Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Etienne du Vachat Action Against Hunger (ACF), France
3-01-2013

Dear all,

 

Here is Action Against Hunger - ACF's contribution to the consultation on hunger, food and nutrition security within the post-2015 development agenda.

 

We hope you will find it interesting.

 

With our best wishes for 2013,

Etienne du Vachat

Food Security Advocacy Officer

ACF-France (Paris)

 

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Theme 1: lessons learnt from the current MDG framework

 

While we recognize the importance of having a framework that is both clearly defined and workable like the MDGs were, we think the next framework for development should be more comprehensive and call for more accountability. Clearly, the political and financial commitments have not been strong enough to translate the goals into full success. Indeed, despite the fact that the MDGs were built upon concrete goals, with quantifiable targets that were relatively simple to understand and monitor, some goals will not be achieved in the given timeframe. Furthermore, the chosen indicators and targets tend to give a truncated – and thus bias – picture of complex problems.

 

Comments regarding the indicators on hunger in the current MDG framework and suggestions for improvement:

 

There is currently one target (1.C) focusing on hunger – ‘Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger’ – that comes together with two indicators:

 

1.8 – Prevalence of underweight children under-five years of age

 

  1. 1.9 – Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption

 

These indicators could be improved:

 

Regarding the indicators:

 

  • Underweight (weight/age) is a composite indicator whose interpretation is difficult as age is often not precisely estimated. In the next framework for development, two other indicators should be systematically added to this one:
    • The height/age that describes stunting
    • The weight/height that describes wasting

 

Computing these three indicators is the only way of reflecting the various aspects of child malnutrition.

 

  • The indicator 1.9, in analyzing only the level of dietary energy consumption (= calories), does not take into account “hidden-hunger”, which refers to micronutrient deficiencies (= chronic lack of vitamins and minerals) and is most of the time not visible. To better assess that issue, it is urgent to come to a consensus on what would be the best indicator (or suite of indicators) to reflect access to and consumption of nutritionally adequate diet at macro level. The dietary diversity scores[1] used by FANTA and FAO could be a basis to draw upon.
  • Indicators should be disaggregated as much as possible to highlight inequalities/discriminations between groups of population according to their location (rural/urban areas), age and gender. Ideally, indicators should also be time-disaggregated to show the cyclical character of hunger. Underlying disparities in data must enable governments to accurately target policies (i.e. safety nets, food assistance) on the most vulnerable and nutritionally at-risk groups. 

 

Regarding the reference population:

 

  • The indicators of the next framework for development must be exclusively based on the WHO Child Growth Standards of 2006 if they are to accurately reflect undernutrition prevalence[2].

 

Current challenges and opportunities:

 

The current MDG framework reflects a sectorial approach that must be renewed, so as to better take on the new global challenges. Among those, food price volatility, climate change and demographic growth are key issues to food and nutrition security. Recurrent challenges such as vulnerability to socioeconomic and climate related shocks have intensified, further enforcing the need for a post 2015 agenda to promote resilience by addressing vulnerability. Donors, governments and NGOs alike have traditionally placed too little focus on building resilience within communities before crises occur, choosing instead to focus on tackling hunger and disease during or after the crisis. Furthermore, recurring crises are typically perceived as “humanitarian” issues in need of an immediate, short-term response when in fact a twin track approach with adequate resources is needed, ensuring that the immediate needs of vulnerable populations are met while simultaneously building the longer-term resilience of communities at risk from recurring food crises.

 

It is very likely that the objective on hunger in the current MDGs framework will not be achieved by 2015. It is thus crucial to make a larger room to undernutrition in the post-2015 development agenda, ideally through both a nutrition-specific goal and nutritional indicators within the other goals. New initiatives such as the SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) movement show that awareness on the importance of nutrition for long term human development is raising. They also convey the message that cost-effective, high impact interventions now exist to address the problem of undernutrition, and that those interventions – that are both direct (or nutrition-specific) and indirect – should be implemented following a twin track approach. A momentum has thus been created, but it must be enhanced by a clear objective on nutrition in the next agenda for development.

 

Theme 2: what works best to address hunger and under-nutrition?

 

ACF’s Zero Hunger series produced in 2011[3], found that in the countries that have had most success in bringing down rates of undernutrition, six key success factors – 1) strong political will; 2) civil society participation and ownership; 3) a multi-sectorial approach; 4) institutional coordination; 5) a multi-phase approach and; 6) continued, predictable financial investment - make up an ideal ‘enabling environment’, which if in place should facilitate a reduction in rates of childhood undernutrition. In contexts with the most demonstrable success, all six factors are present in varying degrees.

 

Agriculture contributes to nutrition through 3 main pathways: direct production for farming households; increased incomes for rural societies and pushing down food prices.

 

However, hunger and food insecurity are not only a matter of agriculture, although it is a very important contributing factor. If a strong focus has to be placed on smallholder agriculture, it is important to address other food security related aspects as well, such as income generation, urban livelihoods, food assistance and social protection.

 

Moreover, even though undernutrition is strongly linked to food security, the latter does not necessarily guarantee a satisfactory nutritional situation. Indeed, nutrition is determined by a large variety of factors that goes far beyond food security, among which are women’s education and income, child care practices, access to quality health services, family planning, coverage of vaccination, availability and access to clean/protected water sources and to adequate sanitation facilities, etc.

 

Furthermore, it is acknowledged that female empowerment, enabling women to have control over household resources, brings significant gains in nutrition. As such, it must be put at the heart of programmes.

 

Hence, ACF advocates for the development of a nutrition-sensitive agriculture[4], so that agricultural interventions translate to significant improvements in nutrition outcomes. ACF’s field experience has demonstrated the importance of nutrition-sensitive agriculture at the household level. For example, the development of kitchen gardens has the potential to improve dietary diversity, particularly if in conjunction with small scale livestock rearing. Nutrition-sensitive policies can pave the way not only to long term agricultural investments to raise smallholder farmers’ productivity but also to developing a cross-disciplinary approach linking nutrition with agriculture, gender, health, social protection, and dietary education.

 

Theme 3: the Zero Hunger Challenge

 

The ZHC admittedly sets an interesting frame for objectives on the global food system. However, although it provides a more holistic way of looking at hunger and points out that adopting a long term vision is necessary to reach food and nutrition security, it appears more like wishful thinking than a seriously defined, realistic, time-bound set of objectives.

 

Those should be modified so as to be achievable on the medium-term timeframe that is likely to be settled for the post-2015 framework, i.e. to 2030-5. Country or regional level roadmaps which break down the goals into discrete time-bound targets and actions should be drawn up. It is necessary to specify targeted levels of improvement according to the different contexts. For instance concerning the objective (d), the appropriate percentage of increase in smallholders’ productivity should be based on national negotiations with all stakeholders – particularly farmers’ representatives – and be accompanied by financial commitments.

 

Targets may also differ from one country to another according to the specific actions each country must undertake to reach the objective. For example, whereas the sustainability of agriculture practices is a stake in both developed and developing, unsustainable agriculture practices do not have the same roots and consequences in the North and in the South, and policies must be designed accordingly. In developing countries an important lever would be to facilitate access to credit, develop adequate financing mechanisms and safety nets for farmers so that they don’t adopt short term behaviors that are detrimental to them and the environment.

 

It is very important to link this objective of sustainability with the one on increased farmers’ productivity, so that increasing food and nutrition security at household level does not lead to fostering highly productive and cash crop agriculture systems. Traditional systems are often the most resilient and can be highly productive as well, even though they are not always oriented towards income generation. The key is that the transition must be farmer-owned and controlled, and oriented towards local and regional markets rather than export markets, as has been the case until now through two decades of perverse international and national policies and incentives. Improvements to local irrigation, road, storage, processing, market and credit infrastructure are also critical to making that happen. Furthermore, emphasis must be put on women farmers and the necessity to close the gap between men and women in access to inputs, as it is stressed in the ‘Global Strategy Framework for Food Security and Nutrition’.  Improving living conditions in the country should also be regarded as an important issue. Rural areas must be revitalized to become more attractive to young people and businesses.

 

The objective (e.) on food waste and losses is also very relevant to smallholders’ livelihoods and food and nutrition security, considering the 30% of pre- and postharvest loss every year. To avoid these losses, smallholder farmers use to sell their production right after harvesting, hence exposing themselves to early food shortage while often selling their production cheaply. Harvest losses are thus quite strongly linked with the seasonality of hunger, itself due to the seasonality of harvest, income and prices, which leads to shorter or longer hunger gaps periods and recurrent crises. Hence, achieving the objective (a) will greatly depends on the reduction of food losses. This can be done notably through investments in storage and post-harvest processing equipment, and also through environment-friendly pest and disease control.

 

Finally, indicators should be both measurable at country level and at global level. They should be disaggregated when possible so as to enable the design of effective policies, and be as comprehensive as possible. This is particularly important for the objective (b) on child’s undernutrition. By focusing on stunting, it takes only one aspect of undernutrition into account. Yet, adopting a holistic approach of undernutrition allows tackling it more effectively. Hence, the objective should embrace the several aspects of malnutrition, i.e. stunting, wasting and underweight. It should be also be stressed that children with wasting are at higher risk for linear growth retardation, hence, addressing wasting is a way of preventing stunting. Furthermore, the wording of the objective should be changed, so as to encompass the idea of ‘window of opportunity’, to highlight the importance of mothers’ good health during the antenatal period and to encompass other underlying factors leading to under-nutrition.

 

[1] http://www.foodsec.org/fileadmin/user_upload/eufao-fsi4dm/docs/Dietary_Diversity_paper.pdf

[2] According to WHO and UNICEF, “Using the new WHO standards in developing country situation results in a 2-4 times increase in the number of infants and children falling below -3 SD compared to using the former NCHS reference”. Joint statement available here:

http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/severemalnutrition/9789241598163_eng.pdf

[3]http://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/fileadmin/contribution/0_accueil/pdf/Zero%20Hunger%20Overview.pdf

[4] FAO’s definition of nutrition-sensitive agriculture: “Agriculture that effectively and explicitly incorporates nutrition objectives, concerns, and considerations to achieve food and nutrition security.”