Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition - The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014

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MDG target to halve proportion of world’s hungry still within reach by end of 2015

A worker weeding in a nursery in Back Kan, Viet Nam (c)FAO

16 September 2014, Rome – About 805 million people in the world, or one in nine, suffer from hunger, according to a new UN report released today.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) confirmed a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by 209 million since 1990-92. The report is published annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The overall trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, “if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up,” the report said. To date, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG target, and six more are on track to reach it by 2015.

“This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed,” the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin, wrote in their foreword to the report.

They stressed that “accelerated, substantial and sustainable hunger reduction is possible with the requisite political commitment,” and that “this has to be well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences.”

SOFI 2014 noted how access to food has improved rapidly and significantly in countries that have experienced overall economic progress, notably in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. Access to food has also improved in Southern Asia and Latin America, but mainly in countries with adequate safety nets and other forms of social protection including for the rural poor.

Hunger reduction has accelerated, but some lag behind

Despite significant progress overall, several regions and sub-regions continue to lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry – 526 million people.

Latin America and the Caribbean have made the greatest overall strides in increasing food security. Meanwhile Oceania has accomplished only a modest improvement (1.7 percent decline) in the prevalence of undernourishment, which stood at 14.0 percent in 2012-14, and has actually seen the number of its hungry increase since 1990-92.

The agency heads noted that of the 63 countries which have reached the MDG target, 25 have also achieved the more ambitious World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. However, the report indicated that time has run out on reaching the WFS target at the global level.

Creating an enabling environment through coordinated actions

With the number of undernourished people remaining “unacceptably high”, the agency heads stressed the need to renew the political commitment to tackle hunger and to transform it into concrete actions. In this context, the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP welcomed the pledge at the 2014 African Union summit in June to end hunger on the continent by 2025.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition are complex problems that cannot be solved by one sector or stakeholder alone, but need to be tackled in a coordinated way,” they added, calling on governments to work closely with the private sector and civil society.

The FAO, IFAD and WFP report specifies that hunger eradication requires establishing an enabling environment and an integrated approach. Such an approach includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters. The report also emphasizes the importance of specific nutrition programmes, particularly to address micronutrient deficiencies of mothers and children under five.

Case studies

This year’s report includes seven case studies – Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen – that highlight some of the ways that countries tackle hunger and how external events may influence their capacity to deliver on achieving food security and nutrition objectives. The countries were chosen because of their political, economic – particularly in the agricultural sector – diversities, and cultural differences.

Bolivia, for example, has created institutions to involve a range of stakeholders, particularly previously marginalized indigenous people.

Brazil‘s Zero Hunger programme, which placed achievement of food security at the centre of the government’s agenda, is at the heart of progress that led the country to achieve both the MDG and WFS targets. Current programmes to eradicate extreme poverty in the country build on the approach of linking policies for family farming with social protection in a highly inclusive manner.

Haiti, where more than half the population is chronically undernourished, is still struggling to recover from the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The report notes how the country has adopted a national programme to strengthen livelihoods and improve agricultural productivity by supporting small family farmers’ access to inputs and services.

Indonesia has adopted legal frameworks and established institutions to improve food security and nutrition. Its policy coordination mechanism involves ministries, NGOs and community leaders. Measures address a wide range of challenges from agricultural productivity growth to nutritious and safe diets.

Madagascar is emerging from a political crisis and is resuming relationships with international development partners aimed at tackling poverty and malnutrition. It is also working in partnership to build resilience to shocks and climate hazards, including cyclones, droughts and locust invasions, which often afflict the island nation.

Malawi has reached the MDG hunger target, thanks to a strong and persistent commitment to boost maize production. However, malnutrition remains a challenge – 50 percent of children under five are stunted and 12.8 percent are underweight. To address the issue, the government is promoting community-based nutrition interventions to diversify production to include legumes, milk, fisheries and aquaculture, for healthier diets, and to improve incomes at the household level.

Conflict, economic downturn, low agricultural productivity and poverty have made Yemen one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Besides restoring political security and economic stability, the government aims to reduce hunger by one-third by 2015 and to make 90 percent of the population food-secure by 2020. It also aims to reduce the current critical rates of child malnutrition by at least one percentage point per year.

The findings and recommendations of SOFI 2014 will be discussed by governments, civil society, and private sector representatives at the 13-18 October meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, at FAO headquarters in Rome.

The report will also be a focus of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome from 19-21 November, which FAO is jointly organizing with the World Health Organization. This high-level intergovernmental meeting seeks, at a global level, renewed political commitment to combat malnutrition with the overall goal of improving diets and raising nutrition levels.

Sustainable development must be doughnut-shaped

By James Dyke, University of Southampton; John Dearing, University of Southampton, and Peter Langdon, University of Southampton

Is it possible for humans to fulfil their needs without also destroying the environment? It’s a question we need to find an answer to soon, as the world’s poorer regions demand the same perks that come with development.

On one hand, people need to consume some of a region’s resources so that those living there can drink clean water, grow nutritious food and get access to health services and education. But such consumption comes with unavoidable impacts. If these impacts increase beyond a region’s ability to continue to provide services such as water, pollination, soil stabilisation and climate regulation then the process of development can actually hinder rather than improve people’s welfare and well-being.

Striking the right balance is tricky and requires a new way of defining places that are both environmentally safe and socially just. Over the past two years, working with an international group of scientists, we have developed such a definition of safe and just operating spaces.

In doing so we have tackled the tension that often exists in low-income regions between raising standards of living and keeping environmental impacts within bounds that allow the environment to supply vital services. The findings of our research have been published this month in the journal Global Environmental Change.

Such a formula must factor in everything humans need for themselves and all of their impact on the environment. While environmental impacts and human needs can be loosely grouped together, they don’t necessarily exert pressure in the same direction – think of how demand for more jobs differs from better health, for instance. This calls for a more rounded idea of a safe and just space, where human needs exert an outward pressure and environmental boundaries constrain humanity.

Think of it as a doughnut:

Can we stay within the doughnut? Defining a safe and just space for humanity.
Kate Raworth, Oxford Environmental Change Institute

If we wish to help people out of poverty then we must remain within the doughnut – the safe and just space – where people are above a social foundation in which they have what they need, but are not exceeding environmental ceilings by stressing nature beyond breaking point.

Defining a safe and just space

In order for our approach to have practical use, we needed to show how to define both social foundations and environmental ceilings for a particular region.

For defining social foundations, we built on the work of the economist Kate Raworth who synthesised nationally and internationally agreed minimum living standards. Meeting these minimums means moving into the “doughnut zone”.

Now you see it, now you don’t. Air pollution in Beijing.

But this zone is of course constrained by impact on nature and we propose four different types of environmental ceiling – cross any of the points below and you’ve escaped the doughnut and are into unsustainable territory.

The red line is a limit that is deemed unacceptable to go beyond. A good example is air pollution. The Beijing skyline disappearing behind thick clouds of smog is producing iconic images of the environmental impacts of development in China. What is deemed an acceptable level of air pollution varies from country to country.

The runaway can be explained with a cycling metaphor. Zooming downhill on a bike can be a thrilling experience. Unfortunately, fun can quickly turn to terror if you realise that your brakes are not slowing you down and in fact you are going faster and faster. Continual over-fishing of certain species on coral reefs can produce a series of rapidly unfolding disruptions to the entire system that quickly get out of hand and lead to the collapse of the reef.

The tipping point is how close to a critical transition a system may be. A good example here is the sudden change in water quality in a lake that within weeks can go from a seemingly healthy system with clear water and teeming with fish, to green and clogged with suffocating algae. Moving the system back to the clear-water state can be as challenging as putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The early warning signal can be best explained with another cycling metaphor. Your brakes may be able to handle very steep slopes but you may be unfortunate to experience a speed wobble where the front wheel begins to oscillate. These wobbles can feed back on themselves until the entire bike starts shaking from side to side. In such situations you slow down either gradually by applying the brakes or much more suddenly by getting thrown off the bike and sliding across the road. But there is hope that for some systems we may be able to detect these oscillations in time to be able to reduce our impacts. Consequently, detecting early warning signals themselves can be considered as a threshold that we should be wary of.

Can we stay within the green zone? Four types of environmental ceiling.
Dearing et al Global Environmental Change 2014.

Putting it into practice

Two of our co-authors Rong Wang and Ke Zhang analysed environmental and socio-economic data to help define the social foundations and environmental ceilings for two case-study regions in China: Shucheng County and Erhai Lake.

In both regions, intense agricultural development since 1960 has reduced poverty, but at significant environmental cost. The regional doughnut for Shucheng County shows that water quality, air quality and sediment quality have breached the environmental ceiling while access to clean water, sanitation and education is well below the social foundation.

The Shucheng County region in China is well outside any safe and just operating space.
Dearing et al (2014) Global Environmental Change.

Identifying such environmental ceilings is of little use if we simply power on past them. We hope that our integrated approach will lead to sustainable strategies that are based on a better understanding of the ecosystems that we all ultimately depend upon.

We may not be able to completely avoid all environmental impacts associated with poverty alleviation – we cannot have our cake and eat it – but we can try to ensure as many people as possible enjoy living within the doughnut.

The Conversation
John Dearing received funding from Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme (ESPA) (grant reference EIRG-2011-166).

Peter Langdon receives funding from Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme (ESPA) (grant reference EIRG-2011-166).

James Dyke does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment

The new improved, interactive Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) was launched this week at the 7th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Costa Rica and is now available online.

For an introduction to TESSA have a look at the presentation by BirdLife Internationals Jenny Birch through SGA Network (

To learn more about TESSA please have a look at TESSA: A toolkit for rapid assessment of ecosystem services at sites of biodiversity conservation importance (Ecosystem Services, Volume 5, September 2013, Pages 51–57).

How to engage with participants in field research

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“Your aim in communicating effectively with communities is to build mutual trust and improve the buy-in that will sustain your research project, as well as making the experience as beneficial to the community as possible.”

This and many others experiences are shared by Obidimma Ezezika on the SciDevNet website. Obidimma is the CEO of the African Centre for Innovation and Leadership Development and an adjunct Lecturer at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

Top aspects: How to engage with communities in field research

  1. Focus on trust
  2. Engage early
  3. Listen and learn
  4. Get to know your participants
  5. Use the right communication methods
  6. Get informed consent
  7. Communication should not end with the research

Read the full post at:

Creating win-wins from trade-offs?

Caroline Howe, Helen Suich, Bhaskar Vira and Georgina Mace have written an excellent new paper on ecosystem services trade-offs ( Their meta-analysis of 92 papers which documented 231 trade-offs or synergies found that trade-offs are reported three times more commonly than synergies. They also found that , perhaps not surprisingly, trade-offs are more likely to occur in cases in which there is a private interest in the natural resource, which involve a provisioning ecosystem service and/or which involve a local stakeholder. As we have argued in Poppy et al. (2014), supporting the fair negotiation of trade-offs is a key feature of the ecosystem services approach. By identifying some of the factors that lead to trade-offs, Howe and her co-authors have moved us a step in the right direction. But there remains a great deal of work to be done to develop more transparent and equitable processes for negotiating trade-offs.

How ESPA’s research is changing lives and enhancing global sustainability

Paul van Gardingen

The Director of the UK’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme (ESPA,, Paul van Gardingen will provide an overview of the ESPA programme, its projects and early results to illustrate how and when ecosystem services can reduce poverty in low-income countries.  Examples from ESPA projects in Africa, Asia and South America will be used to illustrate the types of new knowledge emerging from ESPA projects, including a number coordinated from the University of Southampton.  The presentation will also consider the relevance of ESPA’s research to the UN’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals as an example of how research can contribute to policy and practice around the world.

Two out of the three 2011 ESPA Grants are coordinated at the University of Southampton: ASSETS ( and Deltas (

Date: 12. September
Time: 14.00 to 15.00 pm
Venue: Buidling 44 / Room 1057
For some more ideas about the programme please have a look at:

Science and Policy: Exploring the Deeper Reasons for Relationship Breakdown

Gerry Stoker

Prof Gerry Stoker, Professor of Governance & Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance, University of Southampton

Gerry Stoker adds to the ideas captured in the recent blog about University of Southampton-led workshop “Policy & Science: Who defines the problem?”.

That the relationship between science and policy is problematic is not news. Scientists accuse policy-makers of picking and choosing evidence, ignoring what they do not want to hear and caring more about getting elected than doing the right thing. Politicians in turn complain that scientists struggle to give clear answers, fail to understand the timelines of the policy world and always present their findings as a not-so-subtle bid for more research funds. So can scientists and policy makers become better friends?

The secret to repairing the relationship according the consensus of advice on offer has a familiar ring: let’s talk things through. Research funders, learned societies and international advisory organisations say: let’s improve the communication skills of scientists! Let them write more accessibly. Let them blog and tweet. Let them use knowledge brokers to transfer their findings from lab and field to policy. This advice in turn moves on (see the excellent EASAC Guidelines: Good Practice in the Dialogue between Science Academies and Policy Communities) to stress the need for a dialogue between scientists and policy-makers that is relevant to policy making needs, credible because of the quality of the science, legitimate because of the fairness of the structures used to develop it and timely in that it will arrive to the decision-making process to ‘improve the quality of policy decisions for the benefit of society and future generations’. I have no problem with those laudable ambitions!

Yet my judgement in the light of the discussions we had at the workshop is that the relationship between science and policy might be in such a state that a bit of “making friends” through communication and dialogue will fail to make enough of a difference. The issue is not just that science and policy are in different worlds it is also that they are in a complex and problematical relationship. Better communication cannot resolve the competing interests, values, legitimacy claims and power dynamics raised when the colossal of science and evidence meets the empire of politics and policy. We need a new paradigm that can embrace that complexity.
Communication is just one pillar of the more profound and challenging project of shifting the practices and standard operating procedures of both science and policy. We need a new relationship between science and policy and one in which both partners enter with their eyes wide open and with recognition of differences and common ground.

Some of unresolved issues in the challenging relationship between science and policy are:

  • Issues of power and legitimacy that define the partnership: who sets the agenda? Which stakeholders should be involved? Who decides? How is conflict resolved? How can scientists both partner with policy makers and yet keep their distance to maintain their legitimacy and paradoxically their value to policy? How can the relationship be both sustained and sufficiently distance?
  • Clashing calculus systems that muddy exchanges: scientists tend to judge the impact of a policy in the aggregate in terms of its overall impact and generally adopt a similar calculus when looking to come to judgement about the costs and benefits of an intervention. Policy makers, especially elected politicians think more in terms of which interests or voters are most likely to react to a policy change and will they react mildly or strongly, negatively or positively. Knowing that in general society may benefit is not necessarily comforting news for a politician if they also fear that a core constituency of theirs may be mortally offended. Equally scientists tend to talk about uncertainty and risk in terms of a judgement about the quality of their models and science. While politicians talk about it as humans. In doing so may be prone to making technical miscalculations ( in the Daniel Kahneman sense of doing more fast thinking than slow thinking about the issue ) but in their world intuitive insights count, not least because those same insights that are likely to drive the judgements of voters and citizens.
  • The reality that research evidence tends to a narrow validity but policy problems are wicked and wide: How can research offer a more rounded approach touching on both relevant science and social science issues and answering the range of questions that are present in any policy decision? Answering one question well with evidence can often leave policy makers with other questions unaddressed by evidence. How can those gaps be predicted and then addressed? Can science move on from demonstration of the feasibility of an idea to proof of concept drawing on links with practice?
  • A long-term horizon is a default in science but a rarity in policy-making: to talk of producing timely research to feed into policy making implies that it is just a matter of choice but the position is that the fundamental temporal rhythms of science and politics are different. Science, notwithstanding the pressures of regular assessment cycles, tends to have a horizon that is long-term. Its practice rests on building and accumulating knowledge. Policy-making is driven by immovable decision points: elections, budgets, contract-letting, manifestos, legislative programme announcements and international agreements. It’s not that politicians can’t think long-term but their world forces decisions even in circumstances when the evidence is unclear and disputed. Long-term policy commitments can be made but in a democracy the opportunity to revisit a decision is an essential right. Policy making is a world of temporary settlements rather than accumulated knowledge.

Scientists and policy makers haven’t just fallen out through neglecting their relationship. The problems run deeper and are not going to be addressed by bit of communication therapy. We need a paradigm that frames the issues in the relationship in a more complex way. And having understood the issues better we need to turn to the harder still task of how to change things. What practices need to change among both scientists and policymakers? How could institutions and incentives support change? How can we shift the political economy of research to make it both rigorous and relevant?

This post can also be found at Public Policy@Southampton.

Voices on Policy & Science

Three of the key participants at the workshop “Policy & Science: Who defines the problem?” where interviewed by Prof Gerry Stoker. Please take a few minutes and listen to their thoughts.


RT Hon John Denham MP, United Kingdom


Professor Martina Padmanabhan, Germany


Dr. Mihir Shah, India

Policy & Science: Who defines the problem?

By Samantha Dobbie, PGR Student, Institute for Complex Systems Simulation (ICSS), Centre for Environmental Sciences (CES)

Researchers of Southampton University projects and policy experts from around the world gathered in London last week to attend the workshop, Policy & Science: Who defines the problem? Susanna Thorp, Director of WRENmedia opened the workshop with a simple exercise in which participants met, spoke with and recalled facts concerning fellow attendees. The exercise was used to highlight the fact that “we can have great evidence, good data, but if it is not presented in a memorable way it won’t have impact”.

ws-group-photoOn the subject of policy and science – first to the floor was Guy Poppy, Professor of Ecology at the University of Southampton and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). After providing a brief introduction to ASSETS, a large ESPA funded project working with communities in Columbia, Malawi and Peru; Guy Poppy highlighted the need to consider policy pathways early on. Echoing this sentiment, Rob Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton spoke of the ESPA Deltas project and the use of an iterative learning loop, which incorporates participatory approaches involving diverse stakeholders to develop robust policies.

The morning session was topped off nicely with a keynote speech by Martina Padmanabhan. As Professor of Comparative Development and Cultural Research at the University of Passau, Germany – Martina Padmanabhan had been invited along as one of the editors of Cultivate Diversity! A Handbook on Transdisciplinary Approaches to Agrobiodiversity Research. Arguing that, “we need to say goodbye to science and policy as two independent domains”, she identified 5 key features of the interface, including: goals, structure, processes, outputs and outcomes. Successful interfaces were regarded to be those that possess credibility, relevance, legitimacy and dynamic interaction, while potential issues included: power conflicts, unclear goals and lack of resources. In order to overcome such pitfalls, Martina Padmanabhan called for, “co-design, co-creation and co-evaluation” of the science-policy interface.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion drawing upon examples, experiences and views from experts in Columbia, India, Malawi and the UK. The panel talk and discussion was guided by Gerry Stoker, Professor of Policy and Governance at the University of Southampton, UK. A number of interesting points were raised, including the need to:

  • Ensure researchers are asking the questions policy makers want the answer to,
  • Be honest about the values underpinning research and make sure they match policy
  • Acknowledge that showing something in aggregate data doesn’t mean it will make a good political decision
  • Overcome conflicting time-horizons of scientists and policy makers that can often pose problems,
  • Ensure continued engagement between scientists and policy makers – too often it’s the case that “We kiss and then we vanish”.

Finally, the afternoon session offered a great opportunity for scientists and policy makers to engage in conversation. Participants were divided into three working groups to discuss the overarching question: “How to manage the nexus of relationships between researchers funders and policy makers”. After a fruitful discussion, each of the groups came up with a number of action points including the need to celebrate science-policy advocates and ensure both scientists and decision makers are equipped with the skills to engage effectively. Wrapping up the day, Gerry Stoker thanked all involved but was keen to stress that the meeting hadn’t ended. After all, if the science-policy gap is to bridged and long-term engagement become the norm, we must continue as we mean to go on.

Presentations held at the workshop:

  • Keynote: Dialogue with Policy, Prof Martina Padmananbhan, University of Passau, Germany (pptx, 9.4 mb)
  • Introduction to the Deltas Project, Prof Rob Nicholls, University of Southampton, UK (pptx, 5.5 mb)
  • Introduction to the ASSETS Project, Prof Guy Poppy, University of Southampton, UK (pptx, 4.7 mb)
  • An example from Colombia, Luis Francisco Madriñán (PhD), Universidad del Rosario, Colombia (pptx, 8.2 mb)

Find more information about the workshop at the dedicated workshop page.

Nutritious Food for All in a Changing World

“Nutritious Food for All in a Changing World” is the title of an article in Cell (Volume 157, Issue 7, 19 June 2014, Pages 1493, 1495) which presents ASSETS work as an important and new approach towards the fight against hunger. The author Susanne Brink refers to the paper “Achieving food and environmental security: new approaches to close the gap” (Poppy, G.M., et al. (2014). Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 369) and states that “Poppy and colleagues propose a new framework to prevent food insecurity while maintaining a healthy ecosystem”. For the whole of the ASSETS team this mention is an important encouragement to carry on with its innovative work.

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