World hunger and malnutrition levels increased last year, according to the recently published 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report.
Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Founding Director and World Food Prize Laureate
Solutions to the world biggest problems are never straightforward. Hunger has been rising year-on-year for the last three years, Malnutrition, whether due to undernutrition or overconsumption is also on the rise.
To discuss the way forward, ahead of World Food Prize week, Farming First caught up with Dr. Lawrence Haddad and Dr. David Nabarro, winners of the 2018 World Food Prize for their work on global maternal and child nutrition.
The Prize recognises the advancement of human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food.
Farming First: The FAO have recently announced that, for the third year running, world hunger is on the rise. Why, in your opinion, is progress stalling?
David Nabarro: “The last time we saw a big upswing in the projected number of hungry people in our world was between 2008-2009. That was when there was a worldwide spike in the prices of a number of staples, particularly rice and wheat.
This was associated with political unrest in more than 30 countries – the change of government in two – and evidence of a return to increasing rates of hunger and malnutrition in our world.
After that year, levels have been coming down quite dramatically so that we started moving towards just over half a billion and then the number has started to climb again. this is almost entirely the result of of unpredictable weather in large regions of the world and conflict. Sometimes countries are blighted by both.
Lawrence Haddad: “When adults experience hunger, it’s a highly painful and a highly distressing experience but they are much more able to bounce back. Very young children are unable to because it has disrupted their development.”
Farming First: Is there something that we have learned from previous instances that you have seen – that we can put to use to reverse this trend this time around?
David Nabarro: “Nutrition is particularly critical in the interval between conception and a child’s second birthday. If I had a magic wand, I would want to be sure that in conflict situations there is real attention given to women and young children in accessing nutrients in the form of nourishing food in the early periods of their lives.
These are people who are hard-to-reach.They tend to hide inside and protect small children. They’re also often having to provide nourishment for their small children out of sight of violence. Markets that they depend on tend to be sporadic or closed.
I want to see that women who are pregnant, women with very small children, and children are treated as special categories in war situations.
If they’re not given preferential treatment, the long-term consequences for the child will be very severe. There’s been a low level of collective consciousness about the damage done in pregnancy and early childhood as a result of insufficient attention to nutrition in war settings.”
Lawrence Haddad: “This upward trend is serious but it shouldn’t detract from the incredible progress we’ve made in reducing that number overall.
It’s worrying that it’s been going up in the last three years, but we think we know why that’s the case. These shocks – whether they are climate shocks or conflict shocks or weather shocks – are quite predictable in many ways.
We know where the risky areas are; we know roughly when these shocks are going to occur; we know roughly who they will affect. The divide between the development world and the humanitarian world is also creating barriers. It’s largely a western construct- the way we’ve set up the architecture.
Ethiopia is a very good example of how the humanitarian and development sector can better join together.
15 years ago the Ethiopian government told donors that while they welcomed food aid, it shouldn’t create longer-term resilience against future shocks. The Ethiopian government at the time set up the largest safety net and social protection programme in Africa, food aid is channelled into things that have improved the resilience and productivity of food systems in Ethiopia.
It’s been very successful. It has an assistance function, but it also has a protective, resilience function as well. It has forced humanitarian and development donors into the same stream of thinking”
Farming First: The link between poor food and nutrition security, and global security is being discussed more widely now. Hunger, peace and security will be one of the opening debates at the Borlaug Dialogue. What role can nutrition play in promoting more peaceful societies?
David Nabarro: “There is always the possibility that lack of access to food can prompt conflict. The anxiety about whether or not people can get the food and the water and the other attributes they need for life is all too often an underlying cause of violent conflict.
When countries come together and see themselves as collectively responsible this in turn reduces the likelihood that they will enter into violence as a means of resolving conflict.”
Lawrence Haddad: “Most conflict is driven by inequality, or at least a sense of inequality. Work by UNICEF and others shows that inequality in terms of malnutrition is actually rising faster within countries than it is between countries. So inequality within countries in terms of things like stunting and anaemia is either not improving or is actually worsening – and we know that inequality is a big driver of violence conflict.”
Farming First: What impact will failing to reach zero hunger have on the 16 other Sustainable Development Goals and particularly on economic growth?
David Nabarro: “Good nutrition is key to the realisation of all 17 goals. Although nutrition is slotted into goal two, it’s an issue that cuts right across the whole development agenda.
It almost goes without saying that people enjoying good nutrition are realising the whole sustainable development agenda. I don’t believe that the goals will be realised unless nutritional outcomes are good for everyone in all nations.”
Lawrence Haddad: “The thing that makes nutrition different is that it is multi-sectorally determined. What drives malnutrition is everything from governance, poverty education, water and sanitation, to the health system, agriculture and women’s empowerment.
When you explain it to policymakers you don’t express it in terms of improved nutrition alone, but in terms of better and improved work. David and I have spent a lot of our respective careers trying to help nutritionists make the case for why others outside of nutrition should invest in nutrition for their own benefit rather than just nutrition’s benefit.”
Farming First: Are there any examples of success you’ve had in making the argument for investing in nutrition?
David Nabarro: “We’ve seen it a lot actually. The term we usually use is ‘why not make your employment setting more nutrition-sensitive?’ What we’re really saying is whether it’s possible to drive good nutrition in the workplace.
For example, can you enable women to have nutritious snacks when they’re busy hard at work making garments that or offering a facility for women who are lactating to be able to breastfeed or provide milk on site?
A focus on good nutrition often increases the productivity and the sense of wellbeing of the workers in a plant or in a garment factor or agricultural plantation.”
Lawrence Haddad: “Both of us are essentially connectors. We connect issues and people and organisations. One thing that we are good at is connecting nutrition with wider issues. We could connect climate very easily in terms of what decisions people make on what to grow and what to eat have fundamental consequences for greenhouse gas emissions.
If you’re interested in the youth bulge happening in many African countries, policy makers can make the most of the demographic dividend that’s coming through investing in good nutrition. Same with universal healthcare. To make it financially and fiscally feasible, you have to ask the question: what’s the biggest driver of poor health today? It’s poor diets and poor nutrition.
To make universal healthcare financially feasible, you need to invest in improved diets to lessen the disease burden of non communicable diseases before they’re more prevalent.
There’s lots of different ways of connecting nutrition to other things that policy makers care about. Policymakers have lots and lots of things to worry about and it’s the people who shout the loudest and the most persistently that usually get their attention.”
Farming First: How can we combat the rise in non-communicable diseases through striving to making nutritious and safe food more available, affordable and desirable for all — especially for the most vulnerable?
David Nabarro: “There’s remarkably little collective understanding that food systems are just not right and they’re not right in a very large number of places. The challenge is that food systems remain primarily local and there’s no top-down solution that’s going to work.
I’ve been trying to work with different groups to think about what might be a possible approach to encouraging the transformation of food systems so that they are nutritious and sustainable all over the world.
We need to shift from seeing food as a form of to seeing food as nourishment which provides the basic ingredients on which our bodies develop all their different capabilities.
How do we make sure that our food systems yield the kind of food that is needed for good nutrition? Secondly, how can we make sure our food systems will restore ecosystems on which we all depend – particularly soil, water, sea and oceans, forests and biodiversity? Thirdly, how can we be sure that our food systems are compatible with climate change and actually do all they can to absorb and sequester carbon that otherwise makes temperatures rise? And lastly, how do we ensure that our food systems contribute to decent livelihoods and wellbeing for all the people who work within them?
Those of us in the know realise that the people who work in food systems – if we look at them across the world – tend to be some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world. They’re particularly vulnerable to adverse weather patterns so we need to help them to be both prosperous with decent livelihoods and resilience in the face of stress.
Unless all of us are looking at that, we’ll find it very hard to make the transformation that is necessary in line with the SDGs.”
Farming First: Do you have any final thoughts to share?
Lawrence Haddad: “If we want to transform food systems we have to transform ourselves and our relationship with food and nutrition. That’s all very important but there’s one hard, tangible fact that we’re all grappling with and one we should be really focusing our mind and that is how we get the price of nutritious food down. if we don’t get the price of nutritious food down, it will thwart all of the other goals.
While the price is going up, the price of food staples is going doing or is static There are lots of reasons why that’s happening and that’s a very tangible way of focusing all of our efforts.”
Awino Nyamolo from TechnoServe tells Farming First about how to harness the power of young people for Africa’s food future.
Growing up in Mbeya, Tanzania, Samson Makenda loved tomatoes, and when he took over a small plot of land as a young man, he thought he could make a living with the crop. He started growing tomatoes the way his neighbors always had, watering the plants by hand, and using the same seeds and fertilizers they did. But in the crowded local market, he struggled to sell what he harvested, earning just $40 per month.
Creating better economic opportunities for young people like Samson is of vital importance to Africa’s economies. Fewer than one-third of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa have a stable, wage-paying job, and the region will add 11 million new people to its workforce this year. Agriculture can play an important role in creating these opportunities, but only if young people are able to innovate, adopt new technologies, and test new models. To do that, they must be able to identify business opportunities, have confidence in themselves and their ideas, and access the finance and connections they need to put these ideas into practice.
The Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program, a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and nonprofit organization TechnoServe, is helping to create those conditions. Through a combination of training on personal effectiveness, planning, and basic business skills, as well as tailored aftercare to provide young people with networks and practical skills, STRYDE is empowering thousands of young people across rural East Africa to find better economic opportunities.
Seeing the farm as a business
Many young people fail to recognize the business opportunities that surround them and are within reach, and to address this obstacle, the STRYDE program provides training to help rural youth see their family farms and other assets as a potential source of livelihood.
That lesson was transformational for Ndinagwe Mboya, another young person from Mbeya. Her family used to incubate chicken eggs for others, but the business was not particularly successful. After going through the STRYDE program, Ndinagwe came to recognize that there was an opportunity to build upon her family’s experience, however, and create something more successful. With $165 of seed funding she won through STRYDE’s business plan competition, she purchased eggs and started a business of raising chickens on her own.
“Before STRYDE nobody sought my advice on anything, not even my family. But today I am the go-to-person on matters poultry and incubation,” she said. With her earnings, Ndinagwe helps to pay her siblings’ school fees and is saving to attend university.
A toolbox for change
While young people are often familiar with new ideas and technologies, they face obstacles to adopting them. To take new ideas and make them a reality, as Ndinagwe did, young entrepreneurs need a toolbox for change: confidence, connections, and skills. The STRYDE curriculum includes a section on personal effectiveness, which helps young people to chart their personal strengths and weaknesses, create a plan for their future, and practice interpersonal communication, generating confidence.
Mentorship and aftercare can help entrepreneurs to develop specialized agricultural skills and make important connections. Many ideas also require an investment—like Ndinagwe’s cash grant—to implement, so access to finance is an important factor.
After Samson graduated from the STRYDE program, he began to look around for opportunities to improve his tomato farm. He had noticed that someone had built a greenhouse in the region, and he began to study whether such a facility could help make his business more profitable. Many young people are constrained by a lack of land for farming, so greenhouses and vertical gardens can improve production. As Samson discovered, growing his tomatoes in controlled conditions could also help differentiate them from the other growers.
Samson went to work putting his plan into action. Even a low-cost greenhouse cost more money to build than he could finance himself, so he identified a successful local businessman who could become his partner in the venture. Samson was able to convince him to invest in the project, and together they built the greenhouse and implemented other technical improvements, like drip irrigation, the use of hybrid seeds, and a careful application of organic and chemical fertilizers. Samson’s tomato plants are more productive now, and the fruit has fewer defects and blemishes, so he is able to sell it easily to local markets, restaurants and hotels at premium prices. Now, he earns up to $300 per month.
“For people around here, this is new tech for them, so they want these tomatoes,” says Samson. He has diversified his earnings by launching a crop nursery business, as well.
Samson and Ndinagwe are just two of more than 48,000 young people benefiting from the STRYDE program. The program has shown that simple changes in how young people think about the opportunities around them and how to adopt innovation can make a big difference, and the average participant has seen their income increase by 133 percent.
But with Africa’s growing youth workforce, more work remains to be done. The STRYDE program has worked to build the capacity of vocational training centers, schools, prisons, and other institutions across East Africa to deliver the curriculum. Local partners like these will be critical in ensuring that more young people can recognize and seize opportunities for a better living.
17th – 19th October 2018
The Norman E. Borlaug Inetrnational Symposium, known informally as the “Borlaug Dialogue,” each year brings together over 1,200 people from more than 65 countries to address cutting-edge issues related to global food security and nutrition. The three-day conference convenes a wide array of scientific experts, policy leaders, business executives and farmers. Through the Borlaug Dialogue, the World Food Prize Foundation helps build alliances in the struggle against world hunger and malnutrition. The theme for 2018 is “Rise to the Challenge”.
This week in New York the first Open Working Groups will begin to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015. In an effort to inform the SDGs, Farming First has launched a creative infographic that skips forward in time to 2030, when the SDGs will be set to expire to show what the future of food and farming could look like, depending on decisions made now.
Just as you must decide on a location before you set out on a journey, when setting goals you must be certain of what you are trying to achieve. With that in mind – why don’t we reposition the “post-2015” agenda, and instead think about the measures we must put in place “pre-2030”? The infographic gives us this clear view of what we must achieve in terms for food, people and the planet by 2030, and how innovations in agriculture can help get us there.
So what does the world look like for food and farming in 2030? Global wealth is expected to continue growing, but mostly in the emerging economies. Resources will become even more scarce, especially on a per capita basis. The end of hunger and malnutrition could be in our sights, but we’d have to work harder to put this on the agenda for it to happen.
In terms of population growth, most of this will happen in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For sub-Saharan Africa, this will increase demand considerably — poverty will persist and net food imports will get bigger.
Water scarcity is going to be a big threat — with about half the 2030 population being impacted. Agriculture’s expected water use needs alone will surpass currently predicted levels by 2030.
Land use efficiency will continue to improve, showing how modern agricultural practices are making the most of what land resources we have, but we must improve this even further to prevent further biodiversity losses by promoting R&D and technologies with high potential impact
While most forecasts look forward to a range of dates – from 2020 to 2050 and beyond – this is the only collection of 2030 data that gives a focussed look on where we could stand at the expiration of the SDGs.
Join us in asking policy makers to consider this possible future outlook, if agriculture is not empowered to play an important part in the SDGs.
Is this the future you would like to see?