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Hungry people

By Shenggen Fan - posted Friday, 25 June 2010

Global banking regulation, the European credit crisis, and sovereign debt burdens are likely to dominate the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada this weekend. Yet, five years after G8 leaders promised at Gleneagles to increase development assistance and one year after they promised to advance global food security at their summit in L’Aquila, the number of poor and hungry people is increasing. We are moving further away from the world community’s first Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of hungry people between 1990 and 2015.

In 2009, when the number of hungry people in the world stood at 1.02 billion, we were confronted with the need to reduce that number by 73 million people a year by 2015. It is now 2010 and the goal appears to be slipping away. Yet it is a modest one that would still leave some 600 million people deprived of food.

The objective of cutting hunger in half can still be achieved, but business as usual will not be enough. What is needed is “business as unusual”. The elements of such an approach to tackling world hunger 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. Scaled-up investments in social protection that focus on nutrition and health are also crucial. More importantly, policymakers should increase investments in productive safety net programs that support the poorest and hungriest households and increase their productive capacity.

Bring in new players

New actors in global development - the private sector, philanthropic organisations, and, more importantly, emerging economies - have important roles to play in reducing hunger in developing countries. The private sector can provide effective and sustainable investment and innovation to help in the fight against hunger. Private companies should be given the right incentives and a favourable operating environment. Emerging economies are playing a growing role in trade and investment, and in providing development assistance. They need to be 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 maximise the impact of the global agenda and tap external development assistance. Successful reforms also need to be 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 to digest and integrate these issues in developing their own strategies at the country level.

Design policies using evidence and experiments

Pilot projects and experiments have the potential to improve policymaking by giving decision makers 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.

Walk the walk

Decision makers 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. To effectively enhance food security, financial commitments must be supported with strong institutions and governance at all 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 applied successfully. They need to be scaled up and extended to new countries in order to have a real impact on global hunger. On a larger scale, the global food governance system itself needs to be reformed to work better. Also, although 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.

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About the Author

Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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