Halving hunger

Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through "Business as Unusual"

In 2000, the world’s leaders set a target of halving the percentage of hungry people between 1990 and 2015. This rather modest target constitutes part of the first Millennium Development Goal, which also calls for halving the proportion of people living in poverty and achieving full employment. However, the effort to meet the hunger target has swerved off track, and the world is getting farther and farther away from realizing this objective. The goal of halving hunger by 2015 can still be achieved, but business as usual will not be enough. What is needed is “business as unusual”—a smarter, more innovative, better focused, and cost-effective approach to reducing hunger. The five elements of this new approach are as follows:

Invest in Two Core Pillars: Agriculture and Social Protection

The first step in reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries is to invest in agriculture and rural development. Most of the world’s poor and hungry people live in rural areas in Africa and Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but many developing countries continue to underinvest in agriculture. Research in Africa and Asia has shown that investments in agricultural research and extension have large impacts on agricultural productivity and poverty, and investments in rural infrastructure can bring even greater benefits.

Scaled-up investments in social protection that focus on nutrition and health are also crucial for improving the lives of the poorest of the poor. Although policymakers increasingly see the importance of social protection spending, there are still few productive safety net programs that are well targeted to the poorest and hungry households and increase production capacity.

Bring in New Players

New actors in global development—the private sector, philanthropic organizations, and emerging economy donors—have important roles to play in reducing hunger in developing countries. But the opportunities presented by these development partners have not been fully harnessed. Given the right incentives, the private sector, for example, can provide effective and sustainable investment and innovation to help in the fight against hunger. In many countries, however, private companies face a lack of incentives and a poor business operating environment, including poor property rights. Emerging economy donors are now playing an increasing role in providing development assistance, but have not yet been fully integrated into the global food security agenda.

Adopt a Country-Led, Bottom-Up Approach

Effective, efficient, and sustainable policies that are well adapted to the local context can help countries maximize the local impact of the global agenda and tap external development assistance, which increasingly requires approaches that are country led. Successful reforms will be not only country driven, but also local in nature, with poor people acting as a driving force in the development process.

At the same time, some issues—like climate change, trade, and control of disease—must be addressed at the global level. The task for individual countries is then to digest and integrate these global issues in developing their own strategies at the country level.

Design Policies Using Evidence and Experiments

Pilot projects and policy experiments have the potential to improve policymaking by giving decisionmakers information about what works before policies are implemented across the board. Experimentation can improve the success rate of reforms as successful pilot projects are scaled up and unsuccessful policy options are eliminated. To succeed with this approach, policymakers need to allow impartial monitoring of experiments and rapidly transform the lessons learned into large-scale reforms. These changes can create an environment in which policies are continually tried, tested, adjusted, and tried again before being scaled up.

Walk the Walk

Decisionmakers at the global, regional, and national levels have made commitments to policies and investments for enhancing food security, but they have often failed to meet those commitments. For example, in 2003, African heads of state pledged that their governments would allocate 10 percent of national public budgets to the agricultural sector by 2008, but data for 2007 show that only a handful of countries had met the 10 percent target. These financial commitments must be supported with strong institutions and governance at the global, regional, and national levels and monitored in a timely and transparent fashion.

Scaling Up “Business as Unusual”

Some aspects of this “business as unusual” approach have already been successful in a few countries, but they need to be scaled up and extended to new countries to have a real impact on the reduction of global hunger.

On a larger scale, the global food governance system itself needs to be reformed to work better. Reforms should include (1) improving existing institutions and creating an umbrella structure for food and agriculture; (2) forming government-to-government systems for decisionmaking on agriculture, food, and nutrition; and (3) explicitly engaging the new players in the global food system—the private sector and civil society—together with national governments in new or reorganized international organizations and agreements. A combination of all three options, with a leading role for emerging economies, is required.

Finally, though global and national actors have distinct roles to play, it is important that they work together, combining their efforts to fight poverty and hunger. A stronger system of mutual accountability between the two groups would help keep progress on track.

Fan, Shenggen
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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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