30 November 2012

Why Poverty? Why Malnutrition? BBC Podcast

As part of the Why Poverty? series, I was asked to do a talk for BBC Radio on why malnutrition exists and what we can do to help overcome it.

Here is the link to the podcast and here is a link to a related article. I hope it is useful. Best, Lawrence

27 November 2012

Sustainable Diets: What are they? Why should we care?

Yesterday I attended a workshop on Sustainable Diets hosted by the Daniel Carasso Foundation, Bioversity International (a CGIAR centre) and FAO.

What is a sustainable diet? A diet that is healthy, affordable, environmentally sustainable and culturally acceptable. That is a tall order. It is easy to think of diets that are affordable but unhealthy, or diets that are healthy but environmentally unsustainable, or diets that are environmentally sustainable but culturally unacceptable. But all together?  Its important that we try to do this--we have to operate more consciously in a resource constrained world.

The exam topic I was set by the organisers was to say something useful on metrics. My powerpoints are here.

We had an interesting presentation by Jennie Macdiarmid from Rowett Research Institute at Aberdeen University on the Livewell project in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund—on what an affordable Scottish diet looks like--one that meets dietary minimum requirements, is culturally acceptable (i.e. looks like actual Scottish diets) and, crucially, meets greenhouse gas emission targets.
It turns out that what is healthy is not the same as what is environmentally sustainable. In other words it is not all about reducing meat consumption. The results were generated by a relatively straightforward linear programming model. The innovation is incorporating emission data and limits into the model.

My presentation was about how it was essential to get some metrics on sustainable diets. This would force us to be specific, to make choices about what is in and what is out, to identify and assess tradeoffs and importantly, to tell us what difference it would make to policy choices and decisions.

I outlined a few related pieces of work that might be borrowed from: the Multidimensional Poverty Index, the Sarkozy Commission report, the Global Hunger Index, and the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) that IDS will release in January. Ultimately we want to know if equally healthy and affordable diets have different environmental footprints.

There are a number of technical challenges:

• Getting data on food consumption, on the nutrient composition of local foods, and on the environmental and resource use implications of the use of different foods in the diet. (We need a Global Database on Food Consumption at FAO, similar to the Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition at WHO--Graziano da Silva please note!).

• Getting data on government and private sector commitment to sustainable diets (important because this is an inherently “whole of government” affair).

• How to combine the data? Perhaps (1) via a nonlinear programme (or some variant) that generates diets that can serve as a starting point for discussions in the kitchen and in government meeting rooms, (2) in an index or (3) in terms of “agricultural growth that reduces hunger by x for z levels of input use”?

The technical tradeoffs are important but the preference or social welfare tradeoffs that consumers and policymakers are prepared to make are equally important. They reflect values, tradition, history, politics and culture. To get at these tradeoffs we could use behavioural economics to test preferences through constructed situations, choices, and experiments—with different groups of consumers and different groups of policymakers to get a range of “who’s values count?”

On the policy research side, the options seem to be:

• Find positive examples of sustainable diets and try to work out whether they have anything in common and whether policy played any role—deliberately or inadvertently

• Identify relationships that may serve as entry points for policy: e.g. prices, information, social norms, women’s power in decision making

• Evaluate existing interventions that aim to promote sustainable diets (there aren’t many to evaluate)

• Evaluate existing interventions that inadvertently have a positive or negative impacts on sustainable diets (e.g. the US farm subsidies to corn syrup production, the Common Agricultural Policy)

I found the workshop interesting—I learned a lot and met people outside of my usual circles.

I also got to see the first Daniel Carraso Foundation Award get presented to Jessica Fanzo, a worthy recipient. She has managed to combine bench work in molecular nutrition with community nutrition and policy research. She has worked with environmentalists, engineers, economists, agriculturalists, and even political scientists (e.g. Andres Mejia Acosta at IDS). Well done Jess.

22 November 2012

A policymaker's confessions: between knowledge based approaches and political vigour

We were treated to a fascinating Sussex Development Lecture yesterday from Hege Hertzberg, Political Director for Development in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hege is one of those people who can analyse like a researcher, think like a politician and operate effectively as a top civil servant. Quite a combination.

The themes of her talk?

(1) policy is usually evidence based--but often the evidence is selected to be consistent with the message. This is quite common because evidence is often contradictory, fractured and certainly not neutral--not when it comes to much social science. (I would add that systematic reviews can help to locate a centre of gravity, but they often serve to highlight heterogeneity and sometimes exacerbate it by comparing apples and oranges in an uncritical way).

(2) most research papers are not useful in policymaking because there are too many caveats and clauses and in any case they are too long. Part of this is because the issues are complex and part is because researchers don't like to stick their neck out (there are weak incentives to do so, let's face it). Researchers should not stop striving for academic journals--but if they want their work to be used they need to go beyond their comfort zone and talk about their findings, recommendations and warnings in ways that non-researchers can understand.

(3) her most effective way of learning about new research is by attending workshops and meetings and by talking to researchers, developing working relationships with them over the years and by reading blogs (2 minute videos?-- depends).

(4) Hege used the MDGs to illustrate some of her points, describing them as a masterpiece of policymaking.  Pointing out that the 8 goals (7 before they remembered to add in Environment) were agreed in non-inclusive way, and that this was accepted because no-one really thought they would be important. She said that is certainly not the case now. She also wondered what the MDGs would look like if they had been evidence based rather than policy message based.  Would they have been better?

(5) She said she thought it was unlikely to be politically acceptable to national leaders to meet at the September 2015 UN General Assembly just to announce more of the same on the MDGs. She said national politicians would want to announce something bold. She felt (as I do) that the goals have to generate a clear and accountable obligation for all countries. For example on zero hunger, there were obligations of rich, emerging and poor countries to do something. For rich countries for example, relax the "best before" deadlines on packaged foods so that less food gets wasted (and, I might add, reform the CAP!).

I won't share with you her 6 confessions, but I did think drawing up a list of my own confessions would be a good topic for a future blog.

It is no surprise to me that Hege was so insightful and provocative--I have been on several panels with her before. 

But then, she started her career in nutrition and we know how provocative those types can be.

15 November 2012

Jan Pronk: There is no "post conflict"

At the Hans Singer Memorial Lecture last night (a joint initiative of IDS and the German Development Institute in Bonn), Jan Pronk gave us his views on peace building and development.

Hans Singer (picture left) was co-generator of the Singer-Prebisch hypothesis about the gains from trade being skewed away from primary goods exporters due to declines in commodity prices and Redistribution with Growth which he developed with Richard Jolly which argued against  the conceptual and policy separation of growth and distribution so popular in the 70s (and today for some).

Hans passed away in 2006 and this series in his honour fluctuates between the 2 places he spent most of his academic life--at IDS in Brighton and in Bonn.

Jan Pronk (picture right) was a fitting person to give the 4th lecture in the series. He was the Minister for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. He held senior positions in UNCTAD, was Assistant Secretary General of the UN, the UN Special Envoy on Sustainable Development and Kofi Annan's Special Representative to Sudan in 2005-6. He one of the few development economists who understands politics--in theory and practice. I could go on--his Wikipedia entry runs to 8 pages!

Pronk made some key points:

  • get rid of the term "post-conflict" there is always conflict in change, and development is change--what we need to worry about is preventing and containing conflict escalation
  • peace keeping by military forces runs many risks--particularly the entry of foreign interests to inadvertently or deliberately undermine the whole peace process
  • enduring peace processes are home grown, go with the grain of development and cannot be imported
  • the data that show conflicts to be declining and that support analyses that conclude greed rather than grievance drives conflict, use definitions of conflict (death on a battlefield) that are too narrow
  • peace keeping, peace making, and peace building don't happen in sequence --we need to be integrating them and practising them simultaneously

He concluded that peace building is complex and needs to take a comprehensive view, it needs to employ caution and wisdom and it is OK if it slow and does not oversell expectations.

These are refrains we hear frequently in development, and we are struggling with many of the same issues (not terribly successfully it should be said).

What I missed from his talk were the implications for external actors of his view of peace building. Nevertheless a fascinating and provocative presentation. Hans would have loved it.

Watch out for it on the IDS website.

13 November 2012

Agricultural saviours: young, senior and dead

Three items of note today, all--in one way or another--about agricultural development and saviours.

First up, a new IDS Bulletin by my colleague Jim Sumberg and his collaborator Kate Wellard on "Young People and Agriculture in Africa".  Written mostly by African collaborators, the 9 papers take on this "problem". What is the problem you say? Well, Sumberg and collaborators state that the problem is that we keep zeroing in on the wrong problem. The issue is framed either as "agriculture is the saviour of young people" or "young people as the saviour of agriculture". The real questions, they argue, are: (1) what are the determinants of  young people's interest in and success at exploiting the agri-food opportunity space? and (2) and what national and international forces shape that space?

They argue, convincingly I think, for more of a life course approach--pushes and pulls into agriculture may be temporary or permanent, strategic or tactical, but the lifecourse provides a useful way of thinking about livelihood strategies in 3-D. It is remarkable how limited the evidence base is in this area--in the last 12 years there have only been 63 papers published in journals on African youth and agriculture. This is strange given that most poor families, in on away or another, still rely on agriculture for work, income, low food prices and food in the market. There are no saviours, only opportunities to be taken, strategically or otherwise. We need to know more about what the evidence says about how we can enable young people to seize those barriers.

Next up, an altogether different type of saviour, Meles Zenawi, the President of Ethiopia who passed away in August. My colleague Jeremy Lind has written an IDS Rapid Response Brief: After Meles on the implications for Ethiopia's development. Lind writes "Meles built up a complex web of relationships that conjoined domestic political forces with foreign investors, leading the country towards impressive rates of growth and substantial achievement of some development indicators. Under his rule Ethiopia’s national image began a slow transformation from famine-plagued nation to a fast-growing country which was at the heart of a new global realpolitik in Africa. The challenge now is whether Ethiopia’s institutions, dominated at all levels by a single party, can transition to greater pluralism and, if so, will this enable the country to approach middle-income status by 2025 – a much-vaunted goal of the late Prime Minister."  

Lind makes several points: (1) under Meles, Ethiopia's image has been transformed from basket case to one of strong economic growth, including investments in agriculture, (2) but there are real questions about whether this growth is having a sufficiently strong impact on poverty, (3) in addition there are questions about how long the implicit social contract of increased growth for reduced freedoms will last, (4) the new President Hailemariam Dessalegn is from Wolaita – a part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), but is not a member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front. Despite this appointment, Meles' power base is still firmly in control of key sectors of the Government. So is the recipe for middle income status "more of the same" or is it via increasing plurality? My guess is the former--for as long as it all holds together.  

Finally, we have Gordon Conway's new book, One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?  The answer? We can feed the world, if we recognise, acknowledge or do 24 different things, things that are eloquently outlined in the book.  The 24 are entirely sensible, but given the political weakness of hunger leaders it would be a major achievement if any one of the 24 things actually happened (e.g. one of them is the Doha Round is completed with a satisfactory outcome for the least developed countries) let alone a major number of them.  So it is a long list and a non-prioritised, non sequenced, non political one at that.   There are few clues as to how we make political leaders, citizens and businesses wake up to the immorality, bad economics and bad politics of persistent hunger.  For example, "political economy" only comes up once in the index and "political stability" one other time.  This is a fantastically comprehensive book, written by a true authority in the field, but it does not really give us enough clues about how we wake people up about hunger.

The real saviours for hunger reduction are the everyday citizens who act up and pressure their governments to act--we have to find tangible ways to support their efforts.

08 November 2012

Is it wrong to cut UK aid to India?

Today’s announcement that the UK is to end financial aid to India by 2015 will re-ignite the debate about aid to middle income developing countries. 

It's a difficult one. 

Is India rich? No--its GDP/capita is a third of China's and a sixth of Brazil.  India is still a very poor country.  You won't see it so much if you go to Delhi or Mumbai but go one hour out of town and you will be shocked. 

Is India using its domestic resources as well as it can for poverty reduction? No, but it is trying to get it right--hence the debate over the massive National Food Security Bill. 

Why should a country with a space programme get aid?  As I have said before the space programme is as much about weather and land quality mapping as about anything else. 

Is UK aid "peanuts" for India as a Indian Minister said in February?  In absolute terms, yes.  But it is an invaluable source of experimentation, piloting, access to knowledge, and risk taking. 

What if the Indian government does not want aid?  Well, obviously it could easily say "no thanks". 

For every poor country, not just India, the future is in domestic resource mobilisation, not aid. 

Just try telling that to the millions of Indian mothers trying to keep their babies alive.

Maybe it's not so difficult.

07 November 2012

The US Election: 6 things we learned

I happened to be in Washington DC on election day (we are holding a Washington IDS Alumni meeting this evening).

Here are 6 things I learned:

1.  The Republican Party need a massive change in strategy to remain competitive. Republicans have now lost 5 of the last 6 popular votes.  In 1988 George Bush senior won 60% of the white vote and won over 400 electoral votes 270 is the target).  Last night Mitt Romney won 60% of the white vote but only scraped over 200 electoral votes.  This is because whites now only constitute 72% of the electorate.  The Republicans have to figure out how to become a national party--a party that appeals to all groups.

2.  This is no status quo election.  One of the commentators said a theme of the election is "I spent $6 billion and all I got was the status quo".  The election did cost a staggering $6 billion, but this is not status quo. Yes, there is no change in control of the Presidency, Senate and House.  But much like in Bill Clinton's second term, the Republicans and Democrats now have to make an effort to reach across the aisle to get things done for America. 

3.  Obama's big signature policies are now very unlikely to be turned back in 2016.  Affordable health care will now take root.  No new wars are on the horizon.  The deficit will not just be reduced through cuts--there will be some tax increases for those who can afford more.

4.  This was a disaster for the Tea Party. Their extreme Senate candidates got beaten in states where they should have been competitive.  In all the CNN, MSNBC and Fox coverage I caught there was no sign of Tea Party members.  No Michelle Bachmann, no Sarah Palin, no Amy Kremer.

5.  Mitt Romney was a weak candidate.  President Obama was a sitting duck.  High unemployment, a net 14 percent of the electorate thinking the country was heading in the wrong direction, healthcare that still has a net negative favourability rating.  And yet this was a decisive result for the President.  In the end, Romney was wooden, had shifting positions on everything, and just came across as fake.  Governor Chris Christie would have wiped the floor with the President.

6. Obama's victory is good for international development.  IDS' US development partners I talked to in the past few days were very anxious about a Romney victory.  President Obama is seen as an internationalist, a multilateralist, someone who understand the need to engage, someone who is serious about rights and who understands soft power.  And in the wake of "Superstorm" Sandy, some also have hopes for some much needed US leadership on climate change in Obama's second term.

02 November 2012

Hunger and Malnutrition: Then and Now

For those of you who grew up listening to mix tapes (for the under 30s read "playlists"), the IDS Virtual Bulletin is for you.  

The idea is to mix and match articles by theme, spanning the years. 

The latest edition is on Hunger and Malnutrition and has articles from the last 30 years from the likes of:

Michael Lipton, Margaret Buchanan-Smith, Mona Sharma, Paul Howe, Jeremy Swift, Richard Longhurst, Simon Maxwell, Ian Scoones, Stephen Devereux, John Thompson, Biraj Swain, Geoff Tansey and Harsh Mander.  

It was compiled by our Editorial team of Alison Norwood and Gary Edwards.  All the articles are available online and free of charge. 

Here is the Foreword from me. 

The first article in this virtual IDS Bulletin is by Michael Lipton and dates from 1982. In that year the WHO stunting rate for children of preschool age in sub-Saharan Africa was 39 per cent. In 2012 the rate is still 39 per cent. The FAO hunger numbers paint a slightly less depressing picture for that region – the percentage of the population that were hungry in 1980 was 38 per cent and 30 years later it is 27 per cent. 

Like the numbers, the issues in this Bulletin remain remarkably constant – investing in smallholder agriculture, linking relief and development, dealing with seasonality, turning economic growth into child growth, ensuring technology is hunger-reducing – joined by innovations such as the growing right to food movement. 

But there is hope. The picture has improved much more dramatically in East Asia and Latin America, driven by various combinations of income growth and strategic public spending on health, social welfare and agriculture. Looking forward there is cause for optimism. In the high burden regions, economic growth is relatively strong and the food price increases of the last five years have put these issues higher on the political agenda. 

As Brazil, Peru, Honduras, Vietnam and Ghana show, the most precious and potent ingredient in ending hunger and malnutrition is political leadership. 

All of us have to push our politicians to be leaders of this cause. This virtual Bulletin is one such contribution to doing just that.

01 November 2012

Global Development Goals: End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End?

Yesterday I gave evidence to the UK's International Development Select Committee, the body of MP's that, among other things, holds DFID to account. The Committee is conducting an Inquiry into what should come after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which currently end in 2015, I was on a panel with Richard Morgan, Senior Advisor at UNICEF and Eveline Herfkens (former Minister of Development Cooperation, the Netherlands).

IDS provided 5 submissions to the Inquiry. The one from the ESRC STEPS Centre, coordinated by IDS (Melissa Leach, Ian Scoones) and the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex (Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely) focused on politics, inclusiveness and power, with a special emphasis on how to reconcile environmental and development objectives. Noshua Watson at IDS delivered a submission on financing for the next set of goals. Andy Sumner (now at Kings) submitted on the new geography of poverty.  The "Participate: Knowledge from the Margins" team (IDS and Beyond 2015) presented on the need to listen to those who are normally not heard, and argued strongly for citizen-led accountability mechanisms to help legitimise the next set of goals.

It is good to see the various dialogue processes intensifying--it's about time. The end of 2015 is approaching fast and there are no guarantees that the world will have decided what to do with the Goals by then.
If the MDGs were the end of the beginning will the post-2015 discussion mark the beginning of the end of Goals? I hope not, and it need not, but high level political leadership is in short supply.

My written testimony is below, keying in on some of the exam questions set to us by Malcolm Bruce and his Committee. Here is a related powerpoint to AusAID.

1. Lessons learned from the adoption of the International Development Targets and the Millennium Development Goals: in particular how effective has the MDG process been to date?

The current MDG framework has provided a basis around which a broad international consensus has been built and that has concentrated global attention and resources on addressing some of the most pressing development outcomes, outcomes that if dealt with will save and improve people's lives.

The MDG process is thought to have had the following effects on donors and recipient countries:
It has strengthened the view that if support for aid is to be sustained, measurable progress must be shown in areas that the public in donor countries view as desirable. Recognition of the MDG framework within traditional donor countries has been highly variable. It has been good in the Nordic countries, yet much less visible elsewhere.

It is thought to have (a) increased Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and (b) directed a greater share of it to Sub Saharan Africa.

There has been more of an impact on the aid discourse than on resource allocation and there is little evidence of the impact on national policies in developing countries.

2. The coverage of future goals: should they be for developing countries only or should progress be monitored in all countries

All countries should be bound by at least some of the goals. A new framework needs to recognise the changes that have taken place in the world since the inception of the existing MDGs in 2000. Notions of 'developed' and 'developing' nations are now outmoded and aid is no longer the main source of development finance. Remittances, taxes, foreign direct investment (FDI) and private foundations all play an increasingly significant role. A more integrated approach to development is required, with more cross cutting policy responses and improved cooperation across all development actors.

Some of the goals would not make sense in the richer countries (e.g. $1.25 or $2 a day poverty rates) and some would be very difficult politically (e.g. halving of relative poverty or a target for declines in income inequality).

However there need to be some around climate, resource use and energy efficiency that are applied to all. When the goals apply to all countries, there should be a compensation mechanism or differentiated target for the poorer countries who are signing up to reduce global "bads" such as pollution, global warming, unfair trade, unregulated financial flows, unregulated arms and drug trade.

3. Targets: was the MDG 'target-based' approach a success? Should it be retained? How should progress be measured?

The 'target-based' approach should be retained within a new framework as without targets the goals are devalued. A new framework should include some indicators and targets on inputs such as spending, policies and charters as well as outcomes. This would strengthen the accountability framework. It is difficult to hold governments solely accountable for outcomes that can have multiple and international causes. It will be easier to hold them to account to commitments on spending, policy reform and signing up to charters and rights (for one example, see the IDS work on the hunger reduction commitment index at www.hrcindex.org)

4. Timescale: what period should the new framework cover? Was the 15-year timescale for the MDGs right?

The timescale for the existing MDGs of 15 years, with measurements on 25 years, was probably too short. It took at least two to three years to build awareness of the MDGs and discussions around what succeeds the MDGs have been underway since 2010. This has left less time to focus attention on accelerating progress towards meeting the existing goals. Bearing this in mind, a new framework should adopt a longer timescale of 20-25 years.

5. The content of future goals: what would be a good set of global goals? What continuity should there be with the MDGs, and how should the unfulfilled MDGs be taken forward?

A balance between continuity, learning and the changing world needs to be struck in a new post 2015 framework. A new framework needs to be underpinned by a theory of change – see figure below for a rough example. It should set out the human well being outcomes the framework is seeking to achieve i.e. freedom from hunger, good health, peace and security. The values of freedom, dignity, equality, solidarity, tolerance and respect for nature described in the original Millennium Declaration could serve as a good starting point. It should outline the enablers necessary to realise these values i.e. secure employment, education; the connectors such as access to energy, water, sanitation, infrastructure, ICTs and the sustainers including resource intensity and pollution targets. The commitments to these elements should be tracked and the gender dimensions monitored. Any model should be have a small number of goals but be more expansive on indicators.

The breadth of policies that drive a focused set of goals should be broadened to go beyond aid. A focused set of goals does not mean a limited set of policies. A more integrated approach and set of policy responses is required that incorporates climate, energy, trade, security, immigration, finance and intellectual property.

For more information regarding this submission or IDS’ work on the post 2015 agenda please contact Hannah Corbett at h.corbett@ids.ac.uk or on 01273 915640.