Institute Insights: January 2017


Early childhood education in Bangladesh. Photo: Todd Post / Bread for the World

From the Director

Happy New Year! We traditionally spend time before and after New Year’s looking back at all that happened during the previous year. Bread for the World Institute’s efforts to build the political will to end hunger and malnutrition span more than one year, of course. There has been impressive progress against global hunger and extreme poverty over the last 25 years in particular. But there is a long way to go. Our next time frame is from now, January 2017, to December 2030, the agreed deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The “2030 Agenda” includes ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition.

As we transition from one U.S. administration to another, it is helpful to look back over another time period, the years 2008 to 2016. This encompasses the eight years of the Obama presidency, the eight years since the onset of the Great Recession in the United States, and the eight years since the global food price crisis caused a dramatic setback on hunger and poverty. We need to assess progress over several years because it takes that long to see the first impacts, if any, of policy improvements. Now is one of the earliest opportunities to gauge the effects of government responses to the Great Recession, the food price crisis, and other events of 2008 and 2009.

The 2008 global food price crisis was a monumental wake-up call to national governments and to global leadership structures. When the prices of staple grains such as wheat and rice suddenly spiked, doubling or even tripling in just 12-18 months, about 100 million additional people were forced into extreme poverty. Prices eventually began to decline again, but they have been far more volatile since the crisis. The crisis made it clear that developing countries and donors must make agricultural development a top priority and invest in the poorest families, who out of necessity spend so much of their income on food that when staple food prices soar, there is nothing to cut out of the household budget but food. Feed the Future was the U.S. government’s response.

The global food price crisis also underscored the need for multilateral institutions to bring together and coordinate the efforts of governments and donors to respond to events that have such widespread implications. The United States has been able to mobilize other governments to contribute to development and humanitarian efforts by playing a leadership role itself. This will continue to serve both our country, and people overseas who are hungry and malnourished, well.

The past eight years were also a time of sharpening our development tools and strengthening established development efforts. Two of these were initiatives of the George W. Bush administration. PEPFAR continues to provide preventive care and treatment to millions of people living with HIV/AIDS, saving the lives of people in developing countries who are in their prime working and parenting years. The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) works with countries that are committed to investing in their people to carry out their own plans to create inclusive economic growth — growth that reduces poverty.

Here at home, the past few years present a mixed picture. Recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and has not benefited everyone equally. Yet government measures, such as enacting a significant stimulus bill and keeping interest rates low, halted the crisis and eventually led to improvement. The unemployment rate is now well below 5 percent, and in 2015 the country’s real median income rose for the first time since the recession began. The federal safety net program SNAP worked as designed to help prevent hunger; participation rose when the economy was at its weakest and then fell as the economy improved. Making further progress against hunger and food insecurity will mean focusing on those who are disproportionately at risk, including people of color and women.

It’s clear that government at all levels has a wide range of opportunities to make a difference on hunger and malnutrition. In this issue of Institute Insights, we mention many of these strategies — strategies that have not only been used effectively over the past eight years, but are also poised to enable progress against hunger and extreme poverty to continue.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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3,000 Days of Action for Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days

By Jordan Teague, Bread for the World Institute

The accomplishments of the past eight years in the areas of global food security and nutrition testify to how much progress can be made when political will, strong evidence, and bipartisan cooperation come together. The global leadership of the United States, ranging from participating in global policy agreements to reaching millions of women and children annually with nutrition services, has expanded and deepened these accomplishments

The U.S. intention of providing strong leadership on food security was signaled early in the Obama administration at the 2009 G-8 Summit of developed countries in L’Aquila, Italy. The U.S. government led the charge to revitalize investments in agriculture and food security in response to the 2007-2008 global food price crisis. The result was commitments of $22 billion from the G-8 countries to support food security. Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global food security initiative, was born out of these commitments and has enjoyed bipartisan support since its inception. In a striking demonstration of this support, Congress passed the Global Food Security Act in July 2016. This legislation ensures that Feed the Future will continue in the coming years.

Feed the Future not only addressed hunger and poverty in its focus countries, but, acting on the evidence that nutrition is a critical factor in reducing both hunger and poverty, it also incorporated improved nutrition into its model of agricultural development. In 2015, Feed the Future reached 18 million children with essential nutrition services. It reports that in eight focus countries, levels of childhood stunting — irreversible damage from early childhood malnutrition — have decreased anywhere from 6 percent to 40 percent. For more on the L’Aquila initiative and Feed the Future, please see Sustaining the Momentum on U.S. Leadership in Global Development.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the rest of the U.S. government have also set out to codify their nutrition work — and lessons learned thus far — by developing both the USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy and the U.S. Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan. These policies are important because they enshrine nutrition as a priority both within USAID programs — for example, the Ending Preventable Maternal and Child Deaths program — and among 11 U.S. government agencies.

Nutrition, like Feed the Future, has earned bipartisan support in Congress. While global nutrition programs were at first part of the budget and work plan of an agency, primarily the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Congress later began to appropriate funding specifically for nutrition. This amount is modest but has been increasing slowly but steadily. Most recently, $125 million was appropriated to global nutrition programs — a significant increase from its starting level.

The U.S. government has also been a leader in global processes to secure support for nutrition programs. In 2010, armed with groundbreaking scientific evidence of the importance of early childhood nutrition, specifically during the “1,000 Days” between pregnancy and age 2, the U.S. government played a key role in launching the 1,000 Days Partnership. The purpose of the 1,000 Days Partnership, established with the support of the U.S. government, the Government of Ireland, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several nonprofit organizations, including Bread for the World, is to champion, advocate, and mobilize to improve nutrition for children in the 1,000-day window.

In addition to raising awareness of both the problem of maternal/child undernutrition and its potential effective and cost-effective solutions, the 1,000 Days Partnership helps build political support for the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. Composed of countries with a high burden of malnutrition that are committed to improving nutrition among their young children, SUN builds momentum and coordinates action among its members and other stakeholders. The SUN Movement is now in its sixth year and includes 57 countries as well as three states in India. Countries that have joined SUN are home to more than 100 million stunted children. More than one-third of women of reproductive age in SUN countries suffer from iron deficiency anemia, which during pregnancy can cause damage ranging from poor fetal growth to maternal mortality.

Most recently, in September 2015, the United States and nearly 200 other nations committed to ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of the 2030 Agenda. Specifically, Target 2.2 in the 2030 Agenda is to end malnutrition — in all its forms and in all countries. This is clearly an ambitious goal that will require both action and investment from all countries and all types of actors. The U.S. government has a long history of leadership in global maternal and child nutrition that it can build on to help achieve this expansive but attainable goal. The past eight years have shown that making maternal/child nutrition a top political priority and sustaining bipartisan commitment can achieve real results for vulnerable people around the world. Scientific consensus on the critical importance of early nutrition has been established relatively recently, so what has happened so far is just the beginning.

Jordan Teague is international policy analyst for food security and nutrition at Bread for the World Institute.

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Assistance from the U.S. government helps people help themselves. Photo: UN / Tim McKulka

Sustaining the Momentum on U.S. Leadership in Global Development

By Faustine Wabwire, Bread for the World Institute

U.S. poverty-focused development assistance saves millions of lives each year — at a bargain price. For well under 1 percent of our budget, we ensure that children get vaccines, support communities in building safe water and sanitation systems, provide the training for health workers and access to nutritious foods that prevent women from dying in childbirth, and enable low-income families to send their children to school.

Moreover, for decades, whether the White House was occupied by a Republican or a Democrat, our development and humanitarian assistance has inspired other donors to make significant contributions of their own.

One of the most important examples came in July 2009. When leaders of the G-8, a group of developed countries, gathered that summer in L'Aquila, Italy, their top concern was the global food price crisis. Soaring prices for basic staple foods such as rice and wheat had pushed an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty. One of the major causes was neglect of agriculture in many countries. The U.S. proposal to invest significantly more effort and resources in agriculture, in fact, was a proposal to reverse decades of decline in funding for agricultural development. It won support from other donor countries, which committed to providing $22 billion in financing for agriculture, food security, and nutrition over three years. This coordinated response to the global food price crisis became known as the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative.

Our country's commitment to the L'Aquila initiative led to the creation of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s signature initiative to reduce global hunger and malnutrition. So far, Feed the Future has demonstrated results in several powerful ways, focusing simultaneously on cross-cutting efforts to reduce hunger and poverty, raise the incomes and productivity of smallholder farmers, and improve nutrition, especially for women and girls.

When the United States hosted the 2012 G-8 Summit at Camp David, Obama led an appraisal of the progress made since L'Aquila and a recommitment to improving smallholder agriculture. The president’s speech at Camp David led to the establishment of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, whose goals include mobilizing the private sector to invest in initiatives such as nutrition that offer a high rate of return.

Another result of the L’Aquila initiative was the creation of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). Donors fulfill their L’Aquila commitments by contributing to GAFSP, which then channels funds through country-led efforts such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). GAFSP ensures that the focus remains on training and equipping smallholder farmers, particularly women, and it prioritizes funding for countries with the greatest need and a demonstrated commitment to achieving results. GAFSP also stretches aid dollars by ensuring that funding arrives on more predictable schedules so that projects are not interrupted and their achievements lost.

The United States was also an early supporter of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, whose members are countries with high burdens of malnutrition that are working together to expand the most effective nutrition actions to everyone in need. SUN’s focus is on reaching those most vulnerable to lifelong damage from malnutrition — children in the 1,000-day window between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. For more information about SUN and the "1,000 Days," please see 3,000 Days of Action, in this issue.

Setting up and managing programs in the most effective way possible is key to their success, whether in agricultural productivity, better nutrition, or any of the other areas that improve human well-being. The U.S. government has redoubled its efforts on aid effectiveness and continues to make improvements. Ambitious policy changes have sought to achieve better results on the ground through a more strategic focus, greater transparency, and better accountability for outcomes.

These efforts started in September 2010 with the release of a President’s Policy Directive specifically on development (PPD). The PPD calls for a stronger focus on sustainable development outcomes — taking steps to ensure that gains are lasting by making development an important part of foreign policy considerations, ensuring that policies dovetail rather than inadvertently working at cross purposes, and coordinating work across the whole of U.S. government. The PPD was followed by the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), released in December 2010. The QDDR began to put PPD principles into practice with agency-level reforms led by then-USAID administrator Rajiv Shah.

The past eight years have yielded concerted multilateral efforts to boost agricultural productivity, particularly among female smallholder farmers, and to improve nutrition, particularly among young children. The Obama administration has also tackled the complex task of better focusing and coordinating our country’s development assistance. This puts the United States in a good position to continue to be a leader in efforts to end global hunger and malnutrition.

Faustine Wabwire is senior foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.

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Dominic Duren spends a few moments with his son Dominc. Dominic is the director of the HELP Program in Cinncinati, Ohio. Joseph Molieri / Bread for the World

Criminal Justice Reform Means Less Hunger

By Marlysa D. Gamblin, Bread for the World Institute

As the Obama presidency draws to a close, it is only natural to reflect on the issues we care about — issues that affect progress toward our goal of ending hunger and food insecurity in the United States. Criminal justice reform is one of the most important.

For a variety of reasons explained in our recent fact sheet, people who were previously incarcerated, and their children, are at far greater risk of hunger and food insecurity. Millions of people belong to this group — not least because incarceration in the United States has risen by a staggering 500 percent since 1980, leading to the coining of the term “mass incarceration.”

We have seen some historic “firsts” in criminal justice reform over the past eight years, though much more work remains to be done. President Obama is the first-ever sitting president to set foot in a federal prison. He met with inmates, heard their stories, and later responded to some of the injustices of the system. The visit forced many Americans who have never been in prison or visited a loved one in prison to take a closer look at the realities there. It also helped build the case for some bold actions that the administration later took. These include championing and signing into law the Fair Sentencing Act, granting a record number of clemencies, and beginning to tackle racial profiling and unfair policing.

The Fair Sentencing Act was a tremendous achievement. It is one response to 1980s-era “mandatory minimum” sentences for drug-related offenses, meaning that individual judges have no discretion to change them depending on the circumstances.

The Fair Sentencing Act eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine — five years. It also began the process of dismantling the racism and classism inherent in the law’s treatment of cocaine. Legally, possession of crack cocaine and possession of cocaine in powder form have been seen very differently. People can possess a far larger amount of powder cocaine without committing a federal offense than of crack cocaine. Not coincidentally, people from low-income and black communities are more likely to be caught in possession of crack cocaine because it’s less expensive. The same drug in different forms leads to radically different federal prison sentences.

The Fair Sentencing Act reduces this disparity. Whereas possessing a set amount of crack cocaine used to be considered as serious an offense as possessing 100 times that amount of powder cocaine, now it’s considered as serious as 18 times that amount of powder cocaine. While the law is still uneven, it’s a true milestone in criminal justice reform and is expected to drastically affect the sentencing of low-income and black defendants.

The president has granted more clemencies than any other — 231, including 135 commutations and 78 pardons. Nearly 1,200 individuals were affected by these decisions, free to return home and help support their families. More people working also means more people supporting local communities, many of which, particularly communities of color, have been devastated by mass incarceration.

The president also pushed the Justice Department to intensify its campaign of warnings to and investigations of jurisdictions accused of violating civil rights laws. The administration acted on the evidence of racial profiling in the criminal justice system and its contribution to higher hunger and poverty rates among African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Legal pressure on local jurisdictions to reverse their policies of over-ticketing, over-policing, and over-incarcerating in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color can bring lasting improvements and help end the criminalization of poverty.

The executive branch under Obama, as under all his predecessors, is subject to limits on its power in the form of checks and balances from Congress and the Supreme Court. Within this framework, the administration pushed the envelope for reform in ways that carried political risk and required patience. We should now look to ways the incoming administration can build on the Obama legacy — not break it. The reforms, while not fully comprehensive, were bold first steps in the right direction.

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The new Congress has an opportunity to give more children at risk of hunger access to the healthy food they need. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

What a Difference Eight Years Can (& Did) Make

By Cynthia Woodside, Bread for the World Institute

Think back to 2008. I know — it can be difficult even to remember what you had for lunch yesterday. But spending a few minutes thinking about where we were as a country at the start of the Great Recession, and where we are today, is a worthwhile exercise. Reviewing the differences between then and now shows that progress on reducing hunger and poverty is not only possible, but can be accelerated in the years to come. It shows that the goals of ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, two elements of what’s sometimes called the 2030 Agenda, are not just aspirational but doable — even if there are setbacks along the way.

Take hunger. U.S. food insecurity — or not always having money to put food on the table — has been too high for too many years. Because of the Great Recession, food insecurity spiked from about 11 percent of U.S. households in 2007 to almost 15 percent in 2011 — meaning that nearly 14 million additional men, women, and children were food insecure.

But over the past eight years, the country was able to start recovering from this major setback. It took longer than anyone wanted, and the number of food-insecure children and adults still isn’t back to pre-recession levels. However, a much-needed temporary increase in SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits, along with a gradually improving economy, helped lower the food insecurity rate to 12.7 percent in 2015 — the first significant decrease since the start of the recession.

What about poverty? A very similar story — slow but clear progress. The overall poverty rate was 12.5 percent in 2007, increased to a high of 15 percent in 2011 and 2012, but then fell to 13.5 percent by 2015. That drop meant that 3.5 million fewer people lived in poverty in the United States in 2015 than in 2014.

And real median household income? In 2015, it increased for the first time since 2007, by 5.2 percent. Not only white households, but African American and Latino households as well, now have more purchasing power.

Looking for more progress on issues that impact hunger and poverty?

The unemployment rate is currently half of what it was during the height of the recession, down from 9.9 percent in 2009 to 4.6 percent in 2016.

Working families with children can now count on improvements made in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that had been temporary, but were made permanent by a bill passed and enacted last year.

Family and chronic homelessness has been reduced by one fifth since 2010. And more than 20 cities and two states have virtually ended homelessness among veterans. The United States has set a goal to end homelessness among families with children by 2020.

A big improvement is the expansion of access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Through the ACA exchanges and state expansions of Medicaid, more than 90 percent of the population now has health insurance — the highest coverage in U.S. history. More than 20 million people have coverage now who did not in 2010. This is particularly important because for many families living at or near the poverty line, healthcare costs are a major item in the household budget. Significantly reducing those costs benefits lower-income people disproportionately.

None of this is to say that these improvements have been easy to make, or that progress will continue automatically. But they show that hunger and poverty are solvable problems — even when times are tough.

Now, the pace of the reductions in poverty and hunger must be accelerated. With continued improvements in the economy, we must focus the attention of our federal policymakers, and their partners on the state and local levels, squarely on the actions needed to end hunger and extreme poverty. As anti-hunger advocates, we need to keep our eyes on the goals in the 2030 Agenda and ensure that our policy recommendations and funding requests are grounded in solid research. We must strengthen our commitment not only to ending hunger, food insecurity, and extreme poverty, but also to building the consensus that doing so is possible.

Cynthia Woodside is senior domestic policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.

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Hunger declined over the past eight years.

Institute In Sight

Because of the Great Recession, food insecurity spiked from about 11 percent of U.S. households in 2007 to almost 15 percent in 2011 — meaning that nearly 14 million additional men, women, and children were food insecure. But over the past eight years, the country was able to start recovering from this major setback.

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