Institute Insights: June 2018


Mother and Daughter in Malawi. Photo: Bread for the World

From the Director

The global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is well under way. To date, 64 countries have submitted Voluntary National Reviews at the annual U.N. High-Level Political Forum, and 47 countries have indicated that they will offer reviews of their progress at the 2018 Forum, to be held in July.

The world will also receive the first-ever city report: New York City, New York. The United States and 193 other countries adopted the SDGs in the fall of 2015, and New York was “out in front” with a detailed plan to meet them, A City with Global Goals.

Anyone who has achieved a goal or solved a problem knows that you need to start by figuring out what is standing in the way. The SDGs include ending malnutrition, building peace, sending all children to school—goals that virtually everyone in the world can support. So why have they not yet been met?

That question may seem simplistic. People might respond impatiently, “Because that’s not the way the world works” or “Because human nature gets in the way.” These statements may be true in a sense, but they are not “real” answers in an action-oriented sense. They do not offer a way forward, and they certainly do not identify next steps.

When people think about the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, any number of barriers may come to mind. Many of these are too broad to spell out next steps—for example, conflict, poverty, or bias based on race, gender, or religion. But they do indicate a way forward: describe as specifically as possible how barriers look in particular situations, gather data that is disaggregated to determine how different populations are affected, identify policies and actions that may help solve the problem, and—far easier said than done—implement the best ideas and continue to adapt these approaches as experience indicates.

This issue of Institute Insights includes discussion of several kinds of barriers to ending hunger and malnutrition. Some are concrete—for example, geographical isolation from healthcare facilities, or lack of transportation to a better job. Others may have technical solutions—for example, vaccines, crops fortified with micronutrients, or partnerships between employers and training centers. Still others—such as war, misogyny, racism—will require changing people’s hearts and minds if the solutions are to be lasting, but can nonetheless be tackled now with political efforts and policies—for example, pressure from stakeholders such as voters, the international community, the people most affected by the problem, healthcare providers, or labor unions.

The SDGs have pledged to leave no one behind and to reach the furthest behind first. A focus on barriers is critical. It will be interesting to hear more about the barriers New York City has identified as its top priorities and how the city has begun to organize and coordinate its SDG efforts. Information from new national reviews will also offer insights into how to identify both the specific barriers to achieving the goals and some potential ways of overcoming them.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Graphic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

Hunger and Decent Work

By Todd Post

Congress authorizes spending to help prevent hunger in the United States in several ways. One of the most important is the farm bill, reauthorized every five years.

Usually, the farm bill does not generate a lot of controversy. This time is different. Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee unanimously endorsed a draft farm bill that Democrats on the committee unanimously rejected. Fortunately for hungry people, the bill was defeated on the House floor on May 18.

The main problem with the draft farm bill was that it included additional work requirements for people who receive monthly benefits from SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps). Some people, including most adults without dependents, are already required to work. But the House Agriculture Committee’s bill would have cut billions of dollars from the SNAP budget, partly by extending work and job training requirements to older people and parents with children. An estimated 1 million households would have lost their SNAP benefits. People of color would be disproportionately affected, particularly since the bill did not contain nearly enough funding for transportation. It also lacked adequate funding for child care for parents who were newly required to work.

Policymakers should take positive steps to help people find decent jobs that pay a livable wage. Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge: Working to End Hunger by 2030, was released in April. The report offers a menu of options to enable people who receive SNAP benefits to overcome barriers to employment.

The official unemployment rate has been holding steady at 4.1 percent for the past six months, the lowest level since the year 2000, so you might ask what is preventing anyone from getting a job. But the low national unemployment rate masks a much different reality in thousands of communities around the country, both rural and urban. These areas of “persistent” poverty and “concentrated” poverty have high unemployment rates no matter how well the overall U.S. economy is doing.

The Jobs Challenge focuses on these communities, where SNAP participants are also more likely to live. Often, the infrastructure necessary to generate jobs and to help people find work does not exist or is in disrepair. Policymakers from both parties agree that the United States needs to improve its infrastructure, and The Jobs Challenge emphasizes the need for infrastructure investment. The right kinds of investment would make a difference in whether people who receive federal nutrition benefits get a chance to participate in a strong economy.

One of the most urgent needs is access to better jobs. The most impoverished urban communities are the least likely to be served by public transportation, while 39 percent of rural Americans do not have access to high-speed Internet (versus only 4 percent of people in urban areas). Small business is the mainstay of job creation, particularly in rural areas, and it is hard to imagine that any business can be profitable without high-speed Internet.

Another example of people with barriers to work is the more than 650,000 people, mostly men, who are released from U.S. prisons every year. There are many restrictions on which jobs can legally be filled by people with criminal records, as well as individual biases against ex-offenders that employers may have. Moreover, many people had significant barriers to employment before they were sent to prison—a majority lack a high school diploma, for example—and those barriers remain once they are released. A recent report by the Brookings Institution found that, three years after people are released, only half are employed—and of those who are, average earnings are minimal: just over $6,000 a year.

As I was working on the report, I had a chance to talk with Rafi Peterson, a re-entry specialist on the southside of Chicago, who helps formerly incarcerated men adjust when they return to their communities. “People recidivate because of hunger,” Peterson told me. “Hunger makes you desperate, and desperate people do desperate acts.”

“Leave no one behind” is the most important message of The Jobs Challenge, as well as a key principle of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the United States, too many people and too many communities have been left behind.

Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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Students from St. Francis Academy. Photo: Jim Stipe

Ending Hunger: Racial Equity Matters

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

Ending hunger means ending hunger for all people, including people of color. But racial inequities have caused communities of color, including African Americans, Indigenous communities, and Latinos, to be consistently left behind. People of color are at least twice as likely to face food insecurity and poverty. For African Americans, this disparity has remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years. It was true, for example, during the Great Depression of the 1930s; at the start of the War on Poverty in 1964; in 1980, after a long period of economic growth; and in 2012, after the peak of the Great Recession. 

This means that tackling structural racism is vital to ending hunger. How can we get started? First, we need to talk about it. Without dialogue, we will not be able to identify policies and practices to correct the problem. Unfortunately, initial discussions can be difficult and uncomfortable for many people, leading many government agencies, organizations, and communities to avoid making a commitment to meaningful progress against racism.

It can help to remember that this is about establishing policies and institutions that lead to a just and equitable society. Overcoming structural racism, as its name tells us, is about improving structures, not about assigning blame to groups or individuals.

To advance the conversation, Bread for the World Institute hosted a dynamic panel on Thursday, May 17, entitled “Applying Racial Equity to End Hunger and Poverty.” The panel featured speakers from PolicyLink, the Alliance to End Hunger, the Congressional Hunger Center, and Prosperity Now.

Lisa Cylar Barrett of PolicyLink helped us get started with a great definition of equity: “just and fair inclusion in a society where all people can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” What will it take for people to reach their full potential? For a long time, people have focused on achieving equality, with the goal of ending inequality. But thinking only in terms of equal inputs or opportunity leads to further inequality, for two reasons. First, it ignores the privileges, or the significant “head start,” that some groups have as a result of previous biased policies. Second, it fails to address inequitable structures and conditions, which is what caused inequality in the first place.

To counter such a narrative, and achieve equity as Ms. Barrett defined it, we need to treat equal outcomes as the priority, not necessarily equal inputs. Focusing on outcomes will counter the structural and historic inequality that communities of color face. Making the distinction between equity and equality allows us to move toward transformational change, as opposed to remaining static, in our mission of ending hunger. When we think about what would enable different races to achieve equal outcomes, we realize that it will require targeted investments and support to communities that have historically had less investment and support.

In order to understand why race is so important to ending hunger, we need to understand the historical context that created today’s racial divides in hunger, income, and wealth. This is why Bread for the World Institute and NETWORK have developed an interactive tool, the “Racial Wealth Gap Learning Simulation,”  that helps people understand how structural racism has helped create the conditions we have today. It fosters an environment where people can begin to discuss race in a productive and honest way.

Before launching this tool online, Bread for the World Institute spent a year piloting the simulation. It was refined to ensure that it can be used effectively by a wide variety of audiences from different backgrounds. The Institute has already seen the tool transform the hearts and minds of people working in different fields, including the anti-hunger and anti-poverty movement. 

In addition to grabbing the attention of many people in only 30 minutes, the learning simulation specifies the quantitative economic impact of each policy on different communities. This enables participants to see the impact of federal policies in creating structures that enhance the wealth and opportunity of some people, while denying it to others.

Implementing a racial equity lens will significantly reduce hunger and poverty among communities of color. Getting to this point will require talking about race and understanding the origins of today’s inequities. To learn more about the simulation and how you can use it, visit

Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor, policy and programs, specific populations, with Bread for the World Institute.

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Photo by Mstyslav Chernov (own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Conflict and Climate Change Meant Increased Hunger in 2017

By Jordan Teague

2017 was a year for the record books for any number of reasons. One of these, unfortunately, was the staggering global total of people displaced from their homes: 65.6 million, the highest number on record. Moreover, more than 28,000 additional people join them every day.

About 22.5 million displaced people are refugees, meaning that they have crossed an international border and are protected under international law. More than half of the refugees are children.

New analysis from the Food Security Information Network (FSIN), a global initiative cosponsored by FAO, WFP, and IFPRI (the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, and the International Food Policy Research Institute, respectively), found that 124 million people in 51 countries faced food insecurity crises in 2017, an 11 percent increase in severe food insecurity from 2016.

Desperate people by the hundreds of thousands are fleeing northeastern Nigeria, Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Libya – and the list goes on. Syria alone has 5.6 million refugees, the largest group. Where do refugees go? Dozens of countries are hosts. Turkey hosts the largest number, nearly 3 million, and Pakistan is second with 1.4 million. They are followed by Lebanon, Uganda, and Iran, which host about 1 million refugees each.

There is some good news--for example, southern Africa increased its production of cereals and lowered staple food prices in 2017. Many low-income countries have made great progress against stunting and other forms of child malnutrition, as well as against maternal and infant mortality, even without significantly raising the average family’s income.

The FSIN analysis identified two main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict and climate change. Food insecurity crises due to conflict included areas in Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan with famine or near-famine conditions. Severe drought, a result of climate change, is causing both widespread livestock loss and reduced agricultural production in East Africa, most notably in Somalia and Ethiopia.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, identified conflict and climate change as the primary causes of hunger as well. The United States has an essential role to play in bringing warring factions to the negotiating table and limiting damage from climate change. The Hunger Report offered recommendations to help the United States prevent conflict and sustain peace, including greater flexibility in United States engagement with fragile states and better assistance for refugees and their host communities. The United States also needs to strengthen the continuum and connection between emergency assistance and development assistance, which will enable communities to recover and build resilience for the future.

The consequences of conflict and the need for outside actors to develop effective responses are both strikingly illustrated in the case of South Sudan. As we explain in our recent briefing paper, The Face of Famine in South Sudan: A Call to Bridge the Humanitarian-Development-Diplomacy Divide, South Sudan is rich in natural resources—yet an unknown number of people have died from malnutrition in the past two years alone, and these deaths continue today. As in other hunger crises, the deaths are disproportionately among children younger than 5.

The reality is that hunger cannot end until the conflict and war that prolong it end. The global community must work, using all peaceful strategies available, toward inclusive, negotiated peace agreements. This year, East and West Africa will continue to experience the lingering effects of drought, including reduced crop production, poorer livestock health, and more precarious livelihoods. These conditions are the result of climate change. The global community needs to provide the most affected regions with the tools and assets needed to prevent, adapt to, and respond to climate shocks, such as droughts and floods.

In May 2018, funding shortages would have cut off access to food for nearly a million Syrian refugees. When humanitarian officials made this announcement in early April, the global humanitarian appeal for Syria had been only 27 percent funded. On April 25, donors pledged an additional $4.1 billion to close much of the funding gap, as well as continued support and protection for more than 13 million people within Syria who need humanitarian assistance, and an additional 3.9 million vulnerable people living in host communities.

Perhaps the need to allocate additional emergency support was made particularly urgent by a video shown at the donor meeting. In it, Farah, a 6-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan, explains that she loves learning languages and science, would like to become a teacher and a poet, and plays soccer to help forget her troubles. In any case, it is clear that given today’s hunger crises in fragile countries, all donor assistance that can be spared is urgently needed. 


Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

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Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Ebola, Hunger, and Neglect

By Michele Learner

In our 2016 Hunger Report, The Nourishing Effect, Bread for the World Institute explored the two-way relationships between hunger and health. Hunger and malnutrition cause or worsen a variety of human health problems, while diseases and poor health diminish people’s ability to absorb nutrients, study, work, and raise their families.

The Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, discussed why weak national institutions, particularly a government’s inability or unwillingness to provide essential public services such as basic health care and clean water, are a significant cause of hunger. In a vicious cycle, poverty, isolation, lack of communications and transportation facilities, and other problems become both the causes and the effects of weak institutions and hunger. Often, the situation is worsened by armed conflict and/or climate change.

As I write, several themes—lack of health care, fragile institutions, hunger, and conflict—are converging in Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There are fears that an Ebola outbreak that began in a rural part of the province early in May also poses a significant risk to Mbandaka, a city of a million people. The area’s almost complete lack of usable roads means that the 150-kilometer (about 93-mile) journey from the village where the first cases were reported to the city takes many hours by motorbike. Nonetheless, the Ebola virus reached Mbandaka within days.

The devastating 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which took more than 11,000 lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, has been called a “September 11 moment” for global health. Afterward, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a detailed investigation into what had gone wrong in the much-criticized international response. It formed expert panels to determine the best way forward, including the establishment of a health worker corps that can be mobilized quickly in case of an infectious disease emergency. Other intergovernmental bodies, national government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations also conducted reviews of their actions and made recommendations for improvement.

All of these groups will be put to the test if the threat to Mbandaka is not quickly contained. One doctor in the city said that as of May 17, more than 300 people may have been in close contact with people in Mbandaka either suspected of having or confirmed to have Ebola. Even more catastrophic is the prospect of Ebola potentially traveling along the Congo River from Mbandaka to Kinshasa, DRC’s capital and a sprawling metropolis of approximately 11 million people.

An important sign of hope, however, is the availability of a vaccine. Although it is still classified as experimental, and requires every patient’s fully informed consent to the vaccine and all of its possible risks, it worked well when it became available in limited quantities toward the end of the West Africa Ebola crisis. As of May 23, 2018, nearly 16,000 doses of the vaccine had either already arrived in DRC, or were en route.

WHO also announced plans to work with nine neighboring countries to prevent the virus from crossing international borders. The top two priorities are the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) due to their proximity to the outbreak area. Initiatives for early detection of Ebola are also being set up in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda.

Until the Ebola outbreak, humanitarian issues in DRC, including hunger and malnutrition, had not received much recent attention in the western media. A year ago, in May 2017, aid agencies reported that 540,000 young children were at risk from malnutrition in Western Kasai province. In May 2018, UNICEF said that in Kasai, at least half of all children under 5 were suffering from acute malnutrition—770,000. Of these, UNICEF considers 400,000 to be at risk of death.

The reasons are conflict-related: health centers, along with essential equipment, supplies, and medications, have been destroyed in the fighting, and the violence and insecurity have made it too dangerous for many farmers to cultivate their crops. There was little coverage of an earlier, particularly brutal civil war that raged throughout eastern DRC for about a dozen years, 1998 through 2010. The conflict caused the deaths of between 3 million and 6 million people—their numbers largely uncounted and unknown to this day—from violence, malnutrition, and disease. 

ReliefWeb’s statement on the current Ebola outbreak sums up the high costs, in human lives and suffering, of weak institutions and protracted conflict: “Trapped in a 20-year protracted crisis, the men, women, and children of the DRC are incredibly vulnerable to disease outbreaks like Ebola. The country has vast amounts of fertile land that could potentially feed over 2 billion people, but two decades of conflict, epidemics, and rampant insecurity have left millions of people suffering from severe malnutrition and food insecurity. Access to health care is a major challenge nationwide with significant healthcare gaps.”

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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from our Resource Library

For Education

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

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June 21, 2019


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