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The Rome-based agencies--the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)--play a central role addressing global hunger and food security. These agencies must deal with the problems of tight budgets, increasing politicization of hunger statistics, and worsening food insecurity in many parts of the world. The separation of donor monies into separate and seemingly immutable categories of emergency and development has only added to the problems caused by the agencies’ divergent histories and differences in leadership, funding, organization, and governance structures.
The Center for Global Development has launched a working group on Food Security to explore how these agencies could work more effectively to improve food security. The group has decided to focus on the largest of the three agencies—FAO—with a particular emphasis on making member states more accountable for their actions related to food and agriculture, especially when these actions have wide-ranging impacts regionally and globally. The election of Jose Graziano da Silva–the former Brazilian Food Minister, who led the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program, which is credited to have reduced poverty and hunger by record levels Brazil– as FAO Director General, presents a unique opportunity in that it followed an extensive reform process and was the first leadership change in decades.
The Working Group’s first meeting, held on March 21st, 2012 in Washington DC, focused on measuring the contributions of national and international actors to food security and rural development, as well as understanding which agencies—often working as partners—should provide which services for which countries. After the meeting, the project coordinators went to Rome to meet with national representatives and staff members at all three agencies. Of the three agencies, FAO is regarded as having at once the widest mandate, the farthest-reaching linkages to other organizations, and some of the greatest challenges. We prepared a draft report for the Working Group, pulling together the findings of past evaluations, measuring the influence of FAO’s knowledge goods, and taking stock of an ongoing reform process in its final stages.
The Working Group convened again on September 25th, 2012 and members provided extensive feedback on the draft report. The Group decided to produce a shorter report with a forward-looking vision, and with attention to specific substantive needs that must be met to feed the world in coming decades.
View the podcast on the final FAO report with Vijaya Ramachandran here.
May 2013 update:
The Working Group will soon publish its report, which focuses on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the cornerstone of the global food and agriculture system. Based on our collective experience and expertise, we provide an informed and independent perspective – following the tradition of current and previous CGD Working Groups. In this report, we analyze the normative and delivery functions of the FAO, in an emerging 21st century global food security context that is increasingly characterized by volatile food prices, lowering yields, changing diets and rapidly changing climate. We expect to disseminate the report widely, to management and staff of the Rome-based agencies as well as to policymakers and researchers around the world.
The need for the FAO and its sister agencies in Rome is not an issue of debate: how the FAO adapts to this new context to serve the world’s hungry is what we consider it head-on. We offer a set of actionable recommendations, directed at both member states and management toward this end. Our undertaking ought not to be confused as a meta-evaluation nor is it an exercise in multilateral assessment, like those conducted recently by DFID or AusAID.
The project is coordinated by Vijaya Ramachandran, senior fellow at CGD. Please contact Vijaya at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This blog is part of a special series celebrating CGD’s 15th anniversary in 2016. All year, CGD experts will look back at work we’ve done that has had real-world impact, and forward to future research that we hope will help increase global prosperity.
In India, the price of onions is an election issue, so ubiquitous are they in the nation’s cooking. Regularly, around the world, poor consumers face extra hardship as the prices of basic foodstuffs seesaw. Global food security is an area CGD has worked on for many years, and back in mid-2008, we tried to help figure out a solution to the skyrocketing price of a major staple.
Rice prices had spiked fourfold since the start of the year, and poor people in many parts of the world were facing extreme hardship. Yet Japan held 1.5 million tons of rice imported from the United States sitting in storage that it could not re-export without US permission. This serious global problem offered a policy window and CGD scholars used blogs, media, congressional testimony, and other tools to quickly win Washington’s assent for Japan to sell or donate the stocks. With news of the approval, the bubble popped and global rice prices fell by 25 percent in just two weeks.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in May 2008, Sen. Robert Menendez asked the two government witnesses, Henrietta Fore, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Ed Lazear, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, a pointed question about our proposal:
According to the research of the Center for Global Development, the release of rice stocks being held by Japan and China can bring prices down now, possibly cutting them in half by the end of June. But this can only happen if our government lifts its objections to the re-export of rice previously imported from the United States. I see the specter of rice that could be used to help the world's hungry being used for feed and livestock in Japan... versus being used to feed human beings. And so what's our view of that?
As Peter Timmer wrote on our blog in 2008, the answers weren’t very satisfactory but the mere mention of Japan exporting its stocks led some speculators to dump their contracts on the Chicago commodity exchange. Futures contracts for July rice fell sharply and Thai wholesale prices, which had been rising, fell by $16 to $841-843 per ton.
In the end, the Japanese government refused to re-export or donate to the World Food Programme the more than 1.5 million tons of imported rice in its warehouses. But the sudden and unexpected release of information through our blog posts, notes, and interviews in the Japanese and Western media did have some effect. As detailed by Tom Slayton in a post-mortem analysis for CGD, much of the rice price spike in spring 2008 was the result of panicky hoarding by importers and exporters alike. When markets learned about the Japanese rice stocks, the price of rice fell quickly—a decrease of 25 percent in just two weeks (Figure 1). For millions of people in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, this was a welcome relief.
Source: World Bank Commodity Price Data, accessed June 2016.
In the months and years following this episode, CGD has continued to work on agricultural policy and food security issues. Kim has written papers on the role of biofuel policies in the food price spikes of 2007-08 that she is incorporating into a book on US agricultural policy. In addition to the negative spillovers from US (and European) biofuel policies, the book will also analyze how government support for American farmers distorts markets for developing country farmers and how the failure to regulate livestock producers' use of antibiotics contributes to drug-resistant bacteria that can threaten human health. A CGD working group also provided recommendations on how to strengthen the role of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in promoting agricultural development and food security.
Helping to prick the rice price bubble is just one of the examples of how CGD has used rigorous research and nimble public outreach to improve policy for the poor in developing countries in its first 15 years. You can read about others here and here.
To explain why ending hunger has been so hard, Peter Timmer highlights four main themes: the complex role of markets, the importance of government policies, the historical process of structural transformation, and the need to identify the appropriate time horizon for analysis and interventions. These themes are not new, but integrating them into a coherent approach to ending hunger seems to be original
While in Ethiopia early this week, President Obama heralded the release of the latest Feed the Futureprogress report, noting “there have been questions before about whether some signature initiatives can really make a difference. [Feed the Future] is making a difference in very concrete ways.”
Launched in response to the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, Feed the Future is the Administration’s flagship initiative for addressing global hunger, food security, and agricultural livelihoods. Along with Power Africa, the Initiative looks to be a key component of President Obama’s development legacy. This latest report provides a glimpse into what this $1 billion a year effort has achieved over the last five years. Even with this new report in hand, there are still more questions than answers.
There’s no denying that the Initiative’s focus on smallholder farmers has brought agriculture to the forefront of US development policy. But the real question is what progress has been made toward Feed the Future’s self-proclaimed goals of reducing poverty and stunting by 20 percent in target areas.
The 2015 progress report offers much food for thought on this question. While there are areas of real progress, the results are fragmentary, almost entirely based on outputs, and suffer from attribution challenges. Below we highlight our takeaways on progress and room for improvement.
New Data on Key Elements of Feed the Future…
The 2015 progress report offers new information on some of the key areas of Feed the Future. In particular, this year’s report offers new data on:
Honest accounting: In addition to disaggregating funding data by agency and year, the report also explicitly excludes food security efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. This careful consideration of what to include and exclude promotes greater accountability and transparency.
Innovation Labs: The report identifies US educational institutions with which Feed the Future has partnered to promote research efforts. Not only does this data provide helpful information about where and how the initiative is partnering domestically, but it also reflects Feed the Future’s commitment to R&D efforts and agricultural global public goods.
Gender: Continuing its high standard of reporting on gender, Feed the Future reports disaggregated data on every indicator for which this would be conceivably possible. For those counting, it’s 7 of the 13 results indicators.
Links to broader US government strategy: There’s explicit recognition of how Feed the Future fits with other US government efforts contributing to food security and poverty reduction. This policy coherence is especially visible in links between Feed the Future and the Administration’s broader vision to end extreme poverty.
Agency coordination: Unlike other US government initiatives that tout interagency coordination, Feed the Future actually documents contributions from the 11 agencies involved in the effort. The report provides descriptions of roles and results achieved for each of the 11 implementing agencies, as well as funding information disaggregated by agency for fiscal years 2010-2014.
…But There Are Major Reporting Gaps on Outcomes and Attributions
After five years, Feed the Future’s progress is still almost entirely recorded through output data. Sure indicators like the number of children receiving nutrition support, hectares under improved technologies or management practices, and number of private-public partnerships formed are helpful to report on. But they tell us little about the intermediate outcomes that ultimately lead to improvements in poverty and stunting rates.
More worrisome is the progress report’s section on impacts. Feed the Future reports significant progress on poverty (for three countries) and stunting (for five countries). This is great news, but there are big caveats. Feed the Future investments are targeted in specific areas within the focus countries, known as ‘zones of influence.’ However the impact data—drawn primarily from secondary sources like DHS—only directly represent the ‘zones of influence’ in two of the 19 focus countries (Cambodia and Honduras). For others, like Ghana and Ethiopia, only national-level data are available.
The question of attribution is critical. Based on the reported data, it is impossible to make any conclusions about causality in the ‘zones of influences.’ We need more information, such as how other national and bilateral programs are contributing to the reduction of stunting and poverty in these areas. And, whether or not areas outside the ‘zones of influence’ are experiencing similar trends. The bottom line: interpret the data very cautiously.
Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would provide a long-term authorization of Feed the Future. Congress has the opportunity (and responsibility) to include reform elements around transparency and accountability that ensure Feed the Future delivers attributable impact and value for money. Feed the Future is making significant investments to fulfill US commitments to address global hunger and undernutrition. The initiative should be commended for continuing to report on its progress, but now is the time to get hard-nosed about connecting Feed the Future investments to impact.
This paper addresses the response to historically high rice prices in 2008 first by presenting a historical review of trends in the West African rice sector and, second, by assessing the effect of world rice prices on domestic prices, primarily at the consumer level.
Scarce resources. Climate change. Population growth. Rising food prices. Feeding the world’s hungry will require a giant leap in agricultural innovation. In a new working paper, senior fellow Kimberly Elliott explores how advance market commitments could pull the private sector into producing for the world’s poor.
The World Food Programme has world-class logistics, but its ability to manage financial risk is extremely limited. The WFP should consider implementing a targeted hedging pilot strategy for increased predictability. Greater commitments of untied cash from donors and support for the proposed Food Security Trust Fund at the World Bank would help.
Billions of people depend on rice to survive. During the 2007–08 rice price crisis, the international community increased funding for food aid and governments tried to stabilize their domestic prices—only to further destabilize the world market. In the newest of three CGD working papers on the crisis, non-resident fellow Peter Timmer untangles the factors affecting world grain prices, from simple supply and demand to hoarding, the availability of storage, and the influence of speculation.
The net effect of supermarkets in the developing world will be to improve the welfare of consumers, but the extent of that benefit and how well it is distributed are open questions. Many factors, including the fate of small farmers, traditional traders, and mom-and-pop shops, will come into play, and any judgment of the supermarket revolution has to consider them all. In this CGD working paper, non-resident fellow Peter Timmer draws from many perspectives to assess the effect the supermarket revolution may have on poverty alleviation.