition and they also have the resources to make a huge difference as we’ve seen in Brazil. Although the challenges faced in these countries are diverse and nation-specific, the report identifies several shared factors affecting food and nutrition security such as rising inequality, shifting diets, rapid urbanisation and the absence of nutrition-focused policies. The report points to the examples of South Korea and Chile in reducing hunger and malnutrition while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. As the report states, economic growth is not sufficient alone to tackle hunger and thus suggests that MICs use nutrition-specific and –sensitive interventions and value chain approaches to reshape the food system; reduce inequalities, for example, through providing education to the underprivileged and supporting women in accessing productive resources; improve rural infrastructure, expand effective social safety nets and improve south-south knowledge sharing.

2014 being the UN International Year of Family Farming, the report looks to the role of small family farmers in meeting a country’s agriculture needs as well as how such farmers can become more profitable or when they might need to leave farming for a more economically justifiable pursuit. Agriculture is mainly a family affair with family farms producing some 80% of the world’s food. As such family farmers play a significant role in global food security and nutrition in both providing the food we eat but also because many small-scale farmers are themselves food insecure. [Read more…]

The International Development bill passes and 0.7% spending on international aid becomes law

ID-10017591Recently the UK passed a bill which enshrines in law their commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid every year, a target first reached by the UK last year. The UN established the target in 1970 but only five other countries – Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates – have met the target to date. The UK is the first G7 country to meet the target, spending £11.3 billion in 2014 on international aid. Alongside the financial commitment, the International Development bill, expected to come into force on 1st June 2015, also calls for independent evaluation and monitoring of money spent on aid.

Although the 0.7% spending target was part of each major political parties’ manifesto in 2010, the bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat ex-cabinet minister Michael Moore, sought to transform the pledge to a legal requirement. In December 2014 a vote to allow the bill to continue being scrutinised was won 146 to 6 despite opponents making the case that it may give the impression that no more was needed to tackle global poverty. Other opponents criticised the bill for “shackling future governments” to a level of spending despite other budgets being unprotected and the UK economy being far from sturdy.

The bill has been the cause for much celebration amongst the NGOs campaigning for its creation and passing, not only securing much needed aid for developing countries over the long-term but perhaps incentivising wealthier countries to follow suit. This doesn’t mean such NGOs will be resting on their laurels, now the challenge is to ensure that the has impact, is effective and transformative, and gets to those who need it most. They are also hopeful that this might mean the UK will play a leading role in other global challenges such as climate change.

Oxfam, in a blog post, described the law as historic and as proof of the power of people, in particular those people active under the Make Poverty History, Turn Up Save Lives and the IF campaign. By providing guaranteed aid over the long-term, recipients, in turn, can make long-term investments in education, health and development. “And it shows that when we act together, we can achieve incredible things.”

Although the debate over the effectiveness of aid at tackling poverty continues there is evidence of its benefits – in playing a large role in the near-eradication of polio and in halving of the number of children dying before the age of 5. UK investment in vaccines currently saves a child’s life every 2 minutes.

The UK’s international development secretary, Justine Greening, said: “Tackling poverty overseas is about addressing the root causes of global challenges such as disease, migration, terrorism and climate change, all of which are the right things to do and firmly in Britain’s own national interest.”

Despite upcoming elections, and the animosity they bring, and mass distrust in our politicians, it is heartening to know that on the important issues, the ones that can make life better for millions of people, our politicians can put aside their differences and do the right thing. If patriotism weren’t so utterly un-British, it would almost make you proud.

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…]

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…]

Advocating strategies for agricultural transformation: FAO and AfDB

ID-100207881On the 29th September 2014 two events laid out global and African strategies for agriculture and food security. At its 24th session, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), one of FAO’s Governing Bodies providing overall guidance on policies relating to agriculture, livestock, food safety, nutrition, rural development and natural resource management, met to discuss a wide range of issues, including family farming and sustainable agriculture.

Opening the event, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, emphasised the broad range of options needed to transform global food systems and that a paradigm shift is needed to make agriculture sustainable. In particular a departure from “an input intensive model”. We need to reduce the use of agricultural inputs such as water and fertilizer and look to new solutions. Such approaches as agroecology, climate-smart agriculture and biotechnology were used as examples of alternatives to the current system but that their use should be based on evidence, science and local context. The FAO’s director-general made the urgency of making agriculture more sustainable for the long term clear, noting that food production needs to grow by 60% by 2050 to meet the demands of a population of 9 billion people.

From some camps the conference was a step in the right direction towards embracing agroecology as too was the recent FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Indeed about 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter praising the FAO for convening the event. Seen as both a science and a social movement, agroecology is gaining momentum, now helped by support from the FAO, in particular by their moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and agricultural research and support for the scientific evidence behind agroecology. The letter called for the FAO, its member states and the international community to launch a UN system-wide initiative on agroecology as the main strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience. The letter closes with a hope that the FAO will consider this proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security meeting on the 13th to 18th October 2014.

Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic, also spoke at COAG 2014 of food as a universal right and of the dire need to transform the rural economy. The Dominican Republic has been particularly successful in reducing hunger from over 34% in 1990 to under 15% today. Since the current government came into power rural poverty has also been reduced 9%, linked to the doubling of the volume of agricultural loans and re-design of loan instruments to benefit smallholders, and the use of surprise visits to farming communities by officials in order to increase understanding and engage with smallholders, in particular around forming cooperatives. As noted by Graziano da Silva, this type of political commitment at the highest levels of government is critical to achieving national food security. [Read more…]

AGRF, CAADP and an African agenda for 2063

headerimgHeld over 5 days from the 1st September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Union’s annual Africa Green Revolution Forum this year was centred on the AU designated ‘Year of Agriculture and Food Security’ and the political will needed to achieve sustainable food and nutritional security across the continent.

In conjunction with the 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security, a report from the AU Commission, presented as a feature issue of the AU ECHO newsletter, highlights stories and experiences from member states of the African Union and from regional institutions as they have worked to implement the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) over the last 10 years. For example in Rwanda the joint Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA) and National Nutrition Survey of 2012 showed that the proportion of households failing to meet minimum food requirements declined from 35% to 21%, in part due to increased agricultural production and productivity under CAADP I. According to the 2010/11 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, poverty incidence reduced from 59% in 2006 to 45% in 2011, and the 2012 Rwanda Economic Update of the World Bank linked almost half of this reduction to developments in agriculture such as production increases and increased commercialisation.

In June 2014 at the African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, African leaders voiced their commitment to prioritising agriculture in national development plans, to ending hunger and to cutting poverty in half by 2025. The declaration also re-affirmed intentions to devote 10% of their national budgets to agricultural development and to achieve 6% annual growth in agricultural GDP as well as double agricultural productivity, halve post-harvest losses and reduce stunting to 10%. The recent forum (AGRF) included discussions between the public and private sectors to turn these commitments into reality and to accelerate agricultural transformation in Africa.

Since 2003 and the Maputo Declaration on CAADP, annual agricultural GDP growth has averaged nearly 4% in Africa, much higher than rates of growth in the decades before but still falling short of commitments. Progress on CAADP is difficult to discern, even within the AU’s report figures differ, but according to ONE, 43 counties have signed up to CAADP, 38 have signed a CAADP compact and 28 have developed national agriculture and food security investment plans. Only 8 countries have consistently attained the 10% of public expenditure to agriculture target, however, although there has been a significant rise in public agricultural spending overall – on average rising by over 7% each year across Africa since 2003, almost double public agricultural expenditures since the launch of CAADP. At the regional level, 4 out of 8 Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have signed regional CAADP compacts and 3 have developed full investment plans.

The report points to some of the challenges facing CAADP over the next 10 years, one of the biggest obstacles cited is a lack of political will and an unpredictable policy climate, which contributes to poor policy coordination, disorganised markets and low domestic and foreign investment in agriculture. The CAADP process is also quoted by the East Africa Farmers Federation as being a complex one, requiring all stakeholders to come together to plan, strategize and hold each other accountable. To date it has largely been state actors able to access the resources needed to participate, and greater effort needs to be made, if CAADP is to be successful, to ensure farmers are included in the CAADP agenda. [Read more…]