Addressing Nutrition Can Drive Development – With Collaboration
Securing nutritious food for the world’s growing population is essential to ensure health and quality of life. But beyond that, it can be a driver for development. It creates rural employment, which can reduce migration. It boosts education through better school attendance and concentration, which develops human capital and helps break the cycle of poverty. In addition, sustainable agriculture methods can combat climate change. Everything begins with food, and achieving these goals will require cooperation between governments, local authorities and private sector organisations.
“Food insecurity cannot be solved only at a country level,” said Jean-Pierre Halkin, Head of Rural Development, Food and Nutrition Security at DEVCO. “Food security and agriculture rely also on regional and international trade. Some issues are global; they require work at provincial, regional, national and international or thematic levels.”
The European Commission has committed more than €8bn to finance programmes in over 60 countries which requested support during the most recent ‘programming exercise’, conducted by DEVCO. “We reviewed 50 internationally-recognised indicators, collected country by country, which we used to guide the policy dialogue and see whether countries wished to engage with us on agriculture and food security,” said Jean-Pierre Halkin.
Two new areas of focus emerged from this exercise: improving child nutrition and bolstering the resilience of African regions to drought and poor harvests. In developing countries, malnutrition prevents up to two-fifths of children from reaching their potential height and their intellectual capacity, according to UNICEF. Without adequate nutrition, their bodies conserve energy, first limiting cognitive activity and then slowing physical growth and depriving the immune system. Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 3.1 million children’s deaths each year.
Even for the malnourished children who reach adulthood, “stunting remains a life sentence,” said Halkin. The condition is linked to lower educational attainment and reduced lifetime earnings of up to 45%.
The Commission aims to reduce the number of stunted children by 7m by 2025.
One route towards this goal is the programmes to improve resilience to drought in Africa. The Commission has launched initiatives in the Horn of Africa (SHARE, or Supporting the Horn of Africa’s Resilience) and across the Sahel region which stretches below the Sahara desert from Senegal to Sudan (AGIR, or Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative).
What marks these out from previous projects is that the target has shifted from reaction to prevention.
“This is a major change in the way we are supporting countries prone to food crisis,” says Halkin. “We want to engage on a long-term policy dialogue, assist countries in setting up their own policies, support the more vulnerable part of the population, and to look at the root causes of food insecurity and vulnerability to food crisis.”
SHARE began as a response to the 2011 drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia, together with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, ECHO. It allocated €181 million to provide shelter, drinking water, sanitation and food to families threatened by famine. After humanitarian relief came longer-term development goals - improving public services, land resource management and income opportunities for nomadic populations dependent on livestock.
This longer-term perspective also underlies the AGIR programme in West and North Africa. After waves of spending in response to food crises in 2005, 2010 and 2012-13, it is helping communities prepare for and mitigate future emergencies. Alongside strengthening governance for food security and improving social protection, sustainable agriculture has a crucial role to play. But there are barriers.
“Farmers cannot move to sustainable farming if they have no secure access to land,” explained Halkin. Reforming land tenure rules is challenging. The European Commission launched a pilot project in 2013 to improve land governance in interested countries. “Meanwhile 10 African countries are profiting from this initiative and it is working very well,” said Halkin. “We see that our projects are helping in particular smallholder female and male farmers to have more secure access to land. Given the tremendous needs for improved land governance and the increasing interest of governments in this issue we will expand the programme to 18 countries by next year. Thematic programmes like this can pave the way for new themes to enter policy dialogue with partner countries.”
Another way the Commission furthers farmers’ development is with scientific support. Through collaboration with the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC), DEVCO is able to provide an early warning system to Africa’s farmers. It forecasts harvests, outlines changes to the ecosystem, and anticipates changes to food security across whole regions.
“We intend to intensify scientific collaboration with the Join Research Center, and we want to work with research institutions, international and of the Member States, to allow small farmers to have access to innovation,” said Halkin.
The private sector, too, has a role to play. “Working with partners is extremely important,” said Halkin. The EU is one of the largest donors in sustainable development. Together with Member States, it spent €56.5 billion in 2013 on helping countries across the world fight poverty. “But we are not going to achieve our goals without working collectively with partner countries and donors.”
In June the Commission joined forces with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) on a platform to enable countries to develop better-informed nutrition policies. With $500,000 (€442,000) from the Gates Foundation and £6.4m (€ 8.7m) from DFID, the National Information Platforms on Nutrition (NIPN) will monitor progress towards reducing malnutrition and provide analysis, starting in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos and Niger.
“This is the first time, by the way, that the EU is receiving money from the private sector,” said Halkin. “It shows the EU can create conditions for international initiatives to emerge, so attractive that they [the private sector] want to be part of it financially.”
One such initiative to support African farmers with technology has been launched by Orange. The telecommunications company has expanded into farming – albeit from a digital perspective. Through their mobile phones, farmers in Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast and Madagascar can now access up to date market prices, stock levels, weather forecasts and even receive expert advice on matters from pesticides to planting techniques.
“Every week we have a call centre with agricultural experts who reply to questions about daily worries,” explains Adamou Brah Adamou, project manager of Orange’s mAgri scheme.
There is some urgency to spreading information and best practice. While one in four people suffer from hunger in Sub Saharan Africa, the region has the largest area of unused arable land, together with Latin America. Promoting and modernising agriculture would help food security, create more rural employment, and put the region on a surer footing.
“Farmers have to meet numerous challenges,” said Halkin. “With growing food trade deficits, they need to produce more and more. Meanwhile, they face the consequences of climate change and reduced natural resources. They cannot meet all these challenges without new approaches, and support from the scientific community within and outside the Commission.”
Further reading & viewing
Amadou Brah Amadou on Orange's mAgri scheme (blog & video)
Jean-Pierre Halkin outlines goals for food security (video)
Jean-Pierre Halkin on the Month of Food Security (video)
Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection license