Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Global hunger and resilience – one part of the puzzle

The International Food Policy ResearchInstitute (IFPRI) has recently released the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI). The GHI uses an amalgamated score across three measures to rank countries and regions on a 100 point scale. The higher the index score the more dire the levels of hunger or to put it another way, the greater the prevalence of food insecurity within a country. 

The three measures – each equally weighted – are:
  • Proportion of people who are undernourished
  • Proportion of children younger than 5 years who are underweight
  • Child mortality rates for children under 5 years

Data is collected from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, national demographic and health surveys and IFPRI’s own estimates. One of the striking features when looking at a world map of how countries ranked are those countries where such data is not even collected, for example Papua New Guinea.
Screen shot of Global Hunger Index interactive map
Source: IFPRI (http://www.ifpri.org/tools/2013-ghi-map)

 In 2013 the GHI ranks 120 countries into one of five categories of hunger
Low hunger levels
Score below 5 out of 100
42 countries
Moderate hunger levels
From 5 to 9.9
22 countries
Serious hunger levels
From 10 to 19.9
37 countries
Alarming hunger levels
From 20 to 29.9
16 countries
Extremely alarming levels
Above 30
3 countries

The index also compiles regional figures and a global average. The global GHI for 2013 is 13.8 (out of 100), representing a fall from the 1990 GHI score of 20.8. The significant driver of this fall is found in the declining trend from 1990 to 2013 in the share of underweight children under 5 years old. This highlights how changes in one measure can and do influence the index.

As an example, on a regional scale East and Southeast Asia have more than halved its GHI measure, as has Latin America and the Caribbean. In both of these regional examples all three measures have dropped at a proportional rate (or very close to it) against each other. By contrast in Sub-Saharan Africa rates of child mortality and children underweight have fallen significantly, but the total measure of undernourished people has not fallen at a commensurate rate. A significant fall in one or two indicators does lower the GHI score, but at a slower rate than consistent and proportionately similar falls across all three indicators.

Other advances in health and governance also contribute to GHI scores. The GHI report authors cite the changes in Sub-Saharan Africa where fewer civil wars, advances in HIV/AIDS medicines and controls, and decreases in the spread and prevalence of malaria have lowered child mortality. These gains have been delivered in conjunction with immunisation, improved ante-natal care, more people accessing clean water and better sanitisation. While these all contribute positively to lowered child mortality the impact on levels of undernourishment is lesser. Sub-Saharan Africa has made significant gains in many of these areas, however *undernourishment remains a challenge.

What emerges from the GHI report is the need to ensure that development addresses the full range of factors at play in determining hunger. Progress can be made across many areas, but if one measure lags behind, the impact on hunger and the ability of poor people to escape poverty, can be reduced.

For the poor, gains from development initiatives can easily be lost due to a range of events or shocks. The GHI report draws on recent thinking in the development community relating to the idea of resilience – how well people can ride out the events or shocks that impact on them. The report articulates a case for building resilience, citing the example of the Sahel region of Africa. 
A case for rebuilding resilience: Recurrent crises in recent years, including a combination of sporadic rainfall, locust infestation, crop shortages, and high and volatile food prices have negatively affected food and nutrition security in the region, eroding the capacity of already vulnerable groups and weakening their resilience to shocks.
Combinations of factors increase the reach of such shocks. For the poor, who spend from 50-80% of any income to buy food, riding out shocks is difficult. The higher the price of basic commodities, the less food the poor can afford, and consume. The report does not define resilience, as a consensus on what this means in development contexts is still lacking. It does, however, link resilience agendas to choices in delivering policy and on the ground initiatives.

For poor smallholder farmers and their dependents—an estimated 500 million people worldwide—resilience is vital. Shocks can be lasting (droughts for example) and can amplify productivity challenges. Where farmers are seeking to grow enough food for their families on fragile or marginal land, resilience helps insulate against shocks. Increased productivity, aligned to agricultural diversification, is one component of this resilience. The more smallholders have access to the types of research gains that help drive productivity, the better. Publicly funded agricultural research plays a key role in delivering both diversification and productivity for smallholders.

The GHI report outlines a set of recommendations to further a resilience agenda.

The GHI report links a proposed resilience agenda to food and nutrition security, as a building block to ending hunger. Building resilience has a role to play in shaping global responses to poverty reduction. For poor farmers access to research is vital to any ideas or approaches to building resilience. As an idea resilience becomes more valuable – dare we say resilient – when aligned to a range of development initiatives, designed and implemented within the constraints and realities that the poor face each day.

*Note that undernourishment is defined as consuming fewer than around 1,800 kilocalories a day, considered by health experts to be the minimum intake that most people require to live a healthy, productive life. Today an estimated 870 million people worldwide remain undernourished.

Warren Page, ACIAR Communications

More information: 
IFPRI 2013 Global Hunger Index online (includes links to the full publication, briefs, media kits and other resources) 

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