Halving Hunger Through "Business as Unusual"

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet

By Alex Tung

This interview with Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is part of a regular interview series with agriculture and food security experts.

Name: Shenggen Fan

Affiliation : Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Location : Washington, DC

Bio: Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). He has over 20 years of experience in the field of Agricultural Economics. He is currently an Executive Committee member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. He has worked in academic and independent research institutions, including Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Arkansas and the National Agricultural Research in the Netherlands. Fan received his Ph.D. in applied economics from the University of Minnesota and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing Agricultural University in China.

Fan’s work in pro-poor development strategies in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has helped identify how to effectively allocate public spending in reducing poverty and generating agricultural growth.

About “Halving Hunger:”

Currently, 16 percent of the world is undernourished. In his recently published report, Halving Hunger: Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through “Business as Unusual”, Fan voiced his concern that efforts to meet the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 are “moving in the wrong direction.” Taking projected population growth into account, the number of undernourished needs to fall by an average of 73 million per year in the next five years. Continuing to conduct “business as usual” will clearly not suffice in meeting this goal. As such, Fan outlined five innovative approaches to go about “business as unusual:”

  1. Investing in two core pillars: Agriculture and social protection
  2. Bring in new players
  3. Adopt a country-led and bottom-up approach
  4. Design policies using evidence and experiments
  5. “Walk the Walk”

According to Fan, these “unusual” approaches are already showing success. The next step is to apply them on a larger scale in new locations to have a real impact on reducing global hunger.

In your report, you called for countries to “Walk the walk.” What are key factors hindering countries’ progress in fulfilling their commitments? What could be done to encourage them to do so?

Failure to summon political will and resources is one of the key factors that hinders countries from fulfilling their commitments. To ensure the commitment of policymakers, the general media and popular communication sources should provide the public with evidence-based information and knowledge. In addition, strong institutions and governance should be promoted to support the implementation of commitments both by governments and donors. To add accountability and keep progress on track, timely and transparent monitoring of implementation is required.

Regarding “new players in the global food system” or emerging donors – What are essential elements of a fair, “mutually beneficial” relationship? Is there any danger of partnership become exploitation, and where do you draw the line? What measures can be taken to ensure foreign investment generate real results that benefit the local community?

A mutually beneficial relationship between emerging donors and recipient countries needs to enhance long-term benefits and minimize any potential harm, particularly to vulnerable groups. The essential elements of such a relationship include: fair competition with local enterprises; strong linkages of investments with domestic markets; engagement of the local workforce; and the adoption of higher environmental and labor standards.

Many emerging donors, such as China, place the bulk of their investment in areas like infrastructure or construction. Considering the goal of eradicating hunger, do you believe aid should continue in this direction? How can emerging donors synchronize their work with providers of more traditional or “mainstream” development aid?

Indeed, emerging donors need to diversify their investments into other areas such as agriculture and rural areas to have an impact on decreasing hunger. Emerging donors should increase transparency and cooperation in aid delivery. Through dialogue with traditional donors, common standards in the aid system should be set. This will help to avoid duplication and create synergies with other donors.

These emerging donors should also ensure that their trade with and investments in developing countries will benefit other developing countries and bring win-win opportunities.

Many of the hungry are located in countries with unstable political environment, where a country-led approach may be difficult to achieve. What is the best course of action for those providing aid to these countries?

Fan: While humanitarian aid is important for countries with unstable political environment, aid for long-term country-led development is also needed. Aid donors should support the building up of country capacity for setting investment priorities and designing investment plans. Increased investment is needed for domestic institutions such as universities and think tanks that can provide evidence-based research for policymaking and strategy formulation.

In your report, you mentioned the success of “positive deviance” in designing sound policy solutions – why do you think this approach works compared with traditional approaches?

Positive deviance in policy making can be achieved through experimentation. This approach increases the success rate of reforms since only successful pilot projects that have been tried, tested, and adjusted are scaled up.

Finally, let’s talk about IFPRI’s work; What role does IFPRI currently play or plan to play in the future in helping donors (countries, private, multilateral agencies) effectively direct their aid and shaping programmatic response in developing countries to meet MDG1?

IFPRI will continue to provide evidence-based policy research as an international public good which is relevant for decision makers at all levels. Our research on public spending, for example, has been and will be guiding investment priorities and strategy formulation for effective poverty and hunger reduction in developing countries. Through its country support strategy programs which are located countries, IFPRI will also continue to help to build their own capacity to drive their own investment plans and strategies.

Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Special Report: Haiti After the Quake + How to Help.

By Alison Hamm, Media Consortium Blogger

Over 100,000 people are believed dead after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday afternoon. The quake buried countless buildings, from shantytowns to the presidential palace. All hospitals in Port-au-Prince have been leveled or abandoned. The United Nations headquarters and the city’s main prison have collapsed as well. Thousands of residents are homeless and without food, water, or electricity.

On the ground in Port-au-Prince

Haiti is in a state of chaos, as Kayla Coleman reports for Care2. “The streets…are flooded with the rubble of collapsed buildings and displaced people. … The earthquake has destroyed much of the already fragile and overburdened infrastructure.”

Because all hospitals have been destroyed, there is nowhere to take the injured. According to Coleman, the United Nations says it will immediately release $10 million from its emergency fund to aid relief efforts.

Haiti before the earthquake

And though Americans are now paying attention to Haiti in the wake of this disaster, little to no attention was paid to the “daily chaos and misery” that plagues the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as James Ridgeway writes for Mother Jones. “It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.”

Ridgeway also cites a 2006 New York Times report that details how the Bush administration helped destabilize Haiti in the years leading up to the 2004 coup.

Ridgeway writes:

“For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. When I was there you could find the children just outside Cite Soleil, the giant slum, living in the garbage dump, waiting for the U.S. army trucks to dump the scraps left from the meals of American soldiers. There they stood, knee deep in garbage, fighting for bits of food. As for the old, they people every street, gathering at the Holiday Inn at Port-au-Prince in wheelchairs, waiting at the doorway in search of a coin or two. They have no social safety net. And nobody with any money—no bank, no insurance company, no hedge fund, no mutual fund—ever makes any serious investment in the country.”

Will prevailing attitudes towards Haiti change?

At RaceWire, Michelle Chen writes that Haiti, a place “where buildings have been known to suddenly collapse on their own, even without the help of a natural disaster,” was still trying to recover from the severe tropical storms last spring that leveled hundreds of schools and left tens of thousands homeless.

Now the situation is desperate. “There will be an outpouring of sympathy across borders, a spasm of humanitarian aid,” Chen writes. But “will there be an attitude shift in the power structures that have long compounded natural disaster with politically manufactured crisis?”

‘Supporting the right kind of aid’

For those in Haiti, outside help is crucial. The country is in need of search and rescue volunteers, field hospitals, emergency health, water purification, and telecommunications. To ensure that you are supporting the right kind of aid—”the kind that builds local self-resilience, strengthens the local economy, and fosters local leadership,” as Sarah van Gelder details for Yes! Magazine—donate to one or more groups with a proven track record, such as Doctors without Borders, Grassroots International, Partners in Health, and Action Aid, among others.

Hip-hop artist and Haitian native Wyclef Jean has led efforts to help Haiti for years through his charity Yele Haiti. Jessica Calefati at Mother Jones reports that Yele spends $100,000 a year on athletic programs for Haitian children and helps feed 50,000 people a month with food donated by the UN. When Jean received word of the disaster, he immediately acted, sending a “flurry of tweets” for people to donate $5 by texting 501501. He has already returned to Haiti to help.

How you can help

For more details about how you can donate effectively, check out Yes!, Mother Jones, Care2, and The Nation’s roundups. You can also watch Free Speech TV’s action update video for more information.

GritTV aired a segment on Haiti featuring Danny Glover, Marie St. Cyr, and a performance by the Welfare Poets. The video (below) covers the devastation in Haiti after the quake as well as the state of the country prior to the crisis:

How not to help

For an example of how not to help in a time of crisis, take a look at televangelist Pat Robertson, who claimed yesterday that the quake was Haiti’s payback for a “pact with the devil” that slaves made to obtain independence from French colonials. As a rebuttal, Afro-Netizen points out how Haiti’s liberation greatly benefited the United States, and Tracy Viselli at Care2 writes that “if there is a god, Pat Robertson is one of the devil’s pied pipers.”

More coverage of the crisis

For more information about relief efforts in Haiti, what you can do to help, and some historical context, check out the below list of coverage by Media Consortium members.

  • Video from the Real News Network on how World Bank policies led to famine in Haiti.
  • Garry Pierre-Pierre of Inter Press Service reports on humanitarian efforts of Haitian-American leaders in New York.
  • Monica Potts explains why Americans should concentrate on our policies toward Haiti for The American Prospect.
  • Erin Rosa at Campus Progress writes about Ansel Herz, a young journalist that is on the ground at Haiti.
  • Video from The UpTake of President Obama’s pledge to send aid.

This post is a special report on Haiti and features links to the best independent, progressive reporting by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. For more updates, follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

House Should Pass Kerry-Lugar and Send to Obama

Pakistan's President Zardari is in New York this week for the "Friends of a Democratic Pakistan" conference where he outlined the successes and challenges Pakistan has faced over the past year, as well as his strategy for the future.  Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the US Senate passed unanimously a $1.5 billion aid package for the struggling nation. The House should pass the bill immediately and send it to Obama to sign.

There's more...

The Lobby should shut up.

I struggle mightily with the current humanitarian dilemma in Gaza - I understand Israel's reluctance to do anything that empowers Hamas, but share with many people the frustration of seeing innocent people suffer.

And, apparently, a frustration that Secretary of State Clinton also has.  So when a friend of Israel - as she has long been - expresses concern that Israel is dragging her feet on getting aid to those who need it most, I think it merits serious consideration.

What is does NOT merit is shreiking and finger-pointing from Israel's supporters in the US.  It's one thing to be worried that Hamas gains strength for every dollar or shekel that crosses one of the Gaza checkpoints, but it's quite another to scream invectives and cast aspersions upon someone who very clearly has Israel's well-being in her expressions and deeds.

The subject of how to deal with the Middle East broadly and the Israel-Palestine conflict more specifically has been elevated to the highest offices, and the presence of someone like Hillary Clinton smack in the middle of the discussion should be a point of comfort for the Lobby.  Don't let her concern for the plight of those who suffer distract or distort from what is an impeccable record on Israel, nor let it serve as a wedge on an issue that everyone can agree upon - needless suffering is just that: needless.  Whether Jew or Muslim, Arab or Israeli, NO ONE'S interests are served by the suffering of the innocent.

So do all of us who love and support Israel a favor - shut up.

There's more...

Halving Hunger Through "Business as Unusual"

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet

By Alex Tung

This interview with Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is part of a regular interview series with agriculture and food security experts.

Name: Shenggen Fan

Affiliation : Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Location : Washington, DC

Bio: Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). He has over 20 years of experience in the field of Agricultural Economics. He is currently an Executive Committee member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. He has worked in academic and independent research institutions, including Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Arkansas and the National Agricultural Research in the Netherlands. Fan received his Ph.D. in applied economics from the University of Minnesota and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing Agricultural University in China.

Fan’s work in pro-poor development strategies in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East has helped identify how to effectively allocate public spending in reducing poverty and generating agricultural growth.

About “Halving Hunger:”

Currently, 16 percent of the world is undernourished. In his recently published report, Halving Hunger: Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through “Business as Unusual”, Fan voiced his concern that efforts to meet the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 are “moving in the wrong direction.” Taking projected population growth into account, the number of undernourished needs to fall by an average of 73 million per year in the next five years. Continuing to conduct “business as usual” will clearly not suffice in meeting this goal. As such, Fan outlined five innovative approaches to go about “business as unusual:”

  1. Investing in two core pillars: Agriculture and social protection
  2. Bring in new players
  3. Adopt a country-led and bottom-up approach
  4. Design policies using evidence and experiments
  5. “Walk the Walk”

According to Fan, these “unusual” approaches are already showing success. The next step is to apply them on a larger scale in new locations to have a real impact on reducing global hunger.

In your report, you called for countries to “Walk the walk.” What are key factors hindering countries’ progress in fulfilling their commitments? What could be done to encourage them to do so?

Failure to summon political will and resources is one of the key factors that hinders countries from fulfilling their commitments. To ensure the commitment of policymakers, the general media and popular communication sources should provide the public with evidence-based information and knowledge. In addition, strong institutions and governance should be promoted to support the implementation of commitments both by governments and donors. To add accountability and keep progress on track, timely and transparent monitoring of implementation is required.

Regarding “new players in the global food system” or emerging donors – What are essential elements of a fair, “mutually beneficial” relationship? Is there any danger of partnership become exploitation, and where do you draw the line? What measures can be taken to ensure foreign investment generate real results that benefit the local community?

A mutually beneficial relationship between emerging donors and recipient countries needs to enhance long-term benefits and minimize any potential harm, particularly to vulnerable groups. The essential elements of such a relationship include: fair competition with local enterprises; strong linkages of investments with domestic markets; engagement of the local workforce; and the adoption of higher environmental and labor standards.

Many emerging donors, such as China, place the bulk of their investment in areas like infrastructure or construction. Considering the goal of eradicating hunger, do you believe aid should continue in this direction? How can emerging donors synchronize their work with providers of more traditional or “mainstream” development aid?

Indeed, emerging donors need to diversify their investments into other areas such as agriculture and rural areas to have an impact on decreasing hunger. Emerging donors should increase transparency and cooperation in aid delivery. Through dialogue with traditional donors, common standards in the aid system should be set. This will help to avoid duplication and create synergies with other donors.

These emerging donors should also ensure that their trade with and investments in developing countries will benefit other developing countries and bring win-win opportunities.

Many of the hungry are located in countries with unstable political environment, where a country-led approach may be difficult to achieve. What is the best course of action for those providing aid to these countries?

Fan: While humanitarian aid is important for countries with unstable political environment, aid for long-term country-led development is also needed. Aid donors should support the building up of country capacity for setting investment priorities and designing investment plans. Increased investment is needed for domestic institutions such as universities and think tanks that can provide evidence-based research for policymaking and strategy formulation.

In your report, you mentioned the success of “positive deviance” in designing sound policy solutions – why do you think this approach works compared with traditional approaches?

Positive deviance in policy making can be achieved through experimentation. This approach increases the success rate of reforms since only successful pilot projects that have been tried, tested, and adjusted are scaled up.

Finally, let’s talk about IFPRI’s work; What role does IFPRI currently play or plan to play in the future in helping donors (countries, private, multilateral agencies) effectively direct their aid and shaping programmatic response in developing countries to meet MDG1?

IFPRI will continue to provide evidence-based policy research as an international public good which is relevant for decision makers at all levels. Our research on public spending, for example, has been and will be guiding investment priorities and strategy formulation for effective poverty and hunger reduction in developing countries. Through its country support strategy programs which are located countries, IFPRI will also continue to help to build their own capacity to drive their own investment plans and strategies.

Alex Tung is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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