From economic growth to food security and better nutrition

This years’ report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) published by FAO, WFP and IFAD introduced a new and improved methodology for assessing the number of the chronically food insecure and undernourished on this planet.

These new figures are significantly lower than previous estimates, however, with almost 870 million people living in food insecurity, the total numbers still remain remarkably and intolerably high. The food insecure population is still growing in absolute terms in some regions and we are still very far away from reaching the World Food Summit goals of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the number of people who suffer from hunger.

The report shows that in the last decade economic growth has taken place in all regions and provides evidence showing that this growth can be a powerful driver for increased food security when translated into agricultural growth and in particular when it is inclusive and reaches smallholder farmers and women.

However, the impact of economic growth on food insecurity reduction has not been the same everywhere. While some regions have fared particularly well, other seem to lack behind and have not have been able to fully capitalize on the potential created by the growth their economies experienced as it seems that that growth has failed at reaching the poor.

To reduce poverty and hunger, growth needs to reach the poor and the increased income needs to generate demand for the assets controlled by them. Poor households need to be able to use the additional economic assets to improve their diets both in quantity and quality.

Some elements that have been identified as being instrumental for facilitating a pro-poor, inclusive economic growth are education, social protection, good governance and purposeful public action and governments need to use the additional resources generated by economic growth to put them into place.
However, as conditions vary from country to country we need to better understand how good governance and social protection have to function to translate economic growth into improved food security and nutrition.

Given the diverse background of the FSN Forum members, we would like to learn from your experience and ask you to share with us your views on the following issues.

  1. Can you share specific experiences in which social protection and better food security governance have led to advances in local food security and improved nutrition?
  2. Can you tell us about policies that led to better nutritional status as a result of investment into agriculture?
  3. How can we mobilize the political will necessary to put policies for hunger reduction and improved nutrition higher on the list of political priorities?

We look forward to receiving your inputs.

Thank you very much

Juan Carlos García y Cebolla
Mauricio Rosales

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Final Year Economics Students (group 5)

Peter Steele well said. We particularly like the section that focuses on “Getting the priorities right”.

On that note here are suggestions on how can we mobilize the political will necessary to put policies for hunger reduction and improved nutrition higher on the list of political priorities.

We believe personally, that we must first carry out investigations among persons of the various economic statii in society beginning from the rich downwards. Then we make a vast comparison between the different classes hence assessing the nutritional situation and views currently in our society. From this we can then involved in the sensitization process and targeting the different media forums. Creating advertisements, welcoming publicity and making the public aware of the importance of proper nutrition for the biological systemic functions would be our next step.  While doing this we can then highlight the results of your recent finding on the nutritional views and show the adverse effects of not legitimatizing nutritional importance through legal declaration. In doing this, we will need the support of the business community and nutritionist to petition for this stand point.  In doing so you create a substantial strain on the government to pay emphasis on the issue at hand and draft policies for hunger reduction and improved nutrition moving it up the list of countries and political priorities.

George Kent Department of Political Science, University of Hawai'i, Estados Unidos de ...

FSN Friends –

As the opening statement by Juan Carlos García y Cebolla and Mauricio Rosales reminded us, The State of Food Insecurity in the World for 2012 shows that economic growth “can be a powerful driver for increased food security when translated into agricultural growth and in particular when it is inclusive and reaches smallholder farmers and women.”

This language acknowledges that the linkage between economic growth and increased food security is not tight. It depends on whether those in power are genuinely motivated to increase food security, especially among the poorest sections in the population. And it depends on the successful implementation of programs favoring the poor. Thus, as Juan Carlos and Mauricio have emphasized, their third question is particularly important:

"How can we mobilize the political will necessary to put policies for hunger reduction and improved nutrition higher on the list of political priorities?"

This challenge is especially difficult when the political will of the central government to end hunger is completely absent. However, where the will is present but weak, there are options. It might be possible to find means for addressing hunger that are not difficult or costly for the central government.

This approach could mesh nicely with ideas that emphasize local food sovereignty and self-reliance. Instead of thinking in terms of central governments providing food directly to needy people or organizing large-scale projects, the emphasis could shift to having the central government facilitate local initiatives.

To illustrate, central governments could encourage the creation of local food policy councils that would take initiatives to improve local food systems. This practice is already widespread in several high income countries. Central governments could also encourage local exchanges of information on farming practices, marketing, household food production, nutrition education, etc. The policies of central governments could shift to place greater emphasis on local rather than national food systems.

Many things could be done, at little cost, to encourage community-based nutrition security, so that people come to depend more on each other than on the central government. Many different kinds of food and nutrition projects could be implemented locally, and also managed locally, through programs that would build local capacities.

Food insecurity at the local level could be diagnosed, and ways might be found to strengthen communities so that serious nutrition problems do not arise. Rather than designing projects to fix problems, it might be possible to make changes in communities so that basic nutrition is no longer a problem. Achieving this would mean that the hunger problem has been attacked at its roots.

Aloha, George Kent

Final Year Economics Students (group 4)

To continue or contribution to the discussion, here is our take on the third question posed:

How can we mobilize the political will necessary to put policies for hunger reduction and improved nutrition higher on the list of political priorities?

To mobilize political will, there must be an adoption into national strategy, the intended goals of improving key areas such as hunger and poverty reduction. If national strategies, in terms of the development goals of a nation, are geared towards the alleviation of hunger and poverty - symptoms of the underprivileged in society - at a broad level, then there can be significant assurance of policy implementation to favor the goal of hunger reduction.

Governments have at their disposal, the shared knowledge of the various policies (and their shortcomings) that can be implemented in tandem with agricultural policies based on the objectives of food security and food entitlement. Economic growth in less developed countries can be achieved, for example, using the basic agricultural policies (price policy, marketing policy, credit policy, mechanization policy, land reform policy, research policy and irrigation policy), that intend to improve welfare at a broad level. However, these policies must also be married to the goals of improving nutrition, especially for the underpriveleged. The 'traditional' measures of nutrition indicate very ephemerally, the standard of nutrition that is prevalent in populations under study. Simple caloric intake measures  do not suggest overall improvement in nutrition. It therefore follows that the deliverables of the broader agricultural programs, should include improvements in wider measures of nutritional intake. 'Agricultural policy' and 'nutrition policy' need to be interchangeable terms in the strategic outlook and rhetoric of policy makers. 

EconomistViews On-The-Go University of Guyana, Guyana

Hello everyone.

Considering the first question, close emphasis was placed in examining the strategies used by the Government of Guyana in their quest to improve the Agriculture Production in Guyana. Over the years several constraints to the Agriculture Sector have been recognized and highlighted and as such programmes have been developed. Firstly, in 2010 the “Guyana Food and Nutrition Strategy” was developed. This strategy is as a result of joint collaboration between the Government of Guyana and key agencies and aim at generally promoting short term development strategies so as to ensure availability and access to food and nutrition especially to vulnerable groups such as women and children. 
In 2008, shortly after the rise in world food prices the Government of Guyana lauched the “Grow more Food Campaign”. This campaign basically provides initiative and encouragement to every Guyanese to strive to be self-sufficient by employing simple means such as having a basic kitchen garden at home. Initiatives employed in this strategy included the distribution of a variety of seeds and agricultural supplies necessary to further self-sufficiency. Added to this, there are also numerous other projects developed under the Grow More Campaign which includes the “Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Development (READ)” which is basically providing support in the form of Equipment, technology and in some cases micro financing. Another project launched in 2009 was the “Agricultural Export Diversification Programme (ADP)” which seeks to increase exports of food from Guyana and to decrease instability within the Agriculture Sector. It focused on the increase of non-traditional agriculture in 3 areas- Aquaculture, Livestock and Fruits and Vegetable”.  This Initiative seeks to improved the Agriculture Export Environment and Facilitation; health and food safety practices including Internationa Best Practices in Sanitary Practices improved Drainage and Irrigation Mechanisms and generally create an enabling enivornment that will promote Agricultural Exporting.  The Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP) is another such project implemented in 2009 which focus on development of agriculture in rural areas. Also in 2009 the Ministry of Agriculture launched the Rice and Beans Project which targeted the increase in rice and beans production in hinterland communities. The Rice and Beans Project’s main objective is to ensure food security in communities which are often remotely located and as such prone to food insecurities. 
Can you tell us about policies that led to better nutritional status as a result of investment into agriculture?

The goal of food security related policies should seek to assist smallholder farmers be more productive, with the larger goal of reducing poverty and to ensure that all have the nutrition they require for a healthy life. It should be recognized that combating under nutrition requires assistance from many sectors, as well as agriculture. The agricultural sector can make certain that rural families have access to more food as well as a wider variety of nutritious foods.

Increased agricultural productivity can improve nutrition in many ways. At the societal level, agricultural productivity growth results in greater food availability and lower real food prices. At the smallholder farm level, productivity growth increases rural income and food availability, which enables improvements in diet. Nutrition interventions, such as the promotion of breastfeeding, in turn, ensure that increased income and food availability at the farm level are translated into better nutrition for the whole household. Nutrition interventions delivered through the agricultural sector--such as distribution of improved sweet potato varieties that are high in Vitamin A, can further strengthen the linkages between increasing agricultural production, and improving nutrition outcomes for the most nutritionally vulnerable—women and young children. This concept is increasingly at the heart of renewed efforts to make agricultural policies and programs “nutrition-sensitive.” 
Ballayram (2007) explains that some of the main health problems prevalent today are as a result of poor diets and in order to diminish this occurrence a more multi-sectorial approach is warranted. More so, Nutrition needs to be included as a dimension in poverty reduction with appropriate policies and strategies to counter the adverse effects. A variety of policy issues including land tenure, education, research and development, infrastructure, climate change adaptation and fiscal and monetary regulations may affect investment in the Agriculture Sector. For instance, as our colleagues highlighted above, Guyana has embarked on several programmes and strategies in promotion
The challenge is to improve the availability of nutritious foods and the eating habit of the varied population. In efforts to promote and increase investments within the Agro- Sector, the Government of Guyana have put policies and laws in place to offer investors numerous incentives for investing within the sector. The incentives available to investors for the Agriculture Sector includes waivers of Duty and VAT on wide range of machinery and equipment for land preparation and cultivation, vehicles to be used, agro-processing equipment, importation of agro-chemicals, outboard engines etc. Moreover, organisations such as the Guyana Office for Investment and the Guyana Marketing Corporation was establish to provide the necessary assistance to investors in an attempt to make the investment process simpler.
Final Year Economics Students (group 1)
  1. Can you tell us about policies that led to better nutritional status as a result of investment into agriculture?

Improved food security stems directly from a set of government policies that integrates the food economy into a development strategy that seeks rapid economic growth with improved income distribution (Timmer, Falcon and Pearson 1983). With such policies, economic growth and food security are mutually reinforcing.

One of the main goals of China’s agricultural policy is ensuring national food security. By producing most of the food it needs for its large population, China contributes significantly to world food security and accounts for much of the decline in the number and percentage of the world’s population who are undernourished. China’s success in increasing the supply of food and fibre in the last 50 years to meet the needs of its growing population is well recognized. Per capita daily energy supply reached 2,990 kcal, well above the recommended level of 2,100 kcal in the MDGs and 14 percent higher than the average daily energy supply in developing countries and 8 percent higher than the world average (FAOSTAT database, 2008).

At the national level, grain security has received the attention of national leaders: in the late 1990s, a target of 95 percent grain self-sufficiency was set. To achieve this, China invested heavily in irrigation and other agricultural infrastructure (Wang, 2000), research and extension (Huang et al., 2000) and domestic production and marketing of chemical fertilizer and pesticides (Nyberg and Rozelle, 1999).

Agricultural reforms in China had huge consequences for food security and the improvement of the nutritional status of Chinese citizens. According to FAO estimates, the number of undernourished people decreased from 304 million in 1979–1981, 30 percent of the population, to 123 million in 2003–2005, 9 percent of the population. One policy that brought China to this level was centered on DEVELOPMENT AND DISSEMINATION OF AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY. Since a country such as China, where agriculture is dominated by small farms, this is even more important.

Reference: Agricultural Development and Nutrition: the Policies behind China’s Success


Mohammad Monirul Hasan Institute of Microfinance (InM), University of Bonn, Germany
Mohammad Monirul

This is a very important topic to discuss especially the debate about the growth elasticity of poverty. Developing countries are lagging behind from distributing the fruits of impressive growth which fostering the inequality and poverty. Nutrition is also a very important analysis in this regard. The definition of poverty is multidimensional; feeding the 2100 kilocalorie per day is also a misleading idea. However, I think improvement is possible by making awareness among the societies and how to live better with limited resources.

I can share some field experiences that I have got from North-western Part of Bangladesh. In this region of Bangladesh, poverty was severe in the last decades because of the seasonal unemployment which generated seasonal food deprivation for months. To mitigate this crisis, some microfinance institutions (MFIs) were supported by the DFID funded project to reduce this seasonal crisis of the households. After the intervention of this program like flexible microcredit, supporting Income generating activities (IGA), agricultural loans, training for IGA, primary health service etc. the impact is huge. These vulnerable people become self-dependent later on and also most of them graduated from this chronic poverty. The success of this program came by the proper scrutinizing of the member households. They were informed about the health and nutrition value of their food also. This group of people performed better than the other people who were not offered this program. So I think the challenges of nutrition can be faced by improving the mass communication media and involving the community leaders. Besides government infrastructure like community health clinic and community awareness week is necessary.

I can also share another awareness movement of the residents of Dhaka city. It is very common now days that most of the vegetables, fruits, fishes are contaminated because of formalin which is very bad for health. But there is nothing to do from the consumers’ side to stop this contamination. Social media and electronic media reported it several times in the national media like TV, newspapers but nothing happened. But recently there is a change making progress. Some Community of the Dhaka city declared their market Formalin free, i.e. no food will be contaminated by formalin and other additives. They spread this news to the media and the response from the buyers is enormous. Following this success some other markets are also declaring formalin free. So the change is coming from the micro-level. Government tries several times but failed to handle this crisis. Last week government declared that importing formalin would be strictly handles by the government authorities. But there is also a question here also, how efficiently government can handle this with its inefficient administration. So I believe movement should start from micro-level to make the market work. Other-wise success will not come up.


Economic growth can only reduce poverty by increasing inequality if no redistribution takes place. Special action should be taken into consideration to reduce the poverty and malnutrition. 



Thank you. 

Mohammad Monirul Hasan 

Institute of Microfinance (InM)

Mauricio Rosales FAO , Italy

Feedback by Juan Carlos Garcia y Cebolla and Mauricio Rosales, facilitators

Dear FSN Forum members,
we wish to thank all of you that took time to follow and engage in this challenging discussion on how to make economic growth work for improved food security and nutrition, inspired by the latest report on the State of Food Insecurity in the world (SOFI).
In our first question we asked you to tell us about experiences in which social protection and better food security governance have led to advances in food security and improved nutrition. We are happy to see that many projects have successfully managed to improve food security and nutrition of local communities: examples include the “Development of the Peanut sector for Guyana and Selected Caribbean countries” and the reformed Public Distribution System in Chhattisgararh (India). Further, among countries that progressed in improving food and nutrition security over the past decade Brazil and many in Asia were mentioned.
Successful experiences have been able to leverage and take full advantage of social protection and government determination; it’s worth noting that Guyana, from where many examples were shared, has met the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger set by the Millennium Development Goal n.1.
We encourage you to keep sending examples and further references on experiences to enrich this exchange across countries and different professional perspectives.  
While in some cases governments are engaged and determined, in others commitment and interest seem to be lagging behind and leaving the goal of eradicating food insecurity still far from reach. Some of you argue that where improvements are not being achieved, this is due to the fact that food security and nutrition are not high enough on the decision makers agendas.
Others blame wrong or uninformed policies for not being able to tackle the problem correctly or even for exacerbating the situation. In this regard alternative policies and approaches were also mentioned and advocated by participants such as: promoting market access versus food self subsistence; traditional - high input agriculture versus sustainable methods; or giving attention to the whole supply chain rather than only the production end.
We would now like to draw your attention and reflections to our third question: how can political will be mobilized to truly take action for hunger reduction and improved nutrition?
Does the gap that we still see in many countries need to be filled by knowledge of the problems and right solutions, good and sound legislation frameworks or do the responses need to be found elsewhere, such as in civil society empowerment and mobilization (as suggested in some posts)?
Let’s dig in deeper into this difficult and complex question which probably has more than one answer, by looking at what made countries more or less successful in improving food security of their people. Is there any lesson to be learned about links between social protection policies  and civil society empowerment? Thanks for your contributions to figure out how can we avoid SOFI to keep counting and adding countries to the high numbers of those who are food insecure in the world, no matter what methodology is used.

We really enjoy reading your comments, it helps in refining our thinking and widening our perspectives.

Juan Carlos and Mauricio

Peter Steele FAO, Italy

Food/Nutrition Security comes from Investing in Agriculture

The contribution from George Akalemwa of Zambia got me thinking – which is good; for that’s what these debates are all about – so, the questions are these: how can national decision-makers say one thing and do another; how come some of them no longer relate to the ordinary man/woman in the street/bush when the majority people whom they may represent are sometimes really poor? Why don’t they spend more on agriculture?

Kenyans taking a stand

Some of you may have read, seen or heard about the riots that took place in the streets of Nairobi in October this year following the news that national lawmakers – 222 of them – were awarding themselves bonuses valued at US$105,000 for when parliament breaks up next March. Parliamentarians in that country earn of the order US$10,000/month and there are additional earnings from attendance and perks that come with the job. Who would not want to be a politician in Kenya? Fortunately, that man/woman in the street was able to follow events on the basis of local reporting, and the government quickly stepped back from this particular confrontation.

It’s not just the audacity of this kind of decision-making, but the sadness that it represents wherein national leaders may be so detached from the reality of the ordinary people who will never share their kind of wealth. In Kenya today it takes, according to the news reports, more than 60 years for an ordinary man/woman to earn the kind of money that the parliamentarians awarded themselves as a ‘bonus’ – they still had their annual incomes to fall back on. Sure these are taxed, but only at around 25%. How can you be surrounded by so much poverty – ever visited Kibera in Nairobi Africa’s most notorious slum and home to more than 600,000 people – and not see the contradictions of wealth to which George Akalemwa refers.

Check out the Kenyan story - if you don’t already know it – it’s available at a number of websites such as:

Getting the priorities right

As George Alalma says; ‘A hungry country is a dangerous country’ and you don’t have to look to far to see countries in which equality becomes a catch phrase for ‘me first’. And, that link between nutrition security and economic wealth – sure, we’re getting there - but the Kenya/Nairobi example is a pertinent one representing as it does the most successful commercial hub in the Great Lakes Region – 4M people servicing a hinterland of more than 100M with the services, industry, finances and techno-commercial skills that make this a gem of a city going places that can only continue to rise on the natural wealth of the region – including the vitality of the people.

But what if those national decision-makers and their counterparts in the private sector – equally as rich if not richer - do not invest in agriculture; and this is any low-income country anywhere, not simply Kenya/Nairobi. If you don’t invest in agriculture you commit your community to the poverty of out-dated production systems that simply cannot keep pace with demands for more foods, novel foods and foods that entertain. That’s been covered at other times in the FSN debates but the nexus of this particular contribution is the priority required of the national decision-makers and the size of the national budget. If you – as a government - don’t invest in agriculture sufficient to keep pace with changing demands, increased populations, rising wealth and more, then who will?

This is small agro-country anywhere

Take a small country, well, you name one. Designated a ‘middle-income’ country you would reason that the majority people would not be poor – in the sense of abject poverty. But this is not always what it may seem from first impressions, and you need to explore beneath the surface; and there you find the dichotomy of people living in largely subsistence poverty but surrounded by the natural wealth of the soil, land, forests and oceans. Estimated 40% of the population of our example country of 1.1M live below the poverty line as exemplified by the food/nutrition vulnerability of rural children under five:  60% stunted, 45% underweight, etc. Locally grown foods are vulnerable to the low-productivity of traditional agro-production systems, but also to the vagaries of tropical storms that erode crops, soils and land alike. In 2007 30% of the people faced crop losses and starvation that necessitated international aid/food supplies; people died from hunger.

What is agro-investment worth?

Investment in agriculture is a requirements of all government strategic planning, but herein is the paradox of a national budget of US$1.67B in 2012 that continues to allocate <1% (US$16M) to the Ministry of Agriculture for providing agricultural public services, etc., and yet retains almost 50% (US$800M) for use by a centrally-controlled ‘fund. An additional US$9.4M from this fund will be invested in ‘agriculture’. So, this boosts investments to around US$25M. National planning for the next four years had earmarked investments of around US$46M, but these figures don’t stack up given the bulk of public funding required to service that public agricultural sector; only a small proportion of that MAF allocation will find its way into development funds.

People matter

So, how do you handle those nutritional wish-lists? Fortunately for our national managers in our small middle income country, off-shore oil&gas revenues help to boost the national coffers and, at time of reporting, special oil&gas derived accounts contained >US$9B of assets. More than enough to meet national strategic development planning for the current period and Vision 2030; and more than enough to provide the half million food/nutrition vulnerable people with some sense of security. But, like those slums in west-central Nairobi, you can’t develop without carrying the people – all of the people – with you; and, for national managers, this means investing in those socio-economic assets that will help break that cycle of low-input/low-output land productivity.

The challenge facing national managers will be one of setting priorities, maintaining discipline and seeking to achieve stated objectives without becoming side-tracked and, importantly, remaining within the tenants of state legislation for fair governance, transparency, law&order and similar; that wealth can be shared equitably.

Then you get to sharpen those development models with focus upon nutrition (and health, school kids, women, WATSAN, mosquito nets and more).

Peter Steele

Mr. David Michael Wondu Business & Technology Services, Australia

The report states: "To reduce poverty and hunger, growth needs to reach the poor and the increased income needs to generate demand for the assets controlled by them. Poor households need to be able to use the additional economic assets to improve their diets both in quantity and quality". Not clear what this means and what assets are we talking about?

The quality of food and diet has been underestimated as a basic requirement for food security. Education is an important part of the solution to solving this problem. In regard to "policies that led to better nutritional status as a result of investment into agriculture" a key issue here is that attention has to be given to the whole food supply chain, not just the production end. Production is important but it's just part of the food supply chain, not the whole food chain.

In our study of food security and risk management we found very little investigation of the food supply chain beyond the farm gate. Sure, there are all sorts of value chain examinations etc. but not much into the food security aspects of the value chain. More about this at and at LinkedIn group food security 2050.

But food security, being about access, has to deal better and more thoroughly with the whole food supply chain. The private sector dominates food supply chain activity in every country, irrespective of their development status and inclination towards command styled economies. So the real question is how to improve private sector performance in food supply chains that deliver food security. Investment and capital accummulation drive private sector capacity to deliver best practices along the whole supply chain. From my examination of the FAO database there is a very close correlation between capital investment in agriculture and the agricultural output index of production. It's a great pity investment and capital accummulation data is not available beyond the farm gate. Policy settings, including social protection, have to work closely with the privately driven food supply chains if they are to have any lasting impact.

Final Year Economics Students (group 5)

With reference to question 1, we would like to make an addition to our previous post:

In an effort to address the malnutrition problem among school children in Guyana, the Ministry of Education has implemented a National School Feeding Programme. The focus of this programme is to provide hot meals such as peanut butter, cassava bread and a drink to students of primary and nursery schools in the Hinterland regions. In addition to this, the Ministry of Education also operates a snack program which aids in the provision of milk and biscuits to all children attending public primary and nursery schools.

This programme seeks to reduce the predominant iron deficiency as well as other mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Also it would lead to an improvement in the school attendance and school achievements at both levels as well as to alleviate short-term hunger which results from the long distance of commute in this area.


Thank you!