16 October 2011

On World Food Day who is most committed to reducing hunger?

Today is World Food Day.

It is usually a time when lots of measures of hunger are updated and released. All of these measures use an out of date methodology for assessing hunger (based on food balance sheets which are estimates of food availability, not access or utilisation) but that is another story.

More importantly World Food Day is a time to reflect on--and redouble--efforts to reduce hunger around the world.

But how do we know who is taking hunger reduction seriously?

It is vital to separate hunger outcomes from hunger reduction efforts and effort has to be contextualised by the resources and capacity available to a country.

IDS, together with NGO partners, with support from Irish Aid, has developed a Hunger Reduction Commitment Index (HRCI) to try to measure who is making the biggest effort to reduce hunger. Using secondary data (9 variables covering anti hunger spending, policies and legislation) we ranked 22 developing countries and 21 donor countries.

This is the kind of thing the FAO should be doing, and I hope they eventually take it over, but for now we are committed to developing it further.

The index ranking is still a draft (it is being peer reviewed) but the initial results are striking:

1. The top countries are Malawi (best), Guatemala, Brazil, Senegal with Ghana and Ethiopia tied at 5th. The bottom are Guinea Bissau (worst) Zambia, China, Nepal, with Lesotho and Bangladesh tied at 16th. China is the big surprise, coming in at 19th. It is a surprise because it usually ranks at the top of indices about who is doing well on hunger, but once we take out its hunger reduction numbers, the explicit commitment to hunger reduction does not show up in policies, spending or legislation. Of course if you have that level of hunger reduction (fuelled by economic growth), explicit commitment probably does not matter so much. That is why it is important to cross-reference commitment with hunger levels and resources available.

2. Once you cross-reference the commitment levels with hunger, wealth, administrative capacity and voice and accountability scores, several off- diagonal situations are highlighted:high hunger and low commitment (notably Guinea Bissau, Zambia, Bangladesh, but also Nepal and Lesotho), low wealth and high commitment (e.g. Malawi, Ethiopia, and Tanzania), high administrative capacity and low commitment (e.g. Lesotho and China) and low public accountability and voice but high commitment (Ethiopia). This contextualisation makes the HRCI more than an index, but helps it play a diagnostic role, guiding action from different stakeholders (governments, civil society, donors) to where their efforts can make the biggest difference.

3. On the donor countries, Denmark does best (with Finland second, and Ireland and Belgium joint third) with Switzerland worst. The UK comes in at joint 5th with France and Norway. South Korea, the new kid on the donor block, comes in at 12th--higher than Japan (13) Canada (14), the US (18).

We also collected primary data on 10 indicators in 3 countries (Zambia, Bangladesh and the UK) from in country "expert" panels (of around 30 people in each location, selected for as wide a range and balance of perspectives as possible) to give those governments a steer as to where these expert groups think they are relatively strong and relatively weak. For example in the UK the panel felt the UK government was strong on using evidence to inform policy but weak on working in a whole of government way.

I am a fan of relative rankings. I believe they provide positive motivation for action. Our hope is that civil society will find this index to be a useful addition to their toolkit in terms of putting pressure on governments to do something about hunger rather than simply talk about it.

We are developing the next phase of this work and will continue refining the index, updating the secondary data scores, updating the primary data collection while expanding the number of countries, working with civil society partners in country to help them use the index to support mobilisation against hunger and to set up a baseline for evaluation of the index.

The full draft report can be found here.

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