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The hidden consequences of helping rural communities in Africa - Bristol U (2013)

The hidden consequences of helping rural communities in Africa - Bristol U (2013) | Food Policy |

Improving water supplies in rural African villages may have negative knock-on effects and contribute to increased poverty... Rural development initiatives across the developing world are designed to improve community wellbeing and livelihoods but... that this can lead to unforeseen consequences caused by an increase in the birth rate in the absence of family planning... Resulting population pressures encourage young adults to move to urban areas. Such urbanisation in less developed countries concentrates poverty in cities which already have stretched public services... 

Academics argue that the results of this study highlight the need for policy-makers to take into account this link between development projects and changes in demography, especially as over 90 per cent of urbanisation is taking place in the developing world.


By looking at longitudinal survey data collected from 1,280 households before and after the installation of water taps in five Ethiopian villages, researchers were able to show that family size increased due to the reduced time and energy women spent carrying water on their backs and a dramatic reduction in child mortality. This increase has placed greater pressure on the household’s resources, namely food and land, leading to higher rates of childhood malnutrition and inequalities in access to education. 

Feeling pressurised by this increased competition, the study concluded that those aged 15 to 30 with access to taps were three times more likely to migrate to a larger city or town than those without ready access to water... “These population pressures have encouraged young adults to migrate to urban areas, which actually contributes rather than relieves population pressure. The demographic consequences of rural intervention initiatives are rarely considered, but it is imperative that they should be. One of the key challenges of the 21st Century relates to population pressures, and this work highlights the need to develop a better understanding of the relationship between demography and development.”


Press release:  

Original article:  

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

I would assume that improving nutrition (but not family planning) can have a similar effect... Obviously, this is no reason not to improve water or food security (or safety). Rather, it is a reason to bundle such interventions with family planning efforts. 

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Rethinking the Measurement of Undernutrition in a Broader Health Context: Should We Look at Possible Causes or Actual Effects? - Stein (2014) - Global Food Security

Rethinking the Measurement of Undernutrition in a Broader Health Context: Should We Look at Possible Causes or Actual Effects? - Stein (2014) - Global Food Security | Food Policy |

When measuring food and nutrition security, focusing on proxy indicators such as food availability, or on selected head count figures such as stunting rates, gives an incomplete picture. Outcome-based global burden of disease (GBD) studies offer an alternative for monitoring the burden of chronic and hidden hunger. Judging by this measure, the international goal of halving global hunger between 1990 and 2015 has already been achieved.


Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) that are used as metric in GBD studies can be converted into more easily understood monetary terms. The resulting estimate of the annual cost of global hunger of up to 1.9 trillion international dollars may be better suited to illustrate the magnitude of the remaining problem...


It is pertinent to recall why we are concerned about hunger and malnutrition: because of the negative consequences it has for people’s health and well-being. Food and nutrition insecurity is usually defined in terms of what determines hunger... However, to measure hunger... the outcome of food and nutrition insecurity, i.e. the burden of disease that is caused by hunger, should be used...


One challenge when trying to measure health outcomes of undernutrition is the multitude of adverse health consequences that can be attributed to hunger, in particular to micronutrient deficiencies... Therefore the question is whether health can be measured in a consistent way across such diverse outcomes. To make the burden imposed by different health outcomes comparable... the World Bank introduced the concept of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)...


The WHO used DALYs to quantify the global burden of disease (GBD), for which it reported results at the country level and for a range of health outcomes. Based on these readily available data, DALYs can be used to quantify the global burden of hunger... A more recent GBD study... represents an improvement since it covers more causes and risk factors of poor nutrition... per year more than 160 million DALYs are lost due to hunger, which is more than 6 percent of the total burden of disease...


While... using DALYs to measure hunger is a better approach... one challenge for the use of DALYs is their abstractness: what exactly is a “disability-adjusted life year”? ... One way of illustrating the magnitude of the burden of hunger is to express it in money... While there are obvious problems with the monetization of social costs... it offers a coherent framework that permits conducting the kind of broad analyses and comparisons that are needed to guide policy making...


Using this approach produces an estimate for the global cost of hunger of Int$1.9 trillion per year, or 2.4 percent of world income. One indication that the global cost of hunger falls indeed into the trillion-dollar range is the estimate for the worldwide cost of undernutrition of US$1.4 trillion to US$2.1 trillion that the FAO gives... using a very different approach...


The “cost” of hunger is an opportunity cost, i.e. it provides an estimate for the additional annual national income that society foregoes by not solving undernutrition... One estimate of the costs that would have to be incurred to reach more than 80 percent of the world’s undernourished children with key nutrition interventions suggests this could be as (relatively) little as $10 billion a year, i.e. only one-hundredth of the current cost of hunger...


It is interesting to compare the estimate of the number of hungry people with that of the number of DALYs lost due to hunger over time. Judging by the FAO’s indicator, the achievement of MDG 1 is not very likely. However, if the objective was indeed more generally to “reduce hunger by half”, this has already been achieved – if hunger is measured using DALYs... in 1990 the burden of hunger was 320 million DALYs lost, but by 2010 this burden had already shrunk by half to 160 million DALYs lost...


The discrepancy in the assessment of the development of global hunger if based on food availability versus actual health outcomes might be surprising, but as... discussed above, food availability is but one determinant of (or input into) hunger, whereas DALYs measure the outcome of hunger that results from all inputs combined. In this case – in the presence of other, uncorrelated inputs into hunger that change over time – an indicator that monitors only one input is bound to show a different development than an indicator that measures the final outcome...


Not least in light of the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda... it is important that agreed-upon targets can be operationalized based on indicators that allow precise monitoring of progress… Stakeholders in food and nutrition security need to be aware of the advantages of outcome-based measures like DALYs... those working on GBD studies should pay more attention to undernutrition and to related health risks, and more frequent updates of the GBD or relevant subsets could further increase the usefulness of DALYs...


Using DALYs to quantify the burden of hunger has shown that the international efforts to improve global welfare are bearing fruit and that progress in the fight against undernutrition has been more rapid than is generally believed. Still, the problem of global hunger remains unresolved, and its magnitude becomes especially apparent when approximated in more familiar monetary terms. With more detailed, country-level DALYs data becoming available, further research can determine in which countries and for which nutrition-related health outcomes the biggest reductions in the burden of hunger have been achieved – and it can help explain why...


Original article:


Audio-slides, 4 min.:


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Malthus is still wrong: we can feed a world of 9-10 billion, but only by reducing food demand - Smith (2014) - Proc Nutr Soc

Malthus is still wrong: we can feed a world of 9-10 billion, but only by reducing food demand - Smith (2014) - Proc Nutr Soc | Food Policy |

In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published ‘An essay on the principle of population’ in which he concluded that: ‘The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.’ Over the following century he was criticised for underestimating the potential for scientific and technological innovation to provide positive change. Since then, he has been proved wrong, with a number of papers published during the past few decades pointing out why he has been proved wrong so many times.


In the present paper, I briefly review the main changes in food production in the past that have allowed us to continue to meet ever growing demand for food, and I examine the possibility of these same innovations delivering food security in the future. On the basis of recent studies, I conclude that technological innovation can no longer be relied upon to prove Malthus wrong as we strive to feed 9-10 billion people by 2050. Unless we are prepared to accept a wide range of significant, undesirable environmental consequences, technology alone cannot provide food security in 2050. Food demand, particularly the demand for livestock products, will need to be managed if we are to continue to prove Malthus wrong into the future.


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Instead of trying to feed the world, we should be ending poverty - Grist (2014)

Instead of trying to feed the world, we should be ending poverty - Grist (2014) | Food Policy |

Every expert on the global food supply that I’ve talked to has told me that if you want to end hunger, you have to do something about poverty. And yet most news coverage — and certainly nearly all public statements from agribusiness — focuses on technologies to produce more food, rather than on ending destitution... 


“If one looks at the reasons people go hungry in the world today, poverty is the primary reason. But when one thinks about this goal of feeding the world, invariably the issue of poverty gets dropped out of that equation — because it’s such a hard problem...


I’ve been wondering this myself. Perhaps it’s a downer to talk about poverty, while it’s exciting to talk about new agricultural technologies. Or perhaps... it just seems too hard: We are at a historical moment when changing things with politics feels impossible, but changing things with technology seems eminently achievable.


I was surprised and heartened, therefore, when I read the new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute on global hunger. The report is mostly what you’d expect: It says we’re making progress — there are fewer hungry people in the world — but some countries are backsliding. And, it says, we need to be paying more attention to micronutrient deficiencies. 


But here’s the surprising part: When I got down to the recommendations at the end of the report there was absolutely nothing about increasing yields. Instead, the policy prescriptions were exclusively political: Make nutrition a political priority, educate and empower girls, strengthen social safety nets, crack down on corruption, require food companies to provide nutritional information... 

IFPRI is not restricting the focus to agriculture... It now has four strategic objectives: reducing poverty, combating hunger, improving nutrition and health, and achieving environmental sustainability...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Of course there has to be much more political and financial commitment to end poverty, but (a) the various approaches to help end hunger (ending poverty and improving agriculture) are not mutually exclusive and (b) some points might merit consideration:

- Many poor people are actually farmers, i.e. higher yields might help them increase their incomes.

- Even with stronger political commitment, ending poverty will take time and meanwhile e.g. increasing "nutrition" yields (i.e. increasing the nutritional value of crops through biofortification or whatever) might help those who are poor now.

- Without the past focus on yields, the current situation/counterfactual might be much worse.

- With still growing populations, changing/improving diets (not least when people get richer) and increasing demands on agriculture for non-food purposes, a point will be reached where scarcity drives up prices of agricultural commodities, increasing the vulnerability/food insecurity of poorer strata again. 

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Nutrition: What Needs To Be Done? - Kwame & Rawal (2014) - Economic and Political Weekly

About 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – remain chronically hungry. Ending hunger and malnutrition requires strong political commitment at the highest level, effective coordination among various ministries and partners, and broad-based social participation. Three policy priorities are crucial to ending malnutrition – expansion of social protection; making smallholder agriculture more nutrition sensitive; and focusing on under-five child and maternal nutrition deficiencies. An integrated approach is needed to ensure that food consumed is nutritious, wholesome, acceptable, safe and affordable, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable... 

Bio-fortification, which involves enhancing the nutrient content of crops through breeding and changing agronomic practices, is increasingly seen as an effective, safe, and feasible option.Fortification through soil enrichment is known to be effective in dealing with zinc deficiency. In Turkey, for example, fertilisers enriched with zinc for zinc-absorbent plant varieties have been successfully used to address widespread zinc deficiencies. Similarly, selenium-enriched NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) fertilisers have been successfully used in Finland... 

The most viable, cost-effective, and sustainable long-term solutions to the problems of malnutrition lie in making food systems nutrition-sensitive. While nutrient supplementation may be useful in specific cases and situations, micronutrient requirements should generally be met through food consumption, requiring more nutrition-sensitive agriculture, with agricultural policies and practices supporting healthier diets. 

Improvement in the availability of and access to diverse and nutrient-dense foods is key to ending malnutrition. Three policy priorities are crucial in this respect – expansion of social protection and making it more nutrition-sensitive; improving the productivity and incomes of small producers; making smallholder-agriculture more nutrition-sensitive; focusing on under-five child and maternal nutrition deficiencies.


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Commodity groups turn to science to help shape federal nutrition policy - Capital Press (2014)

Commodity groups turn to science to help shape federal nutrition policy - Capital Press (2014) | Food Policy |

To help shape the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. commodity groups consider it a top priority to promote and advance science demonstrating the health attributes of their crops and products...

Whether they represent potatoes, almonds, wheat or even sugar, they rely on scientific studies, often producing their own research, to convince a 14-member federal advisory council on nutrition to include their foods in the recommended diet for Americans.

The stakes are high. If the advisers give a commodity its stamp of approval, it could mean millions of dollars in additional sales to federal nutrition programs such as school lunches and through food stamps and nutrition vouchers.

The potato industry has paid especially close attention to the committee’s deliberations, concerned that members have repeatedly used the french fry as a poster child for junk food, and perhaps understated their crop’s nutrient value...


“We’re not going to win the public perception battle that’s generally against potatoes without good, solid scientific research to back up our message and communicate points,” said Blair Richardson, U.S. Potato Board president and CEO and board chairman of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education...

Wheat Foods Council President Judi Adams said her organization is a member of the Grain Chain, which includes 10 grain-related organizations that cooperate to prepare comments for the dietary guidelines advisory committee.... 


The Almond Board of California provided a research summary for the 2015 guidelines committee regarding how almonds help with weight management, diabetes prevention and heart health. The board also submitted a summary about its sustainability efforts...

The National Dairy Council supplies scientific information to the guidelines committee... 


The Sugar Association, the sugar industry’s research arm founded in 1943, also submitted comments to the committee emphasizing foods with added sugars are no more likely to contribute to weight gain than any other sources of calories. The association’s president and CEO... advised reducing overall caloric intake rather than strict limitations on sugar intake... “Sugar makes many healthful foods palatable, which the science confirms is a positive factor in the intake levels of many essential micronutrients”...


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Modelling impacts of climate change on global food security - Dawson &al (2014) - Climatic Change

Modelling impacts of climate change on global food security - Dawson &al (2014) - Climatic Change | Food Policy |

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that nearly 900 million people on the planet are suffering from chronic hunger... projections of a rapidly growing population, coupled with global climate change, is expected to have significant negative impacts on food security.

To investigate this prospect, a modelling framework was developed... The model uses country-level Food Balance Sheets (FBS) to determine mean calories on a per-capita basis, and a coefficient of variation to account for the degree of inequality in access to food across national populations. Calorific values of individual food items in the FBS of countries were modified by revision of crop yields and population changes under the SRES A1B climate change and social-economic scenarios respectively for 2050, 2085 and 2100.

Under a no-climate change scenario... results show that 31 % (2.5 billion people by 2050) of the global population is at risk of undernourishment if no adaptation or agricultural innovation is made in the intervening years. An additional 21 % (1.7 billion people) is at risk of undernourishment by 2050 when climate change is taken into account.

However, the model does not account for future trends in technology, improved crop varieties or agricultural trade interventions, although it is clear that all of these adaptation strategies will need to be embraced on a global scale if society is to ensure adequate food supplies for a projected global population of greater than 9 billion people.


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New study on Indian government health insurance scheme shows significant reduction in mortality among the poor - World Bank (2014)

A government program to provide health insurance for catastrophic illness to households below the poverty line in Karnataka, lowered both mortality rates and out-of-pocket expenses for the residents... The program is implemented by the Karnataka government with support from the World Bank Group.

An evaluation of the program... found that: The risk of dying from conditions covered by the insurance dropped by 64 percent for residents with the insurance. Out-of-pocket health expenditures for hospitalizations due to the covered conditions dropped by 60 percent... 


The free insurance covered specific high-impact medical conditions – such as heart disease and cancer – which poor residents often die from because they are unable to pay for the necessary expensive treatments. .. 


“The results of this study are important to India as it makes choices on how to make progress towards universal health coverage... The program shows how purchasing health services for the poorest can both improve health and provide protection from impoverishment due to out-of-pocket payments for health care” ... 

“The study shows that public policy can play a strong role in reducing disparities in health due to socio-economic status. In villages without insurance, the poor had much higher mortality than the rich, but such disparities were completely eliminated in villages with insurance coverage” ...


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Here's Why We Haven't Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People - National Geographic (2014)

Here's Why We Haven't Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People - National Geographic (2014) | Food Policy |

Solving the world's looming food crisis will require big investments in agricultural research, yet public support for that is lagging.


When famine loomed in Mexico and southern Asia in the mid-20th century, agricultural crop researchers saved the day. Scientists at Mexico's International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Philippines's International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) came up with new, high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice that raised harvests and kept starvation at bay. That major advancement in crop production—financed with money from governments and the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations—increased yields of cereal grains by using improved crop seeds, irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizer, and pesticides. Led by American agronomist Norman Borlaug, this movement became known as the Green Revolution.

Most increases in agricultural production during the past half century have come from that type of innovation: boosting crop and livestock yields on land that already was being used for agriculture. Studies indicate that this growth in productivity has stemmed largely from investments in agricultural research. But yield improvements have slowed during the past 20 years, and public spending on agricultural research in developed nations such as the United States and those in Europe has flattened. That's a daunting combination at a time when the world's population is soaring toward 11 billion by 2100 and when several parts of the world... are suffering through history-making droughts... 

A 2012 report in Science based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data indicated that a decline in public support for agricultural research may be a factor in faltering yields and rising food prices. At the same time, investment in privately funded agricultural research... has dominated the agricultural research landscape. The lesson: Biotechnology and better seeds provide a key piece of the puzzle in meeting future food demand, but alone cannot solve the challenge of feeding the world.

Worried about this decline in basic research and the flattening of yield growth, scientists and research groups are calling for renewed emphasis on—and financing of—publicly funded agricultural research... the U.S. government's investment in the future of our food supply remains a tiny fraction of the public financial support for health and medical research. The National Institutes of Health receives almost $30 billion annually for its research grant-making, 150 times more than the funding for the Foundation on Food and Agricultural Research.

The vital role of agricultural research in improving harvests and farmer prosperity dominated discussions last month at the first-ever gathering of CGIAR, a consortium of the world's top agricultural researchers. During a panel discussion that focused on the role of staple crops in meeting future food needs, Tim Searchinger of the World Resources Institute starkly framed the looming challenge.

Searchinger said that to meet the projected demand for food, unless we cut down all the world's remaining forests—which obviously is not a good idea—we must increase harvests on current farmland by one-third more than harvests were increased during the Green Revolution period of the 1940s through the 1960s. CGIAR is leading a renewed emphasis on agricultural research, and late last year announced $1 billion in new funding for research at its 15 centers.

Getting higher yields of corn and soybean from U.S. farms to feed more meat animals is not the problem. The main challenge for agricultural research is to get usable knowledge to farmers in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, so they can raise enough food for themselves and others, make money, and protect the land and water on their farms... Meeting the challenge of growing more food will also require targeting areas where additional research investment can be particularly effective in increasing productivity and protecting the environment.

Paul West and researchers at the University of Minnesota, in a July study in Science, identified "leverage points" in six countries that would allow enough food to be grown for three billion more people without trashing the planet. This study builds on an earlier study published in Nature, "Solutions for a Cultivated Planet," that proposed a five-step plan for feeding the world in decades ahead while minimizing damage to the planet. National Geographic magazine featured this study in the article "Feeding Nine Billion" in the May 2014 issue, written by lead researcher Jonathan Foley... 

A new Green Revolution likely will hinge less on the kind of big research breakthroughs that defined the original Green Revolution and more on incremental examples like these that can work together and add up to better harvests and better lives for farmers... a Kenyan farmer who was able to triple and quadruple her corn and sorghum harvests after researchers helped her access information about the start of rainy season and the likelihood of flood and drought on her land. Such thinking is part of a new approach called climate-smart agriculture that seeks to help farmers respond to climate change while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture that drive climate change.

Food prices rose dramatically in late 2007 because of rising demand for grain-fed meat, faltering regional harvests, and increased diversion of corn crops for ethanol. Higher prices were good for farmers who sold crops, but around the world the rising prices hurt the least well-off who must buy food... despite projected ample grain harvests and lower prices this year, food prices globally have remained above 2010 levels ever since because of population and income growth, higher demand for food and grain-fed meat, extreme weather events affecting crops, and diversion of crops for biofuels.

The era of cheap food seems to be past, and as has been the case for a half century, food supplies and prices will be influenced by the effectiveness of agricultural research. When Norman Borlaug worked to develop high-yield "Green Revolution" wheat varieties more than 50 years ago, he was driven by a sense of urgency. We could all benefit by adopting his sense of urgency in making agricultural research a priority once again.


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More aquaculture production needed to feed a growing and urbanizing world - FAO (2014)

More aquaculture production needed to feed a growing and urbanizing world - FAO (2014) | Food Policy |

Six countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the world’s largest consumer of fish products, have come together to draft a work plan on the sustainable intensification of aquaculture for ‘blue growth’... to enhance production of aquaculture in an environmentally sound and sustainable way... 

“Rapid GDP growth and rapid urbanization in Asia and the Pacific are resulting in a rapid change in dietary habits... This has resulted in a growing demand for high-value protein-rich foods like meat and fish.” FAO predicts that increase in demand will continue well into the foreseeable future as socio-economic changes and increased urbanization keep pace... 

In order to keep up, FAO predicts Asian aquaculture production will need to increase by more than 60 percent to meet the projected consumption demand by 2030 -- just to meet the demand in Asia. The region already accounts for 90 percent of global aquaculture production and 50 percent of present global consumption.  


Aquaculture will increasingly provide fish to satisfy global demand

Based on the past trends of aquaculture in different regions, Asia is expected to make a major contribution to meet such increased global demand for fish through further aquaculture growth. China and many other nations are increasing their investments in aquaculture to help meet this growing demand... 


Aquaculture will provide close to two thirds of global food fish consumption by 2030 as catches from wild capture fisheries level off.

“There is a clear need to intensify aquaculture but it must be sustainable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable... FAO is supporting each country with its own initiatives in blue growth strategies and workplans”...


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Agricultural trade policies and food security: Is there a causal relationship? - Magrini &al (2014) - U Roma

Agricultural trade policies and food security: Is there a causal relationship? - Magrini &al (2014) - U Roma | Food Policy |

The aim of this paper is to assess the causal impact of trade policy distortions on food security. The added value of this work is twofold: i) its use of a non-parametric matching technique... to address the self selection bias; ii) its analysis of heterogeneity in treatment (by commodities) as well as in outcome (i.e. different dimensions of food security).


The results of our estimates clearly show that trade policy distortions are, overall, significantly correlated with the various dimensions of food security analysed. Both discrimination against agriculture and ’excessive’ support lead to poor performances in all dimensions of food security (availability, access, utilisation and stability).


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Oceans crucial for our climate, food and nutrition - FAO (2014)

Oceans crucial for our climate, food and nutrition - FAO (2014) | Food Policy |

Better management of the world's ocean resources is crucial to ensuring food global security, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said... Ten percent of the world's population depends on fisheries for their livelihoods, and 4.3 billion people are reliant on fish for 15 percent of their animal protein intake... for small island development states, the contributions of ocean resources to nutrition, livelihoods, and development are especially significant. Secretary Kerry emphasized that "we need to do a better job of protecting our ocean’s fish stocks, which play a critical role in economic security for millions of families and in food security for millions more."

According to the latest edition of FAO's The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is facing major challenges, ranging from harmful fishing practices to weak governance and poor management to the scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Beyond its negative effects on the status of fish stocks and the environment, IUU fishing brings with it very high monetary costs as well -- to the tune of $20 billion per year... 

FAO... has launched a new "Blue Growth" initiative which "has the potential to be a leading program on the major issues related to oceans and their resources" ... The blue economy model emphasizes conservation and sustainable management, based on the premise that healthy ocean ecosystems are more productive and represent the only way to ensure sustainable ocean-based economies... The shift to sustainable and responsible oceans and fisheries management cannot wait any longer... "We have the know-how, we have the opportunity. Now is the time to act" ...


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Global Food Trade May Not Meet All Future Demand - U Virginia (2014)

Global Food Trade May Not Meet All Future Demand - U Virginia (2014) | Food Policy |

As the world population continues to grow, by about 1 billion people every 12 to 14 years since the 1960s, the global food supply may not meet escalating demand – particularly for agriculturally poor countries in arid to semi-arid regions, such as Africa’s Sahel, that already depend on imports for much of their food supply.


A... study... examines global food security and the patterns of food trade... Using production and trade data for agricultural food commodities collected by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the study reconstructs the global food trade network in terms of food calories traded among countries.


“We found that, in the period between 1986 and 2009, the amount of food that is traded has more than doubled and the global food network has become 50 percent more interconnected... International food trade now accounts for 23 percent of global food production, much of that production moving from agriculturally rich countries to poorer ones”... food production during that more than two-decade period increased by 50 percent, “providing an amount of food that would be sufficient to feed the global population with an increasing reliance on redistribution through trade.”


The study provides a detailed analysis of the role of food trade in different regions of the world, with maps showing areas of food self-sufficiency and trade dependency... most of Africa and the Middle East are not self-sufficient, but trade has improved access to food in the Middle East and in the Sahel region... that otherwise would not be able to produce enough food for its populations.


The investigators found, however, that trade has not eradicated food insufficiency in sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia. “Overall, in the last two decades there has been an increase in the number of trade-dependent countries that reach sufficiency through their reliance on trade... Those countries may become more vulnerable in periods of food shortage, such as happened during a food crises in 2008 and 2011, when the governments of some producing countries banned or limited food experts, causing anxiety in many trade-dependent countries”... 


13 agricultural products – wheat, soybean, palm oil, maize, sugars and others – make up 80 percent of the world’s diet and food trade... China is greatly increasing its consumption of meat, which already is changing land-use patterns in that country – meat production requires significantly more land area then crops... “An increase in consumption of animal products is further enhancing the human pressure on croplands and rangelands”... 

Some countries, such as the U.S. and Brazil, are “blessed” with climates and soils that are conducive to high agricultural yields, and also the technologies – industrial fertilizers, sophisticated large-scale irrigation, new resilient cultivars – and financial resources to sustain high yields, and therefore are major exporters of food to agriculturally poor nations. However, as populations grow and climate change brings currently unforeseeable changes to growing conditions, it is possible that exports to other nations could be reduced.


“The world is more interconnected than ever, and the world food supply increasingly depends on this connection... The food security for rapidly growing populations in the world increasingly is dependent on trade. In the future, that trade may not always be reliable due to uncertainties in crop yields and food price volatility resulting from climate change. Trade can redistribute food, but it cannot necessarily increase its availability.”


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Small vs. large: Which size farm is better for the planet? - WaPo (2014)

Small vs. large: Which size farm is better for the planet? - WaPo (2014) | Food Policy |

prThere’s a kind of farm that has caught the imagination of the food-conscious among us. It’s relatively small, and you know the farmer who runs it. It’s diverse, growing different kinds of crops and often incorporating livestock. It may or may not be organic, but it incorporates practices — crop rotation, minimal pesticide use, composting — that are planet-friendly. Customers are local... The vision... is a popular one. But is it a viable one? 

I talked with a passel of people who either study (agricultural economist) or live (farmer) this issue, and there were a few ideas that generated enough consensus that I’m willing to call them facts: 


1. Small, diversified farms are less efficient than large ones... 2. Small, diversified farms bring benefits to their communities... 3. Local’s market share is small... 4. Farmers selling directly to their customers aren’t making a living... 5. Farms pollute, and large, chemical-intensive commodity farms have damaged the environment... That doesn’t mean that all large farms pollute, or that no small farm does... 6. Large industrial farms grow primarily corn and soy, which consumers buy as meat and processed foods... But that’s not the farmers’ fault. They grow what the market demands. If we want to fix that, and I think we should, we’d be better off talking to the government, which determines subsidies; food manufacturers, who turn crops into what we actually eat; and consumers, who vote with their wallets... 


The idea that we should replace the large, polluting farms with the small, diversified farms ignores what might be the best solution... Small and large both have benefits. Saying we need both isn’t some kind of namby-pamby, can’t-we-all-get-along compromise. It’s the optimal system, with each kind filling a different demand.


What if advocates on each side focused on getting their own house in order? If you’re in the small camp, work on efficiency. Perhaps you can reconsider organic’s natural/synthetic line in the sand, which increases costs without benefiting either customer or environment. Down the line, think about incorporating genetically modified crop varieties that are disease- or drought-resistant. Find ways to cut back on waste. 


And those in the large, why not make some of the basic organic-style practices, like cover cropping and no-till, standard? Consider a target level of organic matter in the soil, to cut back on water use. How about strengthening the conservation practices required for farms to receive federal dollars, even linking them to results like runoff reductions or increased organic matter?


Ultimately, we all vote with our wallets, every day. The best way to get an environmentally sound system that grows healthful food is to buy healthful food from environmentally sound farms. And it doesn’t have to be farm stand kale. It could be frozen peas.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Small farms are inefficient but are more likely to grow healthful foods and might be more environmentally friendly, while large farms are sometimes environmentally unfriendly but raise large amounts of food efficiently and affordably."

>> Inefficient farms need more inputs/resources (e.g. land) to produce the same output/harvest. Whether this is "more environmentally friendly" (e.g. if they need land that otherwise could become/remain pristine nature) is very questionable... 

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Food security and food self-sufficiency in China: from past to 2050 - Ghose (2014) - Food and Energy Security

Food security and food self-sufficiency in China: from past to 2050 - Ghose (2014) - Food and Energy Security | Food Policy |

Reducing hunger and malnutrition and improving food security have come to the forefront of global political agenda. In the wake of recent spells of food price hike, national and supranational development organizations and governments have begun to express serious concerns about the world's capacity to feed its burgeoning population.

In response to the target of increasing food production by 70% in 2050, many countries are formulating their agricultural policies to promote domestic food self-sufficiency and many are building international networks for outsourcing food supply beyond national borders. In the face of massive demand for food for its growing population, China is both strengthening its food self-sufficiency strategies and relying on large-scale imports from international market which has been a major driver of food price inflation in recent years.

In China, increase in income and socioeconomic status on one hand have dramatically improved dietary intake and overall nutritional status of the population, and are creating an enormous pressure on land and water resources and natural environments on the other. Maintaining food and water security and for its huge population with its limited resources while at the same time sustaining the economic growth momentum are offering significant challenges to China's macroeconomic prospects.

China's domestic food production and self-sufficiency status have certain repercussions on the volatility of global agri-food market and food security in food-import and food-aid-dependent countries. The objectives of this study is to provide an in-depth overview of China's food production and demand scenario... to show recent trends in food production and consumption and the impacts on global food market... major challenges with a brief discussion on policy implication.


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Asset Holdings and Undernutrition of Young Children: Evidence from China - Jin (2014) - WUSTL

Undernutrition is an underlying determinant of 45% of all childhood deaths annually, resulting in 3.1 million deaths to children less than five years globally. The adverse effects of undernutrition, especially chronic undernutrition, could cause impaired physical growth, mental development retardation, low productivity and poverty during adulthood, and undernutrition of next generation.


Worldwide, over 200 million children are undernourished. Thus, there is an imperative to identify effective preventive actions or interventions for child undernutrition. Studies have documented links between undernutrition and low income, but few has tackling the causation from assets to child nutrition.


The study proposed an asset-based framework for alleviating undernutrition. It is hypothesized that assets could increase child nutrition via improving house food security, child care, household environment, and access to health services. The study pools Wave 2004 and 2009 of China Health and Nutrition Survey and testifies the hypotheses... Nutritional status is indicated using international growth standards for anthropometry, measured by height-for-age z score (HAZ), weight-for-age z score (WAZ), and weight-for-height (WHZ) z score, while the wealth index is obtained by principal component analysis as the proxy of assets.


Findings... suggest that assets have a positive impact on HAZ or chronic malnutrition, mainly via household food security, child dietary intake, and infections.... The employment status and education level of parents are also reported significantly associated with the key constructs on the pathways to child nutrition... The study suggests the importance of combining asset-based interventions with other poverty and nutrition strategies to prevent and alleviate undernutrition...


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Back agriculture to get the most out of aid to Africa - SciDev (2014)

Back agriculture to get the most out of aid to Africa - SciDev (2014) | Food Policy |

European countries devote small percentages of their national income to international aid, but these add up to colossal amounts... How can governments ensure they are getting the most bang for their buck and actually contribute to sustainable solutions for the world’s poor?

Escaping the poverty trap begins with having enough food on your table and enough money in your pocket. For more than 500 million smallholder farmers all over the world, this means producing enough on two hectares (or less) of land to eat, and also having surplus to sell... 

Investment in agriculture is about twice as effective for poverty reduction as investment in any other sector. This is why, if Western donors want to make the most impact on the ground, they must put their money into agricultural innovations.

An online tool developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)... allows policymakers to identify which technologies or practices... will do most to improve yields in their region, taking predicted climate change conditions into account...


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Opinion: Want to Make a Dent in World Hunger? Build Better Roads - National Geographic (2014)

Opinion: Want to Make a Dent in World Hunger? Build Better Roads - National Geographic (2014) | Food Policy |

When I was a 26-year-old, brand-new American foreign service officer... I was assigned as a district development adviser to eight villages in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. There I learned the professional lesson of my life, one that would be reinforced time after time over the next five decades: Rural roads improve lives. It was 1968, and the Green Revolution... was spreading to Southeast Asia in the form of IR8, a "miracle rice" with a shortened growing cycle.

While agricultural extension agents urged farmers in my district to plant the new IR8 rice, engineers were upgrading the rutted, largely impassable farm-to-market road that linked the eight villages. They finished the road through half of the villages. Everywhere the new road went, farmers began using the new rice with amazing, almost overnight, results.

Farmers could now harvest two crops of IR8 rice per year. Each new crop produced a higher yield than the six-month floating varieties that had been planted for hundreds of years and had provided barely enough grain for subsistence. For the first time, smallholder farmers had a surplus crop and surplus income. Families could now invest in metal sheeting to improve the roofs on their homes and purchase better clothing and more nutritious food for their children. The children stayed in school longer... Child mortality dropped, as mothers with sick children could get them medical attention early enough...

The most amazing change, however, was the impact that the new upgraded road had on security. Villages once beset by insurgents and underground guerrillas now became safe to travel both day and night. As the new road opened the way for commerce, information, and opportunities, young people no longer were enticed to join political military movements and uprisings... 

I told this story to then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He... said every one of his commanders in Afghanistan says the same thing: "Where the road ends, the insurgency begins." When I met Norman Borlaug... I told him that I had been a foot soldier in his Green Revolution and about my experiences with rural roads. When Norm slammed his fist on the table and shouted, "ROADS!" I was filled with apprehension. But he then went into a long exposition about the critical importance of roads. In fact, he had used the money from his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize to build a road in Mexico...  

Today, road penetration in Africa is only about 35 percent. In most other parts of the world, where there are lower rates of hunger and malnutrition, road penetration is 95 percent... "You can't take it to the farmer without good roads."


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Food security brings economic growth — not the other way around - Devex (2014)

Food security brings economic growth — not the other way around - Devex (2014) | Food Policy |

Economic growth is only sustainable if all countries have food security. Without a country-owned and country-driven food security strategy, there will be obstacles and additional costs to global-, regional- and country-level economic growth.


Countries with very high levels of poverty and chronic malnutrition face limitations in human capital development, which is required to achieve sustainable growth. High levels of poverty, inequality and chronic malnutrition force governments to invest a significant chunks of their resources in short-term fixes like social safety net programs and conditional cash transfers. High rates of malnutrition can lead to a loss in gross domestic product of as much as 4 to 5 percent... 


Food security not only carries significant benefits for human health, but also serves as the basis to achieve sustained economic growth. That’s why it’s essential that we understand that a food security strategy needs to be seen as more than a single sector issue — it requires a combination of coordinated actions in various sectors. We are talking about actions in finance, agriculture, health and nutrition, infrastructure, and other sectors.


Likewise, economic growth alone will not solve problems like chronic malnutrition and stunting.... a 10 percent increase in economic growth reduces chronic malnutrition by only 6 percent. This asymmetry illustrates that economic growth by itself won’t resolve the problem of chronic malnutrition, which is a key variable in any food security strategy.


Second, we know that economic growth can have negative effects, too. For example, a 10 percent increase in economic growth is correlated with a 7 percent increase in obesity among women. This shows the critical nature of targeting tax and fiscal instruments to optimize the consumption of nutritious foods and minimize the use of foods that cause obesity, another common form of malnutrition... Achieving food security and reducing chronic malnutrition requires additional multisectoral policies aimed at reducing inequalities and targeting vulnerable populations... 

Without stable and long-lasting food security, there will be a continued negative effect on human capital and this will raise government fiscal costs, with negative consequences on government public spending. This also will lead to stagnated economic growth in the long term. Thus, food security is central to both short- and long-term economic growth and it needs to be a central part in a larger cross-sectoral strategy at the national, regional and global levels... 


Finally, we must understand that investments geared toward achieving food and nutrition security must be integrated into the larger public policy debate, particularly in countries facing budgetary restrictions and obstacles to development on multiple fronts... linking these targets with other cross-sectoral programs where the efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditures are held accountable will play a key role in achieving long-term, sustainable economic growth...


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China maps out agricultural consolidation plan - China Daily (2014)

China maps out agricultural consolidation plan - China Daily (2014) | Food Policy |

China is rolling out a major rural land reform which aims to promote large-scale farming and consolidate unused small patches of farm land under larger cooperatives. The reform scheme comes as China is experiencing a continuing process of industrialization and urbanization, in which more farmers are migrating to cities for jobs, leaving behind their contracted farm lands over which they have use rights. "More and more farmers see agriculture as a secondary job... Some lands are even left unattended"... 

The transition has triggered rising concerns over food security facing the world's most populous country. The key solution is to promote the concentrated use of farm lands, nurture diversified agricultural businesses, and ensure that agriculture is also a profitable business... "The transfer of rural land use rights as well as concentrated agricultural development is a significant issue for China's rural development. It is also a key agenda in China's deepening of rural reforms"... 

The number of Chinese migrant workers from rural regions in 2013 reached almost 270 million, which accounted for 45 percent of the total work force in rural areas. Meanwhile, 170 million migrant workers spent more than six months outside their hometowns last year... Rural land transfer has also sped up in recent years. As of the end of June this year, 380 million mu (25 million hectares) of rural arable land had been transferred, which accounted for 28.8 percent of the nation's total contracted arable land by farmers, up 20 percentage points compared to year 2008.

"As more lands are transferred, farmers who remain in the fields have more land to manage. This creates an opportunity for them to introduce advanced agricultural technologies and equipment, paving the way for modern agriculture" ... In China, urban land is owned by the state and rural land is normally under collective ownership. While gradual reforms since the 1980s saw the trading of urban land evolve into a vigorous property market, land in the countryside has remained largely static as farmers mostly have rights to use, but cannot directly trade or mortgage them.


"In most regions, the time is actually already ripe for farmers to transfer their land use rights"... However, there are challenges in carrying out the reform, in terms of how to protect farmers' land rights, enhance management of land transfer and offer support to new farmers...


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Recent expansion of Africa’s agricultural trade bodes well for food security, resilience - IFPRI (2014)

Recent expansion of Africa’s agricultural trade bodes well for food security, resilience - IFPRI (2014) | Food Policy |

Africa’s share of world agricultural trade has increased in recent years after decades of decline, and trade among African countries has been on the rise. Both trends have boosted Africans’ ability to access food and distribute it to the neediest during hard times... 


Africa’s agricultural exports accounted for 3.3 percent of world agricultural trade in 2009-2013, up from 1.2 percent in 1996-2000. While still small, the jump represents a threefold increase. Moreover, Africa’s agricultural exports have quadrupled in value terms and doubled in caloric terms. And the share of intra-African trade has doubled: nearly 34 percent of agricultural exports originating from African countries now go to other African countries.

The findings are significant because agricultural trade in general, and intra-African trade, in particular, can be a critical element to ensuring that the poor and vulnerable are able to remain resilient in the face of economic shocks and severe weather events... ”Now countries need to sustain the policies and institutional reforms and scale up the investments that made this change possible.”

The report attributed Africa’s growing share of world agricultural exports to improvements in trade infrastructure, such as telecommunications, success in integrating global and regional markets through preferential trade agreements, improved economic growth, and an increase in world prices of some raw materials. It also found that diversity of crops had helped boost trade.. 

Fueled by both economic growth and population growth, agricultural imports have risen considerably faster than exports. As a result, the agricultural trade deficit rose from less than US$1 billion to nearly $40 billion. This highlights the tremendous challenge facing African countries and the need to deepen the reforms and scale up the efforts that have accelerated exports over the last 10 years...  

The report’s findings show that African countries have become more competitive in regional markets and that faster growth of demand in these markets has also contributed positively to trade performance by African countries. The findings also show that decreasing barriers to regional trade would further boost the recent growth of intra-African trade and allow countries to take advantage of the stabilizing effects that often accompany expanded regional trade.


Domestic food markets can be stabilized by expanding regional trade to buffer shocks to individual countries. Regional trade can help mitigate the effects of weather shocks in any one country. The report shows that... four out of every ten years), the impact of losses in maize production due to drought might have been mitigated by trade.

Trade policies should be aimed at reducing transport and other transaction costs and increasing agricultural productivity to improve the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable... For instance... reducing overall trading costs by 10 percent would raise regional cereals exports by about 20 percent on average over the next 15 years. The impact would be at least 2.5 times that much in the case of major staples such as roots and tubers. Raising yields by the same magnitude would have an even bigger impact on regional exports, with increases of at least 30-40 percent across nearly all commodities.


Specifically, the report recommends that governments should: Expand markets with better transport infrastructure to make it easier to move crops from surplus to deficit zones; Invest in science and technology to raise agricultural productivity and enhance the capacity of domestic agricultural sectors to supply local markets and adjust to shocks; Eliminate nontariff cross-border barriers to foster market integration at the domestic, regional, and international levels; and Invest in social safety net programs and adopt more conducive policies to mitigate the potential destabilizing effects of trade...


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Campaign to promote iron-rich beans launched in Rwanda - New Times (2014)

Campaign to promote iron-rich beans launched in Rwanda - New Times (2014) | Food Policy |

A campaign to sensitise the public about the health benefits of consuming iron-rich beans... was organised by Harvest Plus, an international non-governmental organisation, in partnership with the Rwanda Agriculture Board... to create awareness among the public on how iron-rich beans can help improve their nutrition and health... 

The campaign targets 30,000 individuals in five districts... It also features an exhibition and sale of high iron bean varieties and vitamin A maize cobs set to be introduced on the market in the near future... Iron-deficiency remains ‘fairly high’ in the country... A baseline survey conducted by the organisation revealed that 33 per cent of Rwandans are iron-deficient... 

To address the issue, ten varieties of bio-fortified beans were bred for high, low and mid-altitude regions... “We looked at a staple crop that could help change people’s nutritional status and is generally acceptable” ... Beans remain one of the most consumed staple crops in Rwanda... the high iron bean varieties have more than 40 per cent of iron content, far more than the traditional beans. They also have higher zinc content and are disease resistant.

Over 700, 000 households across the country are already growing the improved bean varieties. The official said the bio-fortified varieties are available on the local market, mainly through a network of agro-dealers across the country... “The beans were bred here and adapted to the Rwandan climate”... 


Apart from improving the nutritional status of households, the beans are also set to increase farmers’ productivity and welfare... The climbing beans can produce up to four tonnes per one hectare while bush beans can produce up to only two metric tonnes per hectare... “If grown using modern agriculture practices, the beans can help improve farmers’ yields, thus ensuring food security. Farmers will also have surplus to sell and that will help improve their livelihoods” ... the bio-fortified beans will help curb malnutrition in the country.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Ten varieties of bio-fortified beans were bred for high, low and mid-altitude regions... The beans were bred here and adapted to the Rwandan climate..." >> Biofortification doesn't mean the distribution of one-size-fits-all crops... 

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Building agricultural research - Kennedy (2014) - Science

Nine billion people are expected to inhabit Planet Earth by 2050. Without agricultural research, there is little hope of sustaining this population surge, given that arable land and water supplies are fixed commodities. Yet for decades the agricultural sector has suffered from neglect. If we want to combat new strains of pests that destroy crops, find new crop varieties enriched in nutritional value, improve yields, develop resistance to disease and drought, and provide environmentally sensitive cultivation practices, then agricultural research must be a priority. Why isn't it?


In the 1970s... the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used “formula” funding on a regional or commodity-focused basis, largely through the public landgrant universities. That process yielded key advances, increasing our ability to feed more people: improved fertilizers, artificial irrigation, harvest mechanization, and hybridization. But many researchers believed that advances in basic science would provide new ways to revolutionize agricultural production... A modest competitive grant program was launched then, but its survival in future budget cycles turned out to be perilous. 


What happened? Over the past 35 years, new ventures in U.S. public investment in agriculture research and development confronted a steady decline. At the same time, great advances in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and genetics were being made through increased funding to other agencies for competitive merit-based research grants. Because of the earlier history, agricultural research is now in a deficit position with respect to the infrastructure, human capital, and policies needed to address the challenges of food security.


A real revolution in agricultural research is possible if today's deeper knowledge, new tools, and advanced capacities could be effectively blended. Fortunately... Congress created the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within USDA in 2006 as a means to modernize the management of fundamental agricultural research... Despite this success, the current level of funding for USDA falls short of the opportunity presented by the agricultural sciences... The much-needed revolutions in agriculture can only come about through the investments that we make now. Nine billion people will, we hope, reap the benefits of today's wise decisions.


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Counting the Hungry - NYT (2014)

Counting the Hungry - NYT (2014) | Food Policy |

The people suffering from hunger are not our relatives, friends, co-workers; they probably don’t read this paper. We don’t know them, but at the very least we ought to know how many of them there are, because policy and aid decisions depend on that number; because very often their lives depend on that number. But we don’t know, because the hunger statistics reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization are flawed.

Every year, around this time... the F.A.O. publishes its report on hunger — or, as it is now called, “food insecurity.” What most people remember are the numbers: whether hunger went up or down, and by how much. But hunger statistics are confusing. It is very hard to calculate with precision how many men and women do not eat enough. Most live in countries where weak states are incapable of accounting for all their citizens, and the international organizations that try to come up with head counts must use statistical calculations...

The F.A.O. makes an effort: by studying agricultural inventories; food imports and exports; the local uses of food; economic hardship and social inequality. From there it determines the estimated availability of food per capita. The difference between required and available calories gives the F.A.O. its number of undernourished people. This sounds like a sensible method, but it is entirely malleable. And so its results can be adjusted according to the needs of the moment.

This month, the F.A.O. reported jubilantly that the total number of chronically undernourished people went down to 805 million — 209 million fewer than in 1990-92. These numbers carry a particular weight: They will be the last published before 2015, when the United Nations Millennium Development Goals are supposed to be completed. According to the report, these new numbers show that the organization’s aspiration “of halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 is within reach.”

This sounds like great news, but it’s not so simple. According to the development goals, the rate of hunger in 1990 is the one that’s supposed to be halved. But that 1990 number has been adjusted several times, usually making the current numbers look more favorable by comparison.

It’s a long story. At the World Food Conference in Rome, in 1974, when Henry A. Kissinger famously stated that “within a decade, no child will go to bed hungry,” F.A.O. experts estimated that the number of hungry people in developing regions was close to 460 million, and that in 10 years it could reach 800 million. That prediction was close: In a 1992 report, the F.A.O. stated that there were 786 million hungry people in 1988-90. It was a dramatic increase, a serious blow.

In that report, the F.A.O. revised its previous calculations, saying that its statistical method had been wrong. Now, the F.A.O.’s experts said, they believed that in 1970 there weren’t 460 million hungry people in the developing world, but more than twice that number, 941 million. This, in turn, allowed them to say that the 1989 figure of 786 million did not represent a dramatic increase but, in fact, a decrease of 155 million: quite an achievement.

The changes kept coming. In 2004, the F.A.O. said that the number of undernourished people in developing regions had reached 815 million. This would have seemed like a disappointing increase from the 786 million figure. But in that same report, the F.A.O. revised its 1990 numbers once again, and stated that in 1990 there hadn’t been 786 million but rather 823 million hungry people...

In the F.A.O.’s 2011 report, the number of hungry people in the developing world in 1990 was 833 million... Then it was 980 million in the 2012 report, after the F.A.O. experts revised their methodology once again. By 2013, those 980 million hungry people had become 995 million... 

It is possible to assume that statistical methods — factoring in new population, caloric and economic data — may be much better now than 30 years ago. It is harder to imagine that they have changed so much in the last three years as to add more than 160 million people... You could say they are just numbers, abstractions; they wouldn’t really matter much if they were just bad propaganda figures. The problem is that they are, in fact, canonical figures: the kind that are used to determine funds and priorities.

This is not conscious corruption. It’s a symptom of an institutional culture that has to prove it is achieving important progress. The 1990 change justifies the United Nations’ efforts and jobs, as much as it quiets our consciences. And it has a double economic effect: It convinces donors that their money has been fruitfully invested, and it justifies the reductions of these investments. International food aid, after peaking at $5.5 billion in 2008, decreased to $4 billion in 2012... 

So maybe next time, when we are told that hunger is being defeated, it would be wise to keep asking where and how and whose. After all, these figures help define the lives of hundreds of millions — wait, how many hundreds of millions? — of the victims of persistent hunger, the greatest outrage of our time.


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

While the "revisions" of the FAO's estimates of the number of undernourished people seem politically opportune (and may well be so), they may nevertheless reflect reality better: 


Using an entirely different approach [1,2] to measure the burden of hunger (not looking at food availability but at actual health outcomes of hunger), I determined that -- compared to 1990 -- the burden of hunger had already been halved in 2010. My findings therefore corroborate the last revision of the FAO's estimate. 


However, one shortcoming of the FAO's measure is to look only at undernourished people (i.e. those who get too few calories), but to ignore people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (i.e. who lack essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals). The burden of this "hidden hunger" is nevertheless almost as high as the burden of (chronic) hunger. That is, many more people suffer from (chronic and hidden) hunger than the FAO estimates indicate! 


Also, as rough approximations show, the annual global cost of hunger could be as high as $2 trillion(!) in terms of foregone national incomes, i.e. if hunger was eradicated, world income would be so much higher -- while addressing hunger would cost only a fraction thereof and, therefore, make hunger eradication not only a humanitarian imperative but also a sensible investment to boost overall social welfare and economic productivity.  

[1]  Stein A.J. (2013). "Re-thinking the measurement of undernutrition in a broader health context." IFPRI Discussion Paper 1298. Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.

>> Especially see Fig. 5.1 on p. 13. 


[2] Stein A.J. (accepted). "Rethinking the measurement of undernutrition in a broader health context: Should we look at possible causes or actual effects?" Global Food Security. To be published at:


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Food security and the evaluation of risk - Smyth &al (2014) - Global Food Sec

Achieving global food security over the next 40 years will require sustained increases in agricultural productivity. This will require increased investment in agricultural R&D. If there are systemic reasons why agricultural R&D is inhibited, they warrant investigation.

New products and technologies require regulatory approval if they are to be commercialized. Approval, or not, is based on risk assessment with only those products that pass the risk assessment contributing to productivity improvements. If the likelihood of meeting the acceptable risk threshold is reduced, investment in R&D will be negatively impacted.

This paper investigates the changing methods of risk assessment for agricultural products and notes a deterioration in the likelihood that risk assessment exercises will be completed successfully. Genetically modified products are used as an example.

The changing nature of risk assessments is found to be inhibiting international market access, reducing trade and, hence, making investments in productivity enhancing technologies in agriculture less interesting. Achieving future food security goals will be more difficult... 

In its attempts to deal primarily, but not exclusively, with the GM issue, the EU is attempting to broaden the way risk is defined to include a host of socio-economic factors. Given that all new technologies will create some economic losers, redefining risk assessment will make seeking approval for new technologies less predictable and transparent. This, in turn, will alter the incentives to invest in new technologies needed to meet future food security goals.


While the GM issue has been the driving force behind the moves to alter risk assessment, once the new method of risk assessment becomes part of accepted international procedures... it can be applied to any new technology. This is a different issue than the EU simply refusing to approve GM-crops - which also alters the incentives to invest and has been written about previously.


The politicization of risk does not deliver either safer food or technological improvements. Science-based risk assessments have been successful in denying the commercialization of unsafe foods while politicized risk assessments continue to rule that consuming GM foods is a danger to one's health or the environment.


lf this regulatory divergence meant only that consumers in some rich countries have fewer food choices, the making of this kind of Type 2 error would not be a particular focus for concern. The EU has also made the granting of the most preferred market access for the products of developing countries... contingent on accession to the CPB – meaning that the non-scientific risk assessment methods are spread to developing countries that may most need productivity enhancing innovations.


Given the long term negative impacts on technological improvement in a period when concerns regarding future food security are high, a re-assessment of politicized risk seems prudent. While the focus of this paper has been on one particular agricultural technology... the real danger lies in the potential acceptance of politicized risk more generally. Once it is applied to one technology and accepted as a guiding principle, it can be extended to other technologies.


New technologies will always have their doubters and detractors. They inevitably create potential 'losers' who have a vested interest in having
a technology denied. While future food security may not be dependent on fully exploiting the potential of agbiotech, it does depend on technological advancement. Formally allowing non-scientific factors to enter into risk assessments gives process legitimacy to some factors that are normally relegated to political pandering to protectionist vested interests.


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Africa's hidden hunger - EurActiv (2014)

Africa's hidden hunger - EurActiv (2014) | Food Policy |

Though great efforts have been made to tackle hunger in Africa over the past decades... the ravages of serious malnutrition and hunger are not always visible... “hidden hunger,” shows itself in other ways – but it can be just as devastating and deadly. And while deaths from many other diseases, including acute malnutrition, have declined, hidden hunger remains pervasive... 


In Africa, hunger remains the leading cause of death in children, accounting for half of all deaths of children under the age of five and killing more than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined.In fact, many scientific studies have shown that a malnourished child is much more likely to contract an infection, to suffer from other illnesses, and to suffer from them longer...


Indeed, childhood malnutrition is now confirmed to be the leading cause of the global disease burden, with the World Health Organisation attributing to it 45% of all deaths under the age of five in 2011... The long-term damage caused by malnutrition has a domino effect, impeding educational achievement, and ultimately, hobbling national economies. Addressing this ongoing crisis requires money – an estimated $10 billion per year – and new and better strategies to bring life-saving solutions to the mothers and children who most need them.


But the cost looks far less daunting when one considers the cost of hunger. UNICEF estimates that the cost of Africa’s child malnutrition is $25 billion a year. And this is not the whole story. Malnutrition costs an estimated $3.5 trillion every year to the global economy, owing to loss of productivity and higher health-care costs.


To meet this challenge, save lives, and improve economies, Africa needs a comprehensive strategy and increased investment in agriculture. The Africa Union has declared 2014 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa, and the continent’s agriculture sector is expected to grow significantly. In theory, that should improve overall nutrition; but increased investment in agriculture is not a panacea. We need to concentrate on building nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs that include small-scale farmers, households, women, and children...


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