How putting the vulnerable first ultimately benefits all

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Almost one year after the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), delegates are coming together this week in New York for the first High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The theme of the forum is “ensuring no one is left behind” and provides an opportunity for UN States Members and agencies to reflect on progress thus far on the SDGs, to identify cross-cutting issues, and address new or emerging challenges to achieving the goals.

A previous A4I blog series (part 1/part 2) looked at how agriculture is related to every one of the 17 goals. In the spirit of “ensuring no one is left behind” we’re now looking at how engaging marginalised and vulnerable groups can both contribute to achieving the SDGs and benefit these groups, particularly in the context of the agricultural sector.

Women

2015-03-02 14.39.18SDG 5 demands gender equality, calling for “equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.” These rights are particularly important for women who live in rural, agricultural areas. It is well documented that rural women are amongst the most likely to face barriers in accessing resources, such as quality seeds, fertilisers and credit, or gaining land rights. As a result of gender-related barriers, female farmers in Africa produce up to 25% less than men do. Yet, if these women could gain the same access to productive resources as their male counterparts, their yields would increase by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4% annually. This alone would lift a total of 100 – 150 million people out of hunger. [Read more…]

Managing food price volatility

ID-100192674Food price volatility is a serious threat to food security, economic development and political stability, and one that has been driving sober debate in how such unexpected and unpredictable shocks can be mitigated in the future. Now a new policy brief, Managing food price volatility: policy options to support healthy diets and nutrition in the context of uncertainty, explores policy options that have the potential to both foresee price volatility or market uncertainty and moderate its impact on food and nutrition security. Interventions identified include short-term and long-term strategies that aim to protect the immediate food needs of society while also facilitating the development of more steady and stable food markets and prices.

The report was launched on the 16th March at an event held at the Houses of Parliament by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition and the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development. Chair of the Global Panel and former President of Ghana, John A. Kufuor, was quoted as saying, “We are confident that policymakers could make better use of tools which help predict prices and manage price volatility. Together we can deliver timely and effective policy actions”. Panel member, Emmy Simmons, who is also a Board Member of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa/Agree praised the report for its focus on the short- and long-term as well as its recommendation to learn lessons from government efforts to minimise price volatility and its effects on the food intake of poorer households.

The food crisis of 2008 was a wake-up call to the severe impacts of rapidly fluctuating food prices and since then many have tried to address this issue. On the one hand, food prices must be stabilised to some degree so as to make them more predictable while on the other governments must ensure citizens have access to enough healthy food despite the challenges the world’s food system faces – from declining crop production to a dwindling natural resource base to climate change to urban expansion. Price volatility can be especially detrimental to food security for the poorest households who can spend as much as 75% of their total income on food. And both declines, which can reduce household incomes, as well as price rises, which reduce how much food a family can purchase, can impact food and nutrition security. [Read more…]

International Women’s Day 2016

iwd.jpgToday is International Women’s Day and this year organisers are asking everyone to #PledgeForParity. Despite the contribution women make to social, economic, cultural and political development, gender parity, whereby men and women are equal in status and pay, has not yet been achieved and is unlikely to be achieved in the near future without significant support. In fact, progress has slowed in many places and where the World Economic forum was predicting that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity, they have now revised this to an estimate that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2133.

Women are the largest emerging market in the world, account for half of the global labour supply and about 70% of global consumption demand. Failing to achieve gender parity will stunt economic and social development while meeting this goal will bring greater economic prosperity. Global studies have found the following outcomes when women are equal in business and politics:

  • Higher GDP
  • More productivity
  • Better share prices and financial performance
  • Better all-round performance
  • More prosperity

As one study puts it “Greater gender equality in educational and employment opportunities fosters faster, more inclusive growth, not only because women are half of the world’s population but also because they are more likely than men to invest in the human capital of their families”. [Read more…]

Remembering our roots: new books and resources

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Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Now going for close to four years, this blog began as a platform to allow us to continually update and review the content of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? Between the publication of The Doubly Green Revolution and One Billion Hungry, the agricultural development and environmental landscape had changed so much that it was important to find a way to remain relevant in order to help to bring about the changes needed for a food secure world. As such we like to periodically bring you a selection of up-to-date, interesting and thought-provoking books and resources, and here are our picks for early 2016. If you know of any interesting or pertinent books or other materials we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Books

Otsuka, K. and Larson, D.F. (Eds.) 2016. In Pursuit of an African Green Revolution. Views from Rice and Maize Farmers’ Fields. Springer.

This book explores recent experiences in trying to bring about a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), focussing on rice and maize. Authors find that an African Rice Revolution has already begun in many irrigated areas, using Asian-type modern varieties, chemical fertilizer, and improved management practices. The same technological package significantly increases the productivity and profitability of rice farming in rainfed areas as well. By strengthening extension capacity and providing management training to smallholders, African governments can boost productivity and accelerate the pace of Africa’s Rice Revolution. The story for maize is quite different, however, where most farmers use local varieties, apply little chemical fertilizer, and obtain very low yields, and thus the success of Africa’s Maize Revolution will require a different approach based on hybrid maize, chemical and organic fertilizers, and stall-fed cross-bred cows.

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A. and Bezner-Kerr, R. (Eds.) 2016. Africa’s Green Revolution: Critical Perspectives on New Agricultural Technologies and Systems. Routledge.

This book examines the dominant neoliberal agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. Authors review the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period, across a range of geographical contexts, in order to contextualise the productionist approach embedded in the much heralded New Green Revolution for Africa. This strategy, supported by a range of international agencies, promotes the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost crop production. This approach is underpinned by a new and unprecedented level of public–private partnerships as donors actively work to promote the private sector and build links between African farmers, input suppliers, agro-dealers, agro-processors, and retailers. The chapters in this volume raise serious questions about its effectiveness as a strategy for increasing food production and alleviating poverty across the continent.

Brautigam, D. 2016. Will Africa Feed China? OUP USA

Over the past decade, China’s meteoric rise on the continent has raised a drumbeat of alarm. China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water, and over 20 percent of its people. Africa’s savannahs and river basins host the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. Few topics are as controversial and emotionally charged as the belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China. In Will Africa Feed China?, Deborah Brautigam, one of the world’s leading experts on China and Africa, probes the myths and realities behind the media headlines. Her careful research challenges the conventional wisdom; as she shows, Chinese farming investments are in fact surprisingly limited, and land acquisitions modest. Defying expectations, China actually exports more food to Africa than it imports. But is this picture likely to change?

Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (Ed.) 2015. Land Reforms and Natural Resource Conflicts in Africa: New Development Paradigms in the Era of Global Liberalization. Routledge.

This book is a critical examination of the place and role of land in Africa, the role of land in political formation and national identification, and the land as an economic resource within both national economic development and liberal globalization. Colonial and post-colonial conflicts have been rooted in four related claims: the struggle over scarce resources, especially access to land resources; abundance of natural resources mismanaged or appropriated by both the states, local power systems and multinationals; weak or absent articulated land tenure policies, leading to speculation or hybrid policy framework; and the imperatives of the global liberalization based on the free market principles to regulate the land question and mineral appropriation issue. The actualization of these combined claims have led to conflicts among ethnic groups or between them and governments. This book is not only about conflicts, but also about local policy achievements that have been produced on the land question. It provides a critical understanding of the forces and claims related to land tenure systems, as part of the state policy and its system of governance. [Read more…]

Mechanisms to increase agricultural productivity and spare land for conservation

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“Green rice field in Chiang Rai, Thailand” by punsayaporn

Habitat loss driven by expanding agricultural land is a major driver of biodiversity loss. Two, seemingly opposing, strategies have been proposed as a way of reconciling increased demand for agricultural production and conservation of biodiversity, and in turn preventing further conversion of natural habitat to farming: land sparing (the intensification of agriculture to set aside land for conservation) and land sharing (the integration of farming and conservation on agricultural land such as eco-agriculture).

Up until now the land sparing/land sharing debate has largely revolved around theoretical arguments. Much of the support for land sparing has come from using data to maximise the number of species conserved under a fixed level of agricultural production in various settings, with the finding that more species are negatively affected by agriculture than benefit from it. But, in general, little of the discussion has focused on the way in which land sparing might be achieved. Now in a recent paper in Science by Phalan et al, the way in which land sparing could become a practical approach to biodiversity conservation and improved agricultural productivity is explained in more detail.

Land sparing as an approach has been criticised for failing to consider situations where agricultural intensification has stimulated expansion of farming rather than protection of land for conservation. Proponents of the approach acknowledge this phenomena and the fact that rising demands and increased productivity can increase the “opportunity cost of conservation”. To tackle this significant obstacle authors introduce four mechanisms that aim to link agricultural productivity and biodiversity or habitat conservation, and thus avoid rebound effects of increased yields driving growth in the agricultural industry rather than sparing land.

  • Land use zoning. By zoning areas for agriculture or conservation, expansion can be limited, which may motivate landholders to improve productivity and efficiency on existing agricultural land. There is the potential for habitat to be converted to farming outside of the zoned area though, otherwise known as displacement or leakage. The success of Costa Rica in halving deforestation of mature forests by preventing agricultural expansion onto forests through zoning, and the subsequent increase in fruit production, is given as an example.
  • Economic instruments, such as payments, land taxes, and subsidies. Such instruments can have conditions built in to protect habitat for biodiversity but they are also notoriously difficult to implement and maintain so that all parties benefit. Considered a successful example, the incentive programme jointly developed by herders and local government in the Spiti Valley of Himalayan India to set aside land for snow leopard prey in exchange for payment and technical assistance has, within the first four years of the project, reduced the amount of livestock killed by snow leopards by two-thirds and reduced the amount of snow leopards killed down to zero. [Read more…]

Foresight Africa 2016: Africa’s priorities for the year ahead

foresightafrica_2016promo_16x9In a recent post we discussed some of the priorities for global development research. The Foresight Africa report, by the Brookings Institution‘s Africa Growth Initiative, has been assessing and laying out Africa’s top priorities for the year ahead since 2011. The Foresight Africa project is a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. The new Foresight Africa report, is a collection of issue briefs, viewpoints, and infographics on the major issues for Africa in 2016.

In 2016, African countries will have to react to many changes and challenges coming from outside the continent such as shifting dynamics in the global economy; potential adverse effects of China’s and other emerging economies’ economic slowdown; and decreasing commodity prices, all of which will require mitigation and policy reform. Within its borders, Africa also faces many challenges, for example in trying to maintain its trade competitiveness, tackle youth unemployment, deal with rapid urbanisation, security threats and reduce barriers to human development. The Foresight Africa report believes that “if managed prudently with timely action from African policymakers in 2016, the continent could equally recover from external and internal shocks, accelerate regional growth, and further expand the benefits of growth to the more than one billion people living throughout Africa”.

The study identifies six priorities for 2016 that will help continue Africa’s current economic growth:

  1. Managing economic shocks (including the economic slowdown in China, declines in commodity prices, the US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes)
  2. Sustaining domestic growth: revitalize the region’s industrial development and focus on job creation
  3. Supporting human development
  4. Capitalizing on urbanization. As the second fastest urbanizing region in the world, Africa needs strong infrastructure and planning policies
  5. Maintaining governance gains: the regional governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes
  6. Expanding African trade: creating a comparative advantage and strengthening regional partnerships

Critically the report not only lays out priorities for African governments and policy makers, it provides different viewpoints on the best way to develop policy to cope with oncoming shocks and stresses and further development. For example, Njuguna S. Ndung’u, Associate Professor of Economics, at the University of Nairobi, discusses how African economies should build resilience to manage external shocks in 2016. Instead of cutting long-term development budgets in times of crisis, buffers at four levels need to be created ahead of coming shocks: foreign exchange reserves, strategic food reserves, oil reserves for oil-importing countries, and, in countries dependent on commodity prices, a fund for smoothing out commodity prices during times of extreme variability.

The report also discusses the Sustainable Development Goals, noting the common criticism that in trying to do everything the SDGs have become too large, too messy and too ambitious. But it is noted that due to Africa’s involvement in the development of the SDGs they are much better suited to the continents aspirations than the Millennium Development Goals were. An important focus of the both the SDGs and the Foresight Africa report is the need for jobs, which pay a living wage. In Africa only one in five workers find employment in the wage economy. The SDGs in Goal 9.2 sets as an objective: “By 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries.” Here the link between industry and jobs in made and the need for industrial development in Africa. [Read more…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part two

ID-100164411Malnutrition is pervasive, far-reaching and complex. Because of this both the immediate impacts as well as the underlying causes must be addressed simultaneously if malnutrition rates are to be reduced, warranting the need for both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches. In part one of this article we discussed the roles agriculture, livestock production and resilience building can have in improving people’s nutrition. More productive and diverse farming and reduced vulnerability to environmental and other risks can boost household nutrition. In part two we look at how gender inequality, marginalisation from society, poverty and climate change pose both threats to nutrition and how, as a result, we can fight malnutrition through building gender equality, providing social protection and mitigating climate change.

  1. Gender

The theme for this year’s Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security was “Empowering Our Women, Securing Our Food, Improving Our Nutrition,” and without question, women are central to producing food in the fields and putting food on the table for their families. In some African countries, 90% of women are engaged in agricultural and related activities. Yet these women often lack secure land rights and access to machinery, markets, inputs and technologies that could increase their harvest and their and their family’s nutrition. Additionally, proper nourishment “empowers people to live and take on new opportunities”, giving people the energy and vitality to innovate and be even more productive.

An article in the Guardian further explains why gender is critical for nutrition. Women play important roles within a family, in agriculture and in their community. Their links between work, home and society mean investing in women has knock-on effects, in particular for nutrition, given that they are often the providers of food. Gender inequality reduces a woman’s power in making decisions and in bringing about change, and should be tackled in society and governance. And there is evidence that investing in women can bring about advances in development. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that half of the reduction in hunger between 1970 and 1995 could be attributed to improvements in women’s societal status. Additionally improvements in women’s access to education (which accounted for 45% of gains in food security) was nearly as significant as increased food availability (26%) and health advances (19%) put together.

But gender is not just about women. It is also important to educate men on, for example, “the right kind of food, doing home gardening, rearing cows, poultry farming, using safe water, building sanitary latrines and hygiene”. Men and boys have a central role in improving nutrition and in bringing about gender equality. The Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) have developed a way of creating dialogue about the importance of valuing women and girls in agriculture and communities through theatre, and through a travelling company are engaging with elders and men.

  1. Social protection

Social protection aims to reduce people’s vulnerability and is delivered through a variety of mechanisms: weather-indexed insurance, public works programmes, emergency food aid, buffer stock management, agricultural input subsidies, conditional cash transfers and employment guarantee schemes. Devereux (2015), in a study of the links between social protection programmes and enhanced entitlements to food, comes to the conclusions that principles of social justice need to be introduced to the design and delivery of social protection programmes and that a comprehensive approach is needed that combines interventions around stabilising as well as increasing income and/or food production. [Read more…]