25 February 2011
Dr. Mohamad Saeed Noori Naeini from Iran takes me to task. My response to him is below his contribution in the comments. Check it out.
Maybe more candidates will respond and we can get a debate going.
We had a terrific Sussex Development Lecture from Salil Shetty last night. Salil is the Secretary General of Amnesty International. He was also the Director of the UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign and the CEO of Action Aid.
Given his background Salil is well placed to bring the worlds of human rights and development together. They operate largely in separate streams and networks and Salil's Lecture was about how to bring them together around civil and political rights, but also around economic, social and cultural rights.
He identified 6 places where the two worlds need to come together more.
1. Policy disconnects. There was an example from Asia where a government could not understand why its country's maternal mortality rate was so high. The laws on the right to an abortion were identified as a contributing factor.
2. A greater focus on exclusion and equality and he cited UNICEF's recent re-embrace of this issue.
3. The need to embed rights within laws and frameworks with the measurement of the commitment to time bound obligations.
4. Focus on the "enabling rights" of greater access to information, participation and justice.
5. Tighter national accountability mechanisms, for example the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa.
6. The need for international solidarity and pressure.
In the Q and A we got into an interesting discussion of why the term "human rights" seemed to be disappearing from the development discourse and apparently the IDS website (although a quick search of that shows more listings for human rights (217) than for social justice (170) and inequality (158)).
One of the audience noted that he had been told by a major US development agency that they had been asked to "search and replace" the term human rights in one of their key policy documents.
This rewriting is a bit puzzling. The centre-right parties that are in power in the West have highlighted choice, accountability, transparency and delivery. These are all things that a rights perspective underpins and will reinforce. Perhaps it is the worry about equating rights with entitlements. But while rights need protecting, respecting, facilitating and fulfilling, this is not the same as welfarism, regardless of what you think of that.
We need organisations such as Amnesty to remind all of us in the development world of the importance of rights in development.
23 February 2011
So what better time to preview the new Google Books Ngram Viewer or what Martin Ravallion, Head of Research at the World Bank, calls a "linguistic window on public awareness"?
A word is an I-gram, and so an N-gram is a phrase made up of I-grams. Michel et. al. 2010 (in the journal Science) have developed a body of N-grams based on 5.2 million digitised books from the period 1500-2008. The Viewer searches through the 500 billion words and counts the number of times the word or phrase appears and reports it, normalised by the the total number of words in the digitized set for that year.
So, if you wanted to search for key words and phrases over the past 500 years, you can do it very easily (in several languages--my examples below are in English)
See this set of 3 incidence lines for hunger, famine, malnutrition over the 1500-2000 period. Hunger and Famine have always been with us, but Malnutrition is a relatively new term, only coming into common usage in the 20th Century.
So, let's put some development fashions on the runway.
Agriculture: rural development vs sustainable livelihoods for the 1950-2008 period? Peak in rural development around 1982, steep decline thereafter, with a rise in sustainable livelihood, but not nearly at the same scale as the drop in rural development
Gender: women and development vs women in development vs gender and development vs women's empowerment. The first phrase peaks in 1992 or so, the second a year or two later, the third in 2000 and the last, women's empowerment, really took off in the late 80s and is yet to peak.
Climate: global warming vs climate change. Both terms take off in 1985, but global warming levels off in 1995 while the use of climate change powers on.
UN Agencies: for UNICEF vs FAO, see a tale of two agencies. In the late 80s UNICEF overtook FAO in book mentions and powered on, having been level pegging for about 30 years.
Bretton Woods: Bretton Woods vs Washington Consensus. The use of Bretton Woods has been declining since 1995 and the use of the Washington Consensus, although lower in incidence, is still on the rise.
Development: sustainable development vs wellbeing. Wellbeing has been with us for a while and is rising, while sustainable development peaked in 2000.
MDGs. MDGs took off in 2001 and are still on the rise.
Crises: world food crisis vs oil price crisis. massive peak for the first in late 70s and more modest peak for latter in late 80s.
Human rights and social justice: the former takes off in 1975, and the latter is steadily rising.
On accountability, transparency and corruption: corruption was written about much more in 19th century compared to the 20th, at least in English language books. Accountability and transparency are slowly catching up in the 21st century.
Charities and NGOs: charities peaked in the mid 19th century and NGOs are a 1980s phenomenon.
Social protection, social capital, safety nets. Interestingly social protection has been used more widely than safety nets for a very long time. social capital dwarfs both, however, taking off around the time of Putnam's book on Italy.
As you can see, one can go on for ever (it's addictive).
Its not quite clear how it can best be used for serious research, but perhaps the historians are already using it (it was launched in December 2010).
As Ravallion points out the Viewer does have biases, including:
* is the 5.2 million book sample from Michel et. al. 2010 representative of the 15 million digitized books from the 40 university libraries all over the world?
* are the books representative of thinking at the time or just the current thinking of literate people?
The potential for misinterpretation of phrases and words is nontrivial, but as a starting point this tool might help us look backwards and learn from the past, give issues more of a historical context and remind us of how faddish we can be in development (what is the development equivalent of platform shoes?).
In helping us look backwards the Viewer might even help us look forwards a bit better.
Let us know about any interesting graphs you made with the Viewer.
21 February 2011
Examples include the folly of the "first principles" thinking of the tower block designers of the 1960s which quickly dehumanised those living within them, to the search for the shortest route across Central America (not looking for short east-west routes but stumbling across the oblique Panama cut), disorganised market systems (a triumph of obliquity) and the success of businesses that prioritise the building of meaning through a business (hard to quantify) versus businesses that prioritise the maximisation of shareholder value (they often fail because they pick on only one part of the multiple objective function).
The book is a warning not to treat models as a substitute for judgement and experience. My favourite reference in the book is to a "Professor of Decision Sciences" who is headhunted by a prestigious University. He asks his colleague for advice--should he take the post?. You, of all people should be able to do without my advice, says his colleague. The Professor of Decision Sciences says "Don't be silly, this is serious".
The book is all about the need for feedback loops, adaptation, evolution (see Owen Barder's column on this) and the proposition that direct (as opposed to indirect) action makes sense only if you are clear about higher level goals and you have sufficient knowledge and control of the systems that achievement is based on (and that does not often characterise social and economic change).
Systemic Action Research by my colleague Danny Burns (2010) covers similar territory (also using a high-rise tower block example as did Kay) but is a more academic book, covering the research methods for making sense of a complex and uncertain world. "Sense making is often about making creating a whole out of fragments. But it is about more than juxtaposing and arbitrarily linking them. It is about finding the patterns that connect them and constructing a meaningful narrative to hold them". The book describes different types of action research ("coming to know") and resonates with Kay's position of "we learn about the structure of a problem by the process of solving it".
These books do not reflect the mainstream of development thinking, although this is changing. Feedback loops, constant adaption, lateral systems thinking -- these things don't fit terribly well into the campaigning, 3-year turnaround, silo-ed world of current development assistance (and research). As one who was schooled in models, linearity, and direct problem solving, but has spent the last 20 years trying to blend the two approaches --direct and indirect--more seamlessly, I can recommend both of these books.
17 February 2011
On Valentine's Day I was proud to make a presentation at an IDS event to highlight some of the value added of analysing sexuality and development.
Once you get past the giggles, the enormous value added of looking at the formation and consequences of sexuality and sexual roles becomes obvious.
For example, our Sexuality and Development Programme has shed light on the reasons for girl school drop out (menstruation related), on the drivers of lack of mobility (sexual control) and on how attitudes towards sexuality are formed (romance versus social deprivation--see the Pleasure Project for a good example of positive framing). All of these things are vital to key development priorities: mobility for entrepreneurship, school attainment for gender equality, and fundamental ways of influencing behaviour change in reproductive health (through understanding the drivers of risk and vulnerability).
In recent years there has been significant law reform which has supported the realisation of sexual rights, such as the overturn of the anti-sodomy law in India, however there has also been an upsurge of homophobia in many settings.
So the agenda is large and yet there are few researchers working in these areas. This is not because the returns are not likely to be high, but because researchers are disincentivised from working on these apparently frivolous areas.
Challenging the areas may be, frivolous they are not.
13 February 2011
1. The goal of the conference was not terribly clear to me. Was it a rallying call to maintain the momentum for agriculture, using its impacts on nutrition as added justification? Or was it a rallying call to maintain the momentum on nutrition by looking at how an additional potential resource, agriculture, could do more for nutrition? In other words, who was leveraging whom? I felt the conference featured both of these strands. Both are important, but the ambiguity did not help us to focus on the key issues.
2. Whatever the motivation, there was a clear appetite for agriculture and nutrition to work together more closely, but less of a sense of how to do it? Should we analyse multisectorally and act sectorally? Or analyse and act multisectorally? Or play to sectoral strengths and co-locate interventions? Marie Ruel of IFPRI rightly said this is a researchable question, and it reminded me of the complex systems work that Danny Burns does at IDS.
3. In terms of the evidence base, we had a nice paper by Derek Heady of IFPRI updating the cross-country regression paper that Lisa Smith and I did in 2000, significantly upgrading and disaggregating the data and the methods. The paper finds that agricultural growth has a positive impact on underweight reduction and non-ag growth has a zero impact, while the reverse is true for stunting: ag growth has no impact, but non-ag growth has a positive impact on stunting reduction. India is the key outlier—when its data are excluded, the relationship between agricultural growth and stunting becomes much stronger.
4. So we know that agricultural growth at the aggregate level is important for child underweight and stunting (when Indian states are excluded). But are there key features of agricultural programmes that make them more or less potent in reducing undernutrition? Here I cited some of the preliminary results from a systematic review that I blogged about last week (by Edoardo Masset). That paper concludes that (a) the set of high quality impact studies looking at the impacts of agricultural interventions (which intend to reduce undernutrition) on undernutrition is very small at around 20, with about a third of them showing positive results and none showing negative results. Clearly we have to grow this set of studies if we are to work out how to increase the positive impact of agriculture on growth.
5. But we cannot stop there…we then need to understand the design features of these interventions that made then successful in reducing undernutrition—were they multisectoral in design or delivery? Were they staffed by people with multisectoral training? Were they community led? Did they invest in strong relational networks? Were the supported by pooled funding from different sectors? Which kinds of indicators did they track and who influenced the selection of indicators? How strong was the leadership behind the interventions? In other words we need to get behind the successful interventions, identify the enablers and then figure out ways of supporting the emergence of those enablers.
6. More evidence is not a prerequisite for action, we can learn as we go along, but the resources for doing that must be there (a minimum of 5% of the overall intervention budget I would say). And when we find things that work, we must communicate and share these innovations in creative and imaginative ways that facilitate the uptake and adaptation of these ideas using wikis, turning social networks into social capital networks, using SMS technology, and multimedia.
Was there anything terribly new about the conclusions?
For some perspective I went to look at the report from a 1984 workshop on “International Agricultural Research and Human Nutrition”, edited by Per Pinstrup Andersen, Alan Berg and Martin Forman. The first recommendation for follow up activities says that the international agricultural research centres (i.e. the CGIAR) should “begin research to estimate the effects of past agricultural research on human nutrition, either globally or for selected countries”. Post 1984, and with a few notable exceptions, I would say this sensible recommendation was ignored.
The conclusion of the 2011 conference is not that different. Post 2011, with rising levels and increasing volatility of food prices and stubborn rates of undernutrition, we simply cannot afford to let history repeat itself.
I am cautiously optimistic this time around, but no more than that.
09 February 2011
The election of a new Director-General will take place in a secret ballot to be held at the beginning of the 37th FAO Conference (Rome, 25 June to 2 July 2011) by the organization's 191 member nations. The deadline for nominations was yesterday, 31 January.
The six candidates, each nominated by his government, are listed in alphabetical order by country: Franz Fischler (Austria), José Graziano da Silva (Brazil), Indroyono Soesilo (Indonesia), Mohammad Saeid Noori Naeini (Iran, Islamic Republic of), Abdul Latif Rashid (Iraq) and Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé (Spain)."
I have trawled the internet (well, looked moderately hard) to find links to the candidates bios/cvs/profiles and some pictures -- see below.
Given that we all have a stake in who gets this position, it's not much to go on, is it?
I am going to write to each of the candidates and invite them to answer the same set of questions for publication on this blog. They probably will not agree, but we can try.
Please send me some ideas for questions to pose to the "FAO 6".
Austria: Franz Fischler
Brazil: José Graziano da Silva Indonesia: Indroyono Soesilo
Iran (Islamic Republic of): Mohammad Saeid Noori Naeini
Iraq: Abdul Latif Rashid (on left of picture)
Spain: Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé
07 February 2011
But agriculture can do a lot more to reduce undernutrition. Producing food is one thing. But the creation of jobs and income, the empowerment of women and an increased supply of micronutrients are also things that agriculture could do much more of. It would be in agriculture’s interests to do so too. There are technologies and policies that can help agriculture do more to reduce undernutrition, but what can be done to incentivise agriculture to do more for nutrition at a more systemic level? I will be presenting the ideas below at the IFPRI Conference in Delhi on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health later this week.
1. More impact evaluations: we hardly have any to guide us
We need more impact evaluations of the small number of agriculture interventions that explicitly aim to improve nutrition. We can then learn from these. My IDS colleague Edoardo Masset has led the completion of a first draft of a systematic review of agriculture interventions which aim to improve nutrition status (1). The initial findings are sobering. 307 studies of agricultural intervention evaluations designed to improve nutrition were found which were published on or after 1990, in English, for developing countries, having data on outcomes (participation, income and expenditure, diet, micronutrients and nutritional status). Of these 307, only 30 reported an impact study on any of the indicators above. Of these, only 23 had credible impact evaluation models which allowed a counterfactual to be modelled. Of these 23 studies, 13 specifically looked at anthropometric indicators of children under the age of 5. Of these 13 studies, only one showed a positive impact on stunting, the rest showed no effect. Of the 13, 5 showed a positive impact on underweight, the rest showed no effect. The really troubling finding is that half of the “no impact” studies had impact designs with too low a statistical power to uncover impacts -- even if they were present. Even for agricultural interventions that aim to improve nutrition status, the poor quality of nutrition impact assessment designs runs the risk of squandering public funding.
2. Use nutrition indicators to assess nutrition impact of agricultural programmes
If only 30 of 307 studies of agricultural interventions that aim to have an impact on nutrition (including fisheries, livestock, dairy, home gardens) actually contain an impact assessment on nutrition relevant indicators, then something is going badly wrong at a systems level. Either agricultural interventions fail to implement their nutrition components, or they are implemented but there is a failure to collect the indicators or there is a failure to undertake an impact assessment. Why were indicators not collected if the intervention was implemented? Perhaps it is a result of a perception that it is too difficult, perhaps a lack of resources to do it, or simply a feeling that it is not sufficiently important for the key stakeholders. Certainly it does require a different skill set to collect nutrition outcome data, but the methods are relatively straightforward and not costly relative to other outcome indicators. The same goes for impact assessment. The requirement to collect nutrition outcome indicators and conduct impact assessments would focus the theory of change of the intended outcome—improved nutrition status. Donors have a huge role to play here in insisting that the purpose of the intervention and the indicators align and that creative impact assessments are completed. This is in agriculture’s interests too. It is going to be increasingly difficult for donors to justify funding agricultural interventions –whether or not they explicitly aim to improve nutrition--that only aim to raise productivity and have no ambition to maximise the impact of that productivity on nutrition status. And even if donors can get away with it in the short to medium run, agriculture will lose out in the longer run as it becomes exposed to changing donor tastes with no insurance policy of a demonstrable set of impacts on human nutrition.
3. Look for ways to increase women’s control over agricultural decisions and resources
One way of incentivising the greater intertwining of nutrition and agriculture agendas is to create more opportunities for women to influence and shape agendas, decisions and resource flows in agriculture. That is because women are often responsible for both of these agendas. My former colleagues at IFPRI have done a nice recent review paper on this (2). For half of the comparisons of resource access, there is no gender difference. But for the other half, where there is a difference between male and female access, it is almost always in favour of men. I still find such data shocking and disturbing. At a practical level, it represents an overinvestment in male entrepreneurial energy and an underinvestment in female talent. At a more fundamental rights level, it surely does not reflect a free consensus on how best to grant access to agricultural resources. Citizens should demand more from their governments and the donors. There should be more experiments with quotas, all-women leadership programmes, and innovative approaches to creating the kinds of spaces for change that women can participate in and influence.
4. Rethink curricula in agriculture and in human nutrition
To intertwine nutrition and agriculture, it will help to have professionals who have an appreciation for both, even if they only have expertise in one or the other. There are very few analyses of university curricula for human nutrition or for agriculture. The most recent study I could find in nutrition was a survey in Norway of what prospective employers were looking for from Norwegian trained nutritionists (3). When 91 potential employers were asked about the essential functions they are looking for from a nutritionist, the second ranked out of 31 attributes was an ability to provide nutrition information to those outside of the nutrition profession (the first was familiarity with laws and regulations pertaining to nutrition). The third ranked was an ability to transform science based knowledge into practical advice and the fourth was communication with the mass media. If we had nutrition curricula that delivered this, they would go a long way to facilitating cross-sector working. In agriculture, the most recent paper I could find was by Moore et al. 2009 (4) which cites a study from 2003 which found that only 5% of agricultural undergraduate students in the US earned a passing score when quizzed about international agricultural issues. It would be interesting to do similar quizzes about nutrition. So on the employer side and the student side we have thin evidence bases, but what we have shows some demand for nutritionists (in Norway at least) who can think outside of the nutrition box and that agriculture students in the US will not learn about international agriculture unless it forms part of their core curriculum. I could not find any content analysis studies of nutrition or agricultural curricula. If you know of some, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) A review of empirical evidence on gender differences in nonland agricultural inputs, technology, and services in developing countries. 2010. Peterman, Amber; Behrman, Julia; Quisumbing, Agnes. IFPRI Discussion Paper 975. Washington, D.C. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
(3) Torheim, L. E. et. al. 2009. A survey among potential employers for developing a curriculum in public health nutrition. Public Health Nutrition. 12(80) 1039-1045.
(4) Moore et. al. 2009. Developing and International Agricultural Leadership Program to meet the needs of a global community. J of Leadership Education. 8(1). 118-128.
The third, forthcoming in Food Policy, is by Ugo Gentili and Steven Were Omamo of the World Food Programme. The paper is a review of what we know about social protection. It is short, but with few wasted words, and is one of the best reviews I have seen. It describes the evolution of social protection and outlines some of the challenges ahead, including what to watch out for in the move from "limited" programmes (aid based, more safety net, low mainstreaming, high redistribution) to more "consolidated" programmes (domestically financed, insurance based, more integrated into legislation, lower redistribution). The paper would have been even stronger if it had focused a bit more on the factors leading to the emergence of social protection (political opportunity? strong capacity to seize opportunity? strong capacity to implement?) to give us some clues as to where it might be going, but one can't have everything.
The thing I like about these studies is that they are rigorous analyses of the conditions necessary for effective interventions to take root in other contexts.
In other words they lead us into the "post-impact" agenda to think about the real life conditions that will maximise the impacts of what (we think) works.
01 February 2011
"The people’s revolution in Egypt has sustained its activism in its second week in demanding Mubarak’s relinquishment of power. The protesters have gathered today in the heart of Cairo in a bid to make this the largest rally of one million citizens on the streets in a bid to bring an end to thirty years of authoritarian rule. The protesters, in their thousands, are concentrated in Tahrir Square in Cairo and other central squares in other governorates, all being surrounded with an army that has so far been treating citizens with extraordinary civility. But what about the rest of the country? What is happening to the millions of other civilians who are not currently on the streets protesting?
The citizens of Cairo and Alexandria and other major cities and towns in Egypt have been subjected to an organized, systematic and comprehensive terror campaign orchestrated by the Ministry of Interior in its bid to turn Egyptians against the protesters and their demands. This plan was enacted on the nights of the Friday and Saturday 28th-29th January during the curfew which was imposed on Egyptian citizens from 4pm to 8 am. The story of what happened from evening to sunset on those two days needs to be told from the perspective of citizens’ experiences and examined in the light of its ramifications on the current power struggles analyzed.
On the evening of Friday 28th, Mubarak appeared on national television and announced the resignation of the current government and his commitment to political and economic reforms. Shortly thereafter, there was a complete withdrawal of the Ministry of Interior and all traces of the presence of security forces dissipated. The prisons were left empty without guards, the traffic was left without traffic men, the police stations became void of all personnel and the security forces that were responsible for protecting public and private premises disappeared. On Friday and Saturday night, Cairo was almost completely destroyed and brought to the ground. It was looted and plundered and many of the major buildings burned. What was witnessed across the streets of Cairo and other governorates- all taking place around about the same time were gangs comprised of 12-20 men in plain clothes, carrying batons and metal objects, swarming the streets, looting shops, terrorizing citizens and breaking into residential buildings. In the process, factories, stores and public premises were burned to the ground. By Sunday, there was an estimated 18 LE billion in losses.
Eyewitnesses confirm that the protesters were not the responsible party. The protesters’ attacks were very specific and strategic: police stations which are symbolic of the police state and its use of terror against citizens and the premises of the national ruling Democratic Party, symbolic of the corruption and decay of the current regime, otherwise, no public or private properties were touched.In response to the withdrawal of the police force on Friday, within minutes, the people in every neighbourhood took over, established in every street popular committees for the protection of public and private property. In every street, the youth came down with knives, swords and kerosene gas, closed the streets from every outlet and stood to fight off the thugs. Many of these vigilante groups in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez were able to capture the groups of thugs, and discovered, from their ID cards that they were affiliated to the Ministry of Interior. They were handed over to the military. The other gangs of thugs also believed to be members of the Ministry of Interior, roamed the streets at midnight firing shotguns in the air generating fear and uncertainty. This is in line with a leaked document from the Minister of Interior’s office, widely publicized by the BBC and the Egyptian press and which revealed a strategy of complete withdrawal of the Ministry’s personnel, their replacement of official uniform with plain clothes and their infiltration of the streets. The objective, exposed from the leaked document was to create complete and utter chaos in the bid to terrorize the Egyptian people into pleading for the return of the security forces. The plan failed because of the highly sophisticated organizational skills displayed by citizens on a neighbourhood level and the co-ordination between the citizens and the military in capturing the responsible parties.
However, what is clear is that while the political fate of Egypt is being fought, the Ministry of Interior will not shy from using every possible strategy to destroy the country to the ground- very much in line with the military “scorched earth” policy. It is difficult to assume that the Minister of Interior, Habib el Adly was acting independently of President Mubarak. In the past thirty years, Mubarak has fragmented the security forces affiliated to the Ministry of Interior into many semi-autonomous but competing apparatuses. For example, in addition to the state security investigations apparatus that serves as the domestic intelligence agency, there is also a parallel presidential investigations apparatus. It is these actors and many other semi-autonomous ones that are functioning underground now, the scope of their power (security or otherwise) and the lengths to which they will go to destroy the country is unknown. As the euphoria of public protests runs high, we must also not forget to document meticulously what is happening on the streets of Cairo in the hope that one day, we will use the evidence to bring the responsible parties to justice.
In the meantime, unless the military adopts a clear position as to which side it is on- the people or the Mubarak regime, Egyptians, and not the President will continue to be the bleeding party. The display of amicability and civility by the military towards the Egyptian population is simply not good enough anymore"