29 October 2013

Two-chord wonder: from IDS to IFPRI

I am a company man. None of this jumping around from organisation to organisation every 2 years for me. Keep it simple, as the late great Lou Reed (right) said: one chord is OK, two is pushing it and three is jazz. So I am sticking to two.

In other words, I am delighted to be re-joining IFPRI in April next year after I step down from my 10 year role as Director of IDS.

Both organisations are wonderful in their own way and I feel very fortunate to have worked at each. IFPRI has given me the passion of my life and IDS has helped me broaden the tools and context within which that passion is situated, and helped me look at it from new angles and make new connections.

I will be a Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, continuing working on all things at the intersection of poverty, agriculture and nutrition, with a dash of politics thrown in to complement the economic approaches.

I will continue to be based in Brighton, and will have an office at the University of Sussex's Economics Department as a visiting researcher. I will continue to work with IFPRI and IDS colleagues and look forward to meeting a whole host of new IFPRI colleagues and staying in touch with my IDS friends.

As for Development Horizon readers, you will hardly notice the change!

25 October 2013

Every vision needs a plan - and every plan needs a budget. Guest Blog from Judith Randel

Following up on my blog earlier this week about data and accountability, here is more on the data revolution from Judith Randel from Development Initiatives and a new IDS Board Member. Enjoy.

By Judith Randel

After many years in the world of financing for development, I have just spent the last few weeks feeling for the first time in some years that the conversation has shifted. Things are changing. High-level discussions about both the feasibility and the resources to end poverty are now not just about targets and aspirations, but timetables and plans. My sense is that we are maybe, now, crossing some thresholds: leaving behind 50 years of doing development in a north/south, donor/recipient model - one which even ten years ago felt like it was making less and less sense.

I write as (probably, like many of you) I reflect on recent conversations I’ve had in the wake of UNGA, and of the High Level Panel’s Report on Post 2015. With its focus on ending extreme poverty by 2030, emphasis on multidimensional poverty, and call for targeted interventions to ensure that no one is left behind in the context of global progress, the HLP report is both compelling and inspiring. But every vision needs a plan, and every plan needs a budget. That is what our recent report Investments to End Poverty and our meetings at UNGA- have been about. We've tried to map out all the resources available domestically and internationally, to unbundle aid and to examine the state of the data on people in extreme poverty to support the vision to end extreme poverty by 2030 - really end it. We don’t just mean ‘get the numbers down a bit’- the time has come to agree that we can reach zero.

We need better data- on all resources, not just aid

This isn’t being idealistic. The available evidence shows that ending extreme poverty by 2030 is affordable, and achievable. However, we do need to be smarter about managing and allocating the resources that are available. Aid is a precious, finite resource, but it is the only one explicitly directed at reducing poverty- so let’s target it where it can have most impact. This means either focusing aid on places and people where other resources are most scarce, or leveraging in additional finance. However to do that, we need to see the full picture of all resources; in Investments to End Poverty we’ve made a start at mapping what data there is on international resources flowing to developing countries.

But more important than international flows are domestic resources. This was a strong theme of the Global Partnership meeting in UNGA week (pdf), where a (stellar) panel emphasised the importance of getting better data on taxation, illicit flows, private finance and natural resource revenues. One of the things that I found most striking in the data we've presented in Investments to End Poverty is the extremely low levels of government spending - over 370 million people are living on less than $1.25 a day are in countries where total government spending amounts to less than $500 per person per year. (Our team of analysts intend to do more work on this theme in coming months.)

A real data revolution will have poverty eradication at its heart

The need for a data revolution highlighted by the HLP was underlined at every meeting I attended in New York- but to be a real revolution for post-2015, and not just an incremental shift in funding for statistics, it must have poverty eradication right at the heart. The HLP's call to “leave no-one behind” cannot be delivered without going beyond national averages and bringing disaggregated information to decision makers. Key to getting this right will be strong leadership from developing countries, well articulated demand from citizens - and a willingness to listen, and learn. Writing this from Nairobi - where the work my colleagues are doing shows the data revolution has been underway for quite a while - I feel it’s crucial that efforts aren’t diverted in a direction that saps the revolution’s vitality!

So let's do two things.  

  1. Recognise that the data revolution is about power - because, as everyone reading this knows from every hour of their lives, information is power. Access to information will empower different people and allow them to engage with their governments and other power holders in ways that should shape the agenda - not just respond to it. So access to information should be a goal in its own right.
  2. Get better data on who and where the poorest are- in order to make progress on ending extreme poverty. Some areas of real significance have very little data (security, employment, gender to name a few). But equally importantly, there is not enough information on exactly who is living in poverty- and where they live. It is clear that poverty persists in the face of national progress. Turning the vision for the end of poverty into a costed, timetabled plan will not be achieved without access to disaggregated, subnational data on poverty and resources.

24 October 2013

Britain and Africa: confronting the Zimbabwe question - Guest Blog from Ian Scoones

Readers, here is the blog I promised you a few days back from Ian Scoones, a Professorial Fellow at IDS--amongst other things he says it is time for the UK to reengage with Zimbabwe. 

By Ian Scoones

Britain’s relationship with Africa has always been a tricky one; and this is particularly so for a former settler colony like Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s recent win in the contested election in Zimbabwe has been seen by some as a victory for independent, sovereign Africa over the former colonial power and its imperial ambitions. As Richard Dowden commented in a recent issue of Prospect Magazine, this was “the biggest defeat for the United Kingdom’s policy in Africa in 60 years”.

In his recent speeches, Mugabe has not been able to constrain his glee. The deep animosity that developed between Zimbabwe and Tony Blair in particular is still a recurrent refrain. Britain has misjudged its diplomatic relationships with Zimbabwe many times, but the most extreme incident was Clare Short’s ill-judged letter in 1997 arguing that Britain had no special responsibility for the land issue, and Short’s Irish ancestry showed that she was not on the side of the coloniser. This of course infuriated Mugabe and many others. As nationalist leaders who fought a liberation war against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia regime, the denial of responsibility for colonialism was outrageous.

Yet today Britain is a declining power, with decreasing economic and political clout. Zimbabwe, as other African states, has turned to others for support, where the baggage of colonialism and the strings of aid and investment conditionality do not apply. Zimbabwe’s ‘Look East’ policy focuses on China, but also Malaysia, India and others. Chinese investments in Zimbabwe have accelerated, particularly in the period from 2000 when Western nations boycotted the country, and investment and credit lines were curtailed, due to Western reaction to Zimbabwe’s radical land reform.

The land reform saw a major restructuring of the agricultural sector and the wider economy. A transfer of nearly 10 million hectares benefitted over 170,000 households, around a million people. But at the same time it removed 4000 mostly white farmers from their land, and considerable numbers of farm workers lost their jobs. The consequences have been far-reaching, as we outlined in our book, and debates continue about the pros and cons, means and ends.

The sanctions imposed by the West were aimed at punishing the Mugabe regime, and were particularly focused on the President himself and his immediate coterie. The withdrawal of Western capital and credit had an even bigger impact, and helped precipitate a collapse in the economy. From 2009, and the establishment of a unity government with the opposition, the economy recovered to some extent, especially following the abandonment of the local currency. This put an end to hyperinflation that had increased in some estimates to 230 million percent, and encouraged investment again.

In the agricultural sector, tobacco and cotton production boomed. Chinese and Indian companies in particular have been important players. For example, the Chinese company Tian Ze has contracting arrangements with over 250 farms, mostly in the new resettlement areas. Smallholder farmers who gained land through the reform are now the major producers of such cash crops, and contribute significantly to the national economy. Chinese led outgrower arrangements provide support in terms of finance, inputs and advice. British companies that had been important as buyers of tobacco from the previous white commercial farmers have looked on, and are now trying to get back into the game.

Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, has certainly exploited the land reform to gain political advantage. The land reform, they argue, is evidence of the struggle for liberation having reached a final phase. Shedding commercial links with Western companies shows in turn that sovereign countries like Zimbabwe now have a choice, both in economic and political affairs. No longer will they be pushed around, condescended or demeaned. Of course this rhetoric must be taken with a very large pinch of salt, as the political-security-business elite associated with ZANU-PF have benefitted from these reconfigurations of land and economy, alongside considerable numbers of ordinary people.

Indeed, the electoral calculus of 2013 suggests that land reform beneficiaries, along with other rural people, backed ZANU-PF, reversing the major wobble in 2008, when ZANU-PF lost both parliamentary and presidential polls. It is impossible to know for certain what the real results were, as there was most definitely fiddling going on. This included bussing in voters to swing constituencies, changing constituency lists and obstructing registration for young and urban voters, as well as various forms of intimidation.

However many commentators believe that the results were probably pitched in favour of ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC lost, if not by the margin announced. Certainly the opposition offered very little in the way of a campaign, and failed to articulate a convincing vision for land, agriculture and rural development. Independent assessments prior to the elections indicated a major disillusionment with the MDC, due in large part to their mixed performance in the unity government, with a major swing to ZANU-PF predicted.

Will Britain and other Western nations reengage with Zimbabwe? This is not the result that they wanted, nor the one that most expected. They had been convinced that the violence, corruption and neglect of human rights and the rule of law that has characterised the ZANU-PF regime (in fact for most the period since Independence in 1980) would put an end to Mugabe’s rule. The diplomatic social milieu in Harare is of course very different to the rural areas or the townships and squatter settlements on the urban fringe where most voters live. It is not difficult to see why the result was so incorrectly called.

The question arises, should the West support presidents and parties with an electoral mandate but who are involved in clearly highly reprehensible, possibly criminal, practices? Where does an ‘ethical’ foreign policy fit in? And what about the role of the West in upholding international standards and human rights? Opinion is highly divided on this topic, in Africa and elsewhere.

This has been brought to a head by the on-going prosecution of the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice-president, William Ruto by the International Criminal Court. The African Union, irked by the seeming emphasis of the ICC on African abuses and not others (Blair and Bush are of course mentioned as those who have got away), has proposed that sitting presidents should not be prosecuted. Others have called for withdrawal from the ICC, arguing, like the US, that international meddling in sovereign power is problematic and biased. Mugabe – of course – has joined in the chorus.

The double standards of the West are of course plain to see. Mugabe, Morsi, Museveni, or Meles? Who is/was acceptable, and who deserves to be cast out? And on what basis? There are no clear rules, and the interests and biases of Western foreign policy and associated commercial and political interests quickly become exposed. Is it perhaps easier to go the Chinese route, and proclaim a position of ‘non-interference’, based on ‘solidarity’ and ‘mutual interest’, while at the same time promoting a highly interested commercial relationship through development cooperation?

The UK’s Secretary for State for International Development, Justine Greening, hinted at such a shift in UK policy recently in a speech at the London Stock Exchange. Some observed that she sounded more like a Chinese official, acknowledging the importance of aid relationships for UK business; a contrast to her predecessors who only emphasised human rights, good governance and Western liberal democratic values.

As African states become more assertive in international affairs, buoyed by economic growth and a sense that in the post-colonial world order they do not have to be behoven only to the West and their former colonial masters, there is a greater level of what some have termed ‘state agency’ – the ability to negotiate,  manoeuvre and make choices. Yet, with the West unable to dictate through aid conditionalities, there are even greater obligations on citizens, as part of civil society organisations, social movements, political parties and electorates, to hold states to account.

In places like Zimbabwe this is not easy, given the obstructive and sometimes violent and oppressive politics of the ruling party. As the opposition rebuilds itself it has some serious thinking to do. Avoiding getting perceived as a puppet of the West, and broadening its focus to encompass economic and social rights and freedoms at the centre of a redistributive agenda will be essential. Meanwhile, Britain needs to reengage, supporting investment in the productive sectors, including agriculture and belatedly backing the successes of the land reform, and join Zimbabwe as a partner in economic development, alongside China and others, avoiding at all costs the misplaced, patronising stance of the past.

Ian Scoones is a Professorial Fellow at IDS, he blogs at www.zimbabweland.wordpress.com, and is co-author of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities.

23 October 2013

Work with IDS on mobile nutrition surveillance!

This is a call that my colleague Dr. Inka Barnett has put out on the IDS web site.  
We are looking for operational partners who are considering the introduction of mobile phone technology into their nutrition surveillance and monitoring activities. If this is you, we’d like to explore working with your organisation on a pilot evaluation study. We will provide the evaluators and some limited funding.  If you are interested, please contact Inka (i.barnett@ids.ac.uk)
Mobile technology collaboration
There is great hope that mobile phone technology could accelerate data collection and transfer, improve data quality and lower costs for nutrition surveillance in resource-poor settings. However, there is still a lack of reliable evidence to support these assumptions. Moreover, there is scant evidence on how to most effectively use data collected by mobile phone technology to mobilise timely responses that reduce hunger and undernutrition.
This is why IDS is working on building a more rigorous evidence base for the use of mobile phone technology for nutrition surveillance through evidence reviews and a pilot and evaluation study.

For the nutrition surveilance pilot and evaluation we are looking to partner with a regional or international organisation that:

  • is engaged in regular nutrition surveillance or monitoring  
  • considers the introduction of mobile phone technology within their existing system
  • has already developed or is in the process of developing a mobile phone based platform is interested in working with IDS as an external evaluation partner.

As part of the partnership, IDS researchers will:

  • develop a pilot and evaluation design specific to the requirements of the partner organisation
  • conduct a rigorous evaluation of the use of mobile phone technology for nutrition surveillance or monitoring
  • develop and pilot testing of innovative approaches to present/visualise nutrition surveillance data more effectively to trigger timely response.
IDS can offer a maximum of  £10,000 financial support for the pilot and evaluation.
For further information please contact Dr Inka Barnett.
If youare interested, please send a brief proposal (4 pages maximum) stating how and why you would like to partner with IDS to our Development Office
Deadline for reciept of proposal: 15th November 2013
Your proposal should include:
  • a brief profile of your organisation
  • details of your existing nutritional surveillance or monitoring system (e.g. scale, coverage, nutrition indicators collected)  
  • a description of the features of the mobile platform you have developed/are in the process of developing.
- See more at: http://www.ids.ac.uk/news/work-with-us-on-mobile-nutrition-surveillance#sthash.kq3375wM.dpuf

Image: Twenty three year old Sara Lopeyok, a secretary for a relief committee, communicates using her mobile phone with fellow members to arrange the distribution of food aid.
Credit Piers Benatar / Panos
- See more at: http://www.ids.ac.uk/news/work-with-us-on-mobile-nutrition-surveillance#sthash.kq3375wM.dpuf

The Next Development Goals: Do we need a Data Revolution or an Accountability Revolution?

So, 23 months and counting till the next Development Goals are announced in New York in September 2015.

Today, together with Camilla Toulmin of IIED and Kevin Watkins of ODI, I was at a breakfast meeting of the All Party Group of Peers and MPs on Overseas Development and the All Party Group on International Development and Environment.  The title of the session was Sustainable Development: New Goals, New Thinking, Post 2015.

Our job was to brief parliamentarians on the Committees and hear from them on the development goal process and it was a chance for us to press some of our views.

Camilla talked about the importance of doing better than the High Level Panel's report on integrating environment and development.   Kevin talked about doing better on equity issues.  I agree on both of these points, although I think the HLP did worse on the former than the latter.  I talked about civil society and accountability.

One of the less heralded shifts in the High level Panel's report is towards greater government accountability.  How so, you say?

The 8 MDG Goals have 60 indicators associated with them, and 26, by my count, are things that governments are supposed to do.  The High Level Panel's 12 Goals have 54 indicators, and 26 of them, again, by my count are things governments is supposed to do (i.e. can control).

So, a pretty similar proportion. But the shift is that most of the MDG accountability indicators are what rich country governments are supposed to do, mainly in environment and global partnership MDGs (7 and 8).  The HLP's set of goals for governments--call them commitment goals--is much more balanced: it has indicators for rich, poor and emerging countries, and it has these commitment indicators spread evenly across all 12 Goals.

This is a big improvement, but as we have seen rich countries are not exactly being held to account for their failure to meet the indicators in MDG 7 and 8.  Accountability means a capacity to hold the duty bearer to account and it also means the duty bearer has to have the capacity to deliver.  And encouragingly the HLP report embeds rights language into many of its 54 suggested indicators.

So what to do to increase accountability?  A "Data Revolution" is helpful, but is not nearly  enough--there needs to be an Accountability Revolution.

Why? To build trust and to help us test our assumptions to course correct.  National governments are going to fund more of the next Development Goal action and the private sector will be more involved in one way or another and greater accountability can be a trust building exercise with both.  MyWorld shows that citizens from many countries (albeit far from a representative sample) prioritise the need for more open and responsive governments.

What? Things that can be delivered--indicators that are a stretch but which are feasible--the optimal stretch point will be different for different countries: Different countries will be able to cover different proportions of their poor and vulnerable populations with social protection, for example.

Who?  Citizens need to play a much bigger role.  We know from the Participate work (also not representative in any statistical sense) the frustration many citizens and civil society groups feel about only having their "15 seconds of Fame" (as Lyndsay Stecher puts it) where they are listened to (when invited) and then patted on the head and shown the door with no changes made by the "listeners" to anything except their PR.

Accountability mechanisms need to be developed such that what citizens conclude actually puts a lot of pressure on those in formal power to change. We know that citizen accountability mechanisms do not always work--but when they do they can be powerful ways of changing power relations (see my colleague Anu Joshi's recent  review of the evidence--available at this link: http://www.ids.ac.uk/publication/do-they-work-assessing-the-impact-of-transparency-and-accountability-initiatives-in).  We also know the explosion of hand held computing technology opens up possibilities, but only if power relationships can be transformed.

None of this is going to be easy.  We saw how poorly the rich countries did in keeping to their commitment indicators in MDGs 7 and 8, even with readily available data (e.g. CO2 emissions, tariffs on agricultural imports from developing countries, income support to OECD farmers, percent of ODA to sanitation).  And in many countries the government's commitment to respect and protect rights are weaker than in the OECD, making dissent and transparency more difficult.

The HLP talks a lot about "transformations" and the recent UNDP Human Development Report focuses on the Rise of the South, but the real transformation needed is the Rise of the Citizen--North, South, East and West.  We need a Data Revolution, but not nearly as much as we need an Accountability Revolution.

20 October 2013

Did Mugabe Win? and Did Britain Lose?

Robert Mugabe's overwhelming win in the Zimbabwean elections in July has prompted Richard Dowden to write an article in Prospect that states "Mugabe won--Britain Lost. The UK is a diminished power in Africa".  See the reporting of it in the Zimbabwe Herald.

It is such a stark assessment that I've asked Ian Scoones a Senior Research Fellow at IDS and very knowledgeable on Zimbabwe (see his blog)  to write a blog for Development Horizons.

In the meantime, Richard Dowden's argument is a two parter and it goes like this: (1)  Mugabe's victory was so large (61% to Morgan Tsvangirai's 33%) it cannot be explained wholly by vote rigging and given that the UK tried so hard to get Mugabe out, this is a major defeat and (2) this is symptomatic of a larger trend: Britain's diminished role in Africa because new investors such as China, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia are giving African leaders more options and therefore more leverage.

I agree with both of these arguments, but I do not seem them as linked.

Yes, Mugabe's victory is a defeat for the UK's Zimbabwe policy, but in terms of declining influence in Africa, Britain is hardly alone--all the OECD members are facing the same issue.

And it is good that the UK's influence is declining, it means the African nations are rising and attracting other investors.  The UK needs to treat African countries more like it now treats China.  I remember visiting DFID China around 2008 and noticing how differently DFID officials treated them compared to African colleagues.  Both courteous, both respectful, but former treated as peers and the latter as beneficiaries.  It is past time for all of us to start regarding them in the same way.

14 October 2013

Global Hunger Index Launch -- What is the added value of resilience?

Today saw the launch of the 2013 Global Hunger Index.

The Index is a joint production of IFPRI, Welt Hunger Life and Concern Worldwide. The launch was at the Houses of Parliament with Lynne Featherstone, the UK's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development.

IFPRI asked me to present because my IDS colleague Chris Bene had been a lead author of one of the main chapters of the report on resilience in which I also played a role.

I had 8 minutes to present 8 points. Here they are:

  1. The GHI is a simple combination of three indicators: (1) the FAO indicator of "undernourishment" (food supply modified by income distribution to arrive at some semblance of food access), (2) child mortality of under 5's and (3) underweight rates for under 5 children. It is a significant improvement on sole reliance on the FAO "undernourishment" indicator, although it is not close enough to what we really need: a Global Database on Food Consumption.
  2. Progress has been made in reducing GHI scores in all regions (a higher score is worse). But out of 120 countries, the scores for 37 are "serious", 16 are "alarming" and 3 are "extremely alarming" (Burundi, Eritrea, Comoros). South Asia had a better score than Sub Saharan Africa in 2000 but now Sub Saharan Africa has a better score than South Asia.
  3. The big gainers over the past 20 years have been countries which have shown broad based economic growth married to sustained political commitment to hunger reduction: China, Vietnam, Peru, Ghana and Thailand.
  4. Eyeballing the GHI and the Brookings Index of State Weakness, the countries with the lowest scores and weakest gains tend to be fragile, although I have not run a correlation across the two datasets.
  5. One antidote to fragility is building resilience, and one chapter in the report is devoted to this. Chris Bene (IDS) and Derek Headey (IFPRI) are the lead authors. They suggest that resilience is characterised by three capacities: absorptive, adaptive and transformative. In other words it is about avoiding welfare drops altogether, or at least minimising them, and then bouncing back to a better place.
  6. A resilience lens has strategic and programmatic implications. Strategically, let's stop the nonsense around separating development and humanitarian work. Yes there are some different ethical imperatives, but many development initiatives make the need for future humanitarian response more likely and many humanitarian responses constrain development pathways into the future. Programmatically, a resilience lens can have big implications. A good evaluation of nutrition programming in Haiti found that targeting ALL under 2s has a bigger nutrition impact than targeting only under 5s who are malnourished.
  7. Resilience is not a panacea, however. Resilient systems do not have to be pro-poor. The rich have a bigger capacity to buy resilience and the consequences for the poorest of not being resilient are catastrophic.
  8. Finally, some of the countries with the most alarming GHI scores have the highest HANCI scores--HANCI is an index that measures commitment to reducing hunger and nutrition. Just because countries do badly on the GHI does not mean that they are not trying. We should be focusing international hunger efforts on countries which have alarming GHI scores and high HANCI scores.

Lynne Featherstone asked me why some of the countries with alarming GHI scores could also show high levels of commitment on HANCI. I said that even the most committed country needed some growth and to not be buffeted by external shocks that were either from nature or from bad governance in the rich countries (e.g. unfair trade policy, food price speculation, and imbalanced intellectual property rights regimes).

Infants Don't Vote: Pakistan's Worrying Nutrition Situation

Just a quick note today to link you to an editorial that I wrote with Shehla Zaidi of the Aga Khan University and Haris Gazdar of the Collective for Social Science Research.  It appeared in the Sunday edition of DAWN, one of the leading newspapers in Pakistan.  

12 October 2013

Going Dutch: The nutrition comparative advantage of the Netherlands

I just returned from a busy two days in the Netherlands.

The first day was spent at Wageningen University with their Human Nutrition Division.  I gave a talk with some ideas on how to bring nutrition and agriculture together.  I met some of the Masters and PhD students and several of the faculty, including Inge Brouwer and Alida Melse-Boonstra.  I was impressed.   They have built a very supportive research and teaching community and are looking to connect with others outside of the nutrition department to bring a wide angle lens to what is essentially a development problem.  They are also very entrepreneurial while not forsaking high quality research.  They also have a new campus with some spectacular new buildings.

The following day I was at a meeting organised by the Netherlands Working Group on Nutrition (a collective of nutrition professionals from academia, NGOs, business and the government) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the implications of the recent Lancet series on nutrition.  Bob Black (paper 1 and series lead), Zulfi Bhutta (paper 2) and I were there (I presented paper 3 for Marie Ruel and Harold Alderman as well as paper 4).  There were some nice presentations from Bonnie McClafferty of GAIN and Martin Bloem from WFP, both reflecting on what to do about nutrition-sensitive interventions.  In the afternoon there was a panel discussion well facilitated by Prof. Franz Kok of Wageningen.

My takeaways from the 2 days:

1.  The Dutch to lead in bringing public and private together to reduce malnutrition

According to the HANCI donor index the Netherlands has been in the doldrums on nutrition and hunger reduction commitments (16th out of 25 donor countries), but these data are from 2011-12 and things seem to be picking up under the leadership of Paulus Verschuren, the Government's Special Envoy on Food and Nutrition.  Given the Netherlands' past contributions it seems very well placed to be a leader on the connections between nutrition and agriculture.  A more recent comparative advantage has been built up around institutional models for bringing the public and private sectors together in the service of public health nutrition goals (e.g. Public Private Partnerships, PPPs).

2.  Deal with the Remaining Nutrition Community Hangups

Paulus Verschuren put it nicely, saying that the nutrition community had put many of its squabbles behind it (food vs nonfood, chronic vs acute, micronutrients vs food, supplementation vs fortification etc) but that it had not yet come to terms with the role of the private sector.  I agree with this, but I was struck by how at ease this Dutch audience was with the private sectors.  I made the point that there is very little evidence that PPPs advance child and maternal nutrition (there is some in fortification), but that this should not stop them going ahead.  This is because there is evidence from the wider health literature that in certain conditions they do work, nevertheless any new PPPs in nutrition had to be properly evaluated by independent third parties.  Donors, please fund these--gut feelings can only get us so far.

3.  Agriculture and Nutrition:  Cohabitation, Shotgun Marriages or Wedded Bliss?

A number of strategies for bringing agriculture and nutrition together emerged over the course of the day.  Do we simply colocate agriculture and nutrition efforts in terms of regions, individuals and delivery platforms?  Do we try to bring nutrition into agriculture in ways that it does not fundamentally shift the goals of agriculturalists or do we go for full union whereby agricultural programmes are determined to have an impact on nutrition and are designed from the start to do so?  The latter is probably the hardest, but perhaps has the biggest impact when successful. The former is probably the easiest but might not have the largest action.  But all of this is hypothetical--we don't know which approach is easiest and best--research is needed.

4. Go Dutch

The term "Going Dutch" originated from Dutch farmhouse doors being split equally at the top and the bottom--only when both were open at the same time could progress be made. This is a nice euphemism for the new contributions they can make: when the public and private doors open together around the links between agriculture and nutrition, then real progress could be made.  We look to our Dutch friends to lead the way. They might even move up in the HANCI rankings...

09 October 2013

It’s a binary, binary, binary world! Climate, Scotland and the US Shutdown

I’m an economist.  I’m comfortable with reductionist approaches if they can give some power to an analysis without doing too much violence to reality.  But even I am aghast at the three “binarys” that are hogging the Western news media.

First, there is climate change. There is a nice article by Mehdi Hasan (who usually does not move me) on why we should not use the term "climate sceptics".  

Scepticism, he argues, is the meat and drink of science—it is a good thing, it pushes scientists to test hypotheses and show their workings and allow others to review them and try to repeat the outcomes.  Not this label for the vast majority of folks who do not believe the science--they are  "climate deniers" and conspiracy theorists. They deny that the climate is changing and that human activity is playing a key role. They believe that so many people are aligned with the consensus position because these people have too much to lose to risk disagreeing. 

I can’t really understand this argument as climate scientists will never be out of work—the climate is too changeable and the risks of policy getting it wrong are too big. I suppose the climate change lobby groups would lose out if things went off the boil (no pun intended) and the renewable energy folks would too.  But the 34 National Academies of Sciences that have signed up the latest IPCC report have no such incentives, and yet the deniers suggest they have been “gotten at”.  How, we can only imagine. Anyway why are Western Governments signing up to an IPCC consensus that is, presumably, a real pain to have to deal with (can’t we just keep burning fossil fuel?)?  Surely the renewable energy lobby is not mightier than Big Energy?  Binary--either you a denier or you are a consensus adopter--not much space in the middle. 

Second, there is the referendum in less than a year’s time, when Scottish residents will be able to vote on whether or not they want to remain part of the UK. Scottish author Denise Mina, writing in the International Herald Tribune notes that she was to appear on a radio programme to discuss the referendum with a panel member who was pro and one who was con.  The pro and the con had a “brutal falling out” before they even got to the studio—within the group email chain giving panellists directions to the studio.  No one knows the answers to some key questions you would think would inform the decision: will Scotland have to leave the EU?  If it does how will it be affected?  Will Scotland become a low tax haven like Ireland or will it follow an Iceland low financial regulation model (because those two turned out so well..)?  How much better or worse off will the average Scottish voter be as a result of independence? No matter.  The battle lines are drawn and few people are thought to be likely to cross them in the coming months. Binary.

Third, there is the US Government shutdown. Here, as President Obama artfully put it, one faction (Tea party) of one Party (Republican) of one part (House of Representatives) of one branch of the US government (Congress) is holding the global economy hostage over a law that was passed 3 years ago and that Obama won re-election on.  Talk about bad losers. Both sides have made up their minds.  The Democrats are quite reasonably saying that if they give in then any group of 30 congressmen can threaten to blow up the US economy to revisit a piece of legislation they do not like.  The Republican congressmen are in hardline districts, where their biggest worry is being ousted at the next election by someone even more hardline than they are. Binary.   

Of course these debates are less binary than they seem.  No one knows what will happen to climate, an independent Scotland, and a US economy that fails to raise its debt ceiling because of the current impasse.  My takeaway is that in the face of all this uncertainty, many of us go with our gut, and that means drawing conclusions that best fit with our simple self image: eco-warrior or rugged maverick, Scottish patriot or defender of the Union, government as part of the solution or government as part of the problem. 

All we can do as researchers is to try and keep our own biases and preferences in check, keep generating evidence and keep trying to present it in accessible and yet nuanced ways.  And avoiding falling into the binary trap.

07 October 2013

The tragedy of Hamzah Khan -- and 170 million others

I have long looked for a written version of a moving story I once heard at a conference.  

I cannot remember who said it, but the story goes like this: imagine what it would take to create a stunted child if you were deliberately and malevolently trying to do it. You would have to slowly starve it, not play or interact with it, not clean it, and not take it to the health clinic when it got sick. The story is evocative because the child needs to be failed in a number of ways for stunting to be chronic and potentially lead to death. 

Now we have a terrible real life case from the UK, that of Amanda Hutton and her son, Hamzah Khan who was 4 when he died. 

The details from the court case are shocking. Hamzah was the youngest of 8 children and the mother is reported as having loved the baby the least. She fed Hamzah half a banana and some milk on the days she fed him. The boy was frequently clothed in soiled nappies and was not taken to any health service after the age of 5 months. When the Hamzah died, the mother let him mummify for 2 years under a pile of debris in his cot. The doctors said that when he died at age 4 he was found wearing clothing appropriate for a 9 month old child (see picture), and the autopsy revealed a child with bones of a 12-18 month child.

This is the tragic case of a child that was neglected, malnourished and died in an environment that should have been able to support him.  

Is this more or less tragic than a child who was not neglected by parents but became malnourished and died in an environment that could not support him? 

This is what the parents of 170 stunted million children fight against each day. Forty five percent of them will lose the battle. Their children will also seem to have the bones of a much younger child when they die. 

Faced with the reality of Hamzah's terrible experience, all of a sudden I am less keen on finding that moving story I heard at a conference.  

06 October 2013

Pakistan's extraordinary malnutrition trends: Can the odds be overcome in the next 5 years?

I just returned from a short trip to Islamabad to launch the IDS Bulletin on Seeing the Unseen: Breaking the Logjam of Undernutrition in Pakistan, a collaboration between IDS, the Aga Khan University and the Collective for Social Science Research. My presentation is here

Pakistan is one of the very few countries in the world where stunting and wasting rates have remained high and are actually increasing.

The odds are stacked against nutrition here. Successive governments have struggled to be trusted amid a fragile context, with plenty of natural disasters, conflicts and unequal development. Effective government is a prerequisite for the coordination, responsiveness and accountability required to address undernutrition. 

For now, the momentum seems to be with nutrition. Earlier this year the Government of Pakistan signed up to the Scaling Up Nutrition movement (SUN), the Government has finally officially released the 2011 National Nutrition Survey, a survey containing a lot of uncomfortable statistics. There are hopes for the Benazir Income Support Programme to have a positive effect on nutrition, with plans to make it even more nutrition relevant. Agricultural programmes are looking for ways to be more nutrition sensitive, and the nutrition dangers of open defecation are increasingly recognised. The Provinces have developed nutrition strategies and their focal points are impressive (they were at the launch). 

Everyone in the nutrition community in Pakistan is now holding their breath while working hard to convert commitment into improved nutrition outcomes. Will these commitments be sustained and will they be turned into action? 

Key questions highlighted at the launch include:

  • There are some important people within the Planning Commission who are pulling for nutrition, but what happens if they move departments? (Sartaj Aziz wrote the Foreword to our collection of papers and is now adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs and National Security, but can he still be a nutrition champion or are his new responsibilities incompatible with this?)
  • Nutrition budgets may be constructed but will there be any Government financial contributions?
  • There is lots of stated intent to work multisectorally but what will happen when the first turf battle erupts?
  • The Provincial nutrition plans are in place but can they be turned into costed implementation plans?
  • Can more nutrition personnel be put in post at the sub Province (District) level?
  • The 2011 National Nutrition Survey is good, but will the data be released for all to use and will we have to wait until 2021 for a new survey and to 2023 to publicly see the results?
  • There are plenty of donors interested in nutrition, but are enough of them focusing on chronic (as opposed to acute) nutrition?
  • Will malnutrition ever rouse civil society in Pakistan?
  • The current Government cares a lot about economic growth, but how can we make them see that an investment in child growth is an investment in economic growth? 
It is easy to be sceptical and say that nothing has changed for 30 years so why should it now? But we need to remember examples from around the world such as Peru and Maharashtra where suddenly all the pieces fell into place to turn long term stagnation in stunting rates into rapid declines.  

Undernutrition can be turned around, and it is good that these questions are even being asked in Pakistan. Now we need answers.