What we’ve been reading this summer…

This summer’s roundup of eight of our favourite books, covering a diversity of topics including food security, nutrition, economics and climate change. Is your favourite missing? We welcome your suggestions and thoughts in the comments, below.

 

borlaugThe Man who Fed the world, Leon Hesser (here)

In this 2010 biography of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Norman Borlaug, Hesser depicts a remarkable scientist and humanitarian who continues to have influence today.

According to a review by one of Borlaug’s biggest fans, Bill Gates, “Although a lot of people have never heard of Borlaug, he probably saved more lives than anyone else in history.”

This book is an insightful introduction to a fascinating man with a message that continues to be relevant.

 

getting betterGetting Better, Charles Kenny (here)

If you need some good news this book is for you. The book highlights cost effective technologies and powerful ideas that are truly transforming the world for the better. Argued with optimism as well as realism, this is a chance to step back and appreciate some examples of ‘what went well’.

“Elegant and deeply researched- a powerful antidote to overly gloomy assessments of development aid-Charles Kenny shines a light on the real successes of aid, and he shows us the benefits that additional smart investment can bring.” – Bill Gates, Wall Street Journal

[Read more…]

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Mastering the last mile to food security

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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IFPRI, Milo Mitchell

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for achieving food and nutrition security? According to Roberto Ridolfi, Director for Sustainable Growth and Development at the European Commission, there is not far left to go, but the journey still presents many obstacles to overcome. To him, the last mile is “the last inch between the fingers of the farmer and the seed in the soil.” On June 14th, the eve of the European Development Days, delegates congregated in Brussels at a workshop entitled Going the Last Mile: Accelerating Progress in Food Security and Nutrition. The evocative title conjured up different images for each speaker, which combine to create a path along this mile:

Step one: use the brain

For a long-distance runner, like Stineke Oenema from the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, “the last mile of a marathon can be the hardest to complete”. The last mile is when the brain must be engaged to mentally, as well as physically, push towards the finish line. Similarly, now is the time to engage the knowledge of scientists, engineers, and experts in order to overcome the final barriers, such as lack of access to a varied diet or improved seeds, which allow food insecurity and malnutrition to persist.

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Credit: Scott Wallace, World Bank

Indeed, in order to create sustainable agricultural growth research is desperately needed, for instance to generate improved varieties of crops. An excellent example of the impact that this can have was delivered by HarvestPlus Country Manager for Rwanda, Joseph Mulambu, who discussed their biofortified high-iron beans. Not only can a portion of the biofortified beans provide half of the daily requirement of iron, but the beans have been shown to be drought resistant, inferring an extra advantage to those who grow them. Using conventional breeding techniques, HarvestPlus scientists have contributed a crop that is nutritious and can reduce iron deficiency while at the same time improves farmer resilience to droughts, which are likely to become more severe and more frequent due to climate change. This is exactly the kind of innovation that helps the finish line come into view. [Read more…]

On this Africa Day, we need to talk about nutrition

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0. Originally posted by the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

Photo Credit  Fintrac Inc - kenyan families feeding children nutritious foodAs we celebrate Africa Day 2016, it’s time to reflect on the state of nutrition in Africa and the weighty effect malnutrition has on the continent’s ability to prosper. Progress has been made over the past decades, for example through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to reduce extreme hunger and starvation. However, it is the quality of food that people consume and a lack of variety that is of increasing concern. A few weeks ago, Roger Thurow, a Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, released a new book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World. The book lays out that nutrition, or lack thereof, in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to the age of two – has a profound and lasting influence on a child’s ability to grow, learn, develop and work.

Stunting is a measurable impact of malnutrition, but the height of a child doesn’t tell the full story. The development of the child’s brain is also affected, so stunted children are more likely to fall behind in school, fail to achieve decent incomes, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty for the next generation. The cumulative effect of widespread malnutrition in a group of people can therefore directly impact, and limit, a society’s ability to develop and prosper. Thurow’s book highlights Uganda in particular, where half of women of childbearing age are anaemic and about 35% of children suffer stunting due to malnourishment. Indeed, a staggering 40% of all under-five deaths in Uganda are caused by malnutrition. Tragically, Uganda is not an isolated case in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40% of all children under the age of five are stunted. [Read more…]

“We have a lot of work ahead” – IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Repot

By Alice Marks

On March 31st the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published the 2016 Global Food Policy Report. The report highlights the scale of the challenged faced by the global food system, including that 1/3 of people in the world are malnourished, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each day, and environmental degradation and climate change will only exacerbate these problems by making global food markets increasingly unstable.

In a previous blog series (part 1/part 2) agriculture’s role in underpinning all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was explored. Ahead of the launch of the new report, IFPRI’s director Shenggen Fan explained that to meet the SDG’s by 2030 “We have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.” Looking through the lens of the global food system, IFPRI’s report highlights several challenges and opportunities to achieving the SDGs, including the changing climate, shifts in diets and food waste, and gender inequality.

Gender inequality

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credit: IFPRI, 2016

Women are more vulnerable to food price volatility, climate change, and natural disasters than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but in general boil down to a lack of access to resources. For example, try typing “women lack access” into a search engine to see a plethora of issues, including lack of sanitation, safe toilets, clean water, contraception and family planning, business capital, information, education and political participation, to name but a few. [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…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Technology and innovation

Guest Commentary: Technology Can Feed the World, The Chicago Council

What mobile tech innovation offers food security, Devex

Africa gets new centre for agricultural innovation, SciDevNet

Mapping for food safety, iied

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution Can Radically Improve Our Food Supply Chain, HuffPost

The digital revolution in agriculture: Progress and constraints, IFPRI

Policy Brief: Small-scale farmer innovation, QUNO

How digital is solving 3 problems in agriculture, Zero Hunger Challenge

Nutrition, Food Security, and Waste 

Stink bug could boost health and nutrition in Africa, SciDevNet [Read more…]

Agriculture is in every SDG: Part 1

By Alice Marks

Story-2-SDGsSkimming the eye across the colourful chart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is easy to spot a couple which are intrinsically and directly linked to agriculture, but a closer look reveals that they are in fact all linked to agriculture. A healthy global agricultural sector underpins and supports so many aims of the SDGs that its development will be important for their overall success. As sustainable agriculture is essential for sustainable food systems and livelihoods, here is a breakdown of how agriculture, farming and nutrition fit into the first 7 goals

1. No Poverty

Over 70% of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, and rely heavily on agriculture for their survival and livelihoods. According to the World Bank, evidence shows that GDP growth generated in agriculture has large benefits for the poor, and is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth generated by other sectors. Particularly with investment and growth of sustainable value chains, agriculture can help to lift people out of poverty. [Read more…]