Institute Insights: January 2020


Mothers in a Zambian village learn how to prepare and feed their children a nutritious porridge. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

From the Director

Happy New Year and welcome to a new decade! It’s the final, “all hands on deck” decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United States and 193 other nations with a deadline of 2030. 

The power of the SDG framework, which relates all 17 goals to one another, is its recognition that none of the SDGs can be reached in isolation. Communities, nations, and the entire planet can make, and certainly have made, significant progress on age-old challenges. For example, extreme poverty around the world was cut in half under the Millennium Development Goals that preceded the current SDGs. But it is only when progress in some areas makes it possible to lower barriers to progress in others that all the SDGs can be achieved.

In this issue of Institute Insights, we reflect on upcoming opportunities for progress on climate change, examine Bread’s new guiding principles for policies that address hunger and conflict, report on new research on how the problem of hunger is changing due to rising obesity rates all over the world, and profile the efforts of a pastor and church in Baltimore to make healthy food available close to home.

As Bread for the World Institute often mentions, SDG 2 calls for ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition. But the world cannot reach the goal without significant progress on climate change, the topic of SDG 13. The Institute has been working for some time to identify the most important connections between hunger and climate change so that we can contribute to finding effective solutions. See, for example, the 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities and the 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics: How to End Hunger by 2030.

The horrifying photos, stories, and statistics from well over 100 wildfires in Australia have caught the world’s attention. Particularly in the face of climate-related devastation such as this, it is important to note that slowing climate change is, like ending hunger, a matter of political will. This is the main climate change message of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Before countries convened at the recent COP-25 summit in Madrid, Spain, to finalize plans to implement the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, Guterres reaffirmed that climate change is a problem that has solutions: 

“The technologies that are necessary to make this possible are already available,” he said. “Signals of hope are multiplying. Public opinion is waking up everywhere. Young people are showing remarkable leadership and mobilization. [But we need] political will to put a price on carbon, political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels [and start] taxing pollution instead of people.”

That is why the lack of progress after two weeks of discussions at COP 25 is particularly disappointing. While the summit’s closing statement refers to the “urgent need” for new national commitments to cut carbon emissions, it falls far short on implementation.

"I am disappointed with the results of COP-25,” Guterres said. "The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance to tackle the climate crisis."

Institute Insights will have more to say about global climate change negotiations as 2020 continues. It is a pivotal year for global nutrition as well. The Government of Japan will host the next Nutrition for Growth summit in December.

It is increasingly clear that food security, nutrition, and climate change are interconnected and must be addressed in an integrated way. Here’s hoping that 2020 is a year of increasing political will, breaking down silos, and taking “double duty” actions that help solve multiple interconnected problems at the same time.   

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Efforts to Negotiate Effective Global Climate Action Continue

By Karyn Bigelow

COP25, the 25th annual U.N. climate change conference, took place in Madrid, Spain, under the presidency of the government of Chile. This year's COP was the longest ever, stretching from December 2 to December 13. (People who wonder why this event is called COP are not alone in asking. The connection between COP and climate change is that COP stands for Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate convention. Chile is the 2019 president of the group of countries that signed on to the climate convention).

As mentioned in this issue’s opening letter, COP25 was a missed opportunity. Climate scientists warn that the planet cannot afford another such delay. Policies must be in place by the end of this year, 2020, to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and end them altogether by 2050. This is the pace of carbon reduction necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius between now and 2100. As the Climate Reality Project explains, this is the maximum increase if the planet is to avoid many natural systems crossing “dangerous points of no return … Think of 1.5 degrees not as an absolute line in the sand, but as a general indicator of where many climate impacts – on balance – go from destructive to catastrophic.”

COP25’s nearly 200 participating countries did agree to a statement calling on them to do more to fight climate change. Specifically, they should make more ambitious national commitments under the landmark Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. New national commitments are due next year.

One major area where negotiations have so far failed is in establishing rules for international carbon markets. Continuing efforts to reach agreement sent both COP25 and COP24, held in Poland in 2018, into overtime. A workable international carbon market system could make a significant contribution to slowing climate change. It would allow countries to “offset” or compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by paying for reductions in emissions wherever this would make the greatest impact, rather than only inside their own borders.

Successful international carbon markets could mitigate the impacts of climate change in some of the worst-affected areas—meaning more help for communities that are geographically most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and have the fewest resources to cope with the damage. This description may sound familiar, because these communities are largely the same as those whose people are more likely to be hungry.

A second controversial issue was compensation for loss and damage. In fact, Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the U.S.-based World Resources Institute, characterized these discussions as "acrimonious negotiations."  The Institute, along with many others, is acutely aware of the irony that the people suffering most from climate change did the least to cause it. The Paris Agreement includes one response to these inequities—an international financing mechanism to help compensate low-income countries for climate-linked disasters. At COP25, however, some developed countries sought to weaken some of the language in the provisions for compensation. “Developed countries failed to provide sufficient assurance that they would mobilize adequate and predictable finance for vulnerable countries to respond to climate impacts,” said Mountford.

On a brighter note, there have been steps forward that, although not on a comprehensive global level and not reflected in COP25’s closing statement, could lay the groundwork for faster global action. The European Union (EU), the world’s largest economic bloc, announced a new commitment at COP25: the European Green Deal would eliminate the EU’s impact on the global climate by 2050. A coalition of US governors and mayors that, combined, represents about half the U.S. population, affirmed its continued commitment to reaching the Paris Agreement goals, and a total of 80 countries have now committed to more ambitious climate targets.

Another bright spot at COP25, this one outside the main negotiations, was the work of civil society organizations to draw attention to the connections between climate change and hunger. Several organizations held events focused on the intersection of climate change with food security and agriculture. Participants recognized the need, in the face of climate change, to make changes in how food is produced without sacrificing, in the process, the 2030 goals of ending hunger and malnutrition and reducing poverty. Regions where climate change is already compromising food production are of particular concern.

There are still opportunities this year to reach global agreement on concrete steps. U.N. climate negotiations will continue in June 2020 in Bonn, Germany, and at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2020. It is more important than ever for people everywhere to urge their governments to adopt climate policies that are bold enough to achieve the critical goal: limiting the planet’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Karyn Bigelow is research associate with Bread for the World Institute.

Bread’s victories often have lasting effects and set policy and funding that benefit people for years. Photo: UN / Kibae Park

Ending Hunger Includes Improving Nutrition

By Michele Learner

It’s been more than 11 years since The Lancet medical journal published the first of its groundbreaking research series on maternal/child nutrition. It is hard to overstate how influential the 2008 series has been for people throughout the world who are working to end hunger and malnutrition.

The series provided the definitive evidence that the time from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday is a critical window for human nutrition. Since then, health and nutrition workers have increasingly focused on the need to reach pregnant women and young children during this window, usually known as the 1,000 Days.

Nutrition during the 1,000 Days shapes a person’s lifelong health and development. Good nutrition at this time is a “game-changer,” boosting people’s resistance to illness, ability to learn, and lifetime earnings. It also helps protect people from the effects of hunger they may suffer as older children or adults.

The opposite is also true. Lack of essential nutrients during the 1,000 Days is a leading cause of preventable child deaths. Those who survive sustain damage to their physical and cognitive development that is often irreversible—a condition known as stunting. Stunted children are far too short for their age, get sick more often, and struggle to learn in school.

A great deal of progress has been made against stunting, including dramatic reductions in some of the poorest countries. Still, approximately 22 percent of all children under 5 were stunted as of 2018. The world is not on track to meet the World Health Assembly target of reducing stunting by 40 percent by 2025.

As mentioned earlier in this issue, the 2020 Nutrition for Growth summit will be held in December in Tokyo. It will build on the gains made at the first Nutrition for Growth summit, held in London in 2013. The London summit produced the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact, which includes nutrition targets such as reducing the number of stunted children by 20 million and improving nutrition for 500 million pregnant women and young children.

In addition to the continuing work, however, nutrition challenges have become more complex. Government officials, global organizations, nutrition advocates, and others who plan to attend the Tokyo summit are well aware of a significant change in the pattern of malnutrition in many developing countries: the “double burden of malnutrition” is on the increase. The “double” refers to situations where both undernutrition, such as micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition, such as obesity, are present in the same countries, the same communities, and, often, the same individuals.

Once again, The Lancet has published research that can help guide government officials, humanitarian workers, and others as they develop responses to the double burden. Its new report, Dynamics of the Double Burden of Malnutrition and the Changing Nutrition Reality, describes the problem and presents data on which countries, and which people within countries, are affected by either or both of the “burdens” of undernutrition and overnutrition.

According to Lancet researchers, malnutrition has in the past been treated as a separate public health issue, but “the new emergent reality is that undernutrition and overnutrition are interconnected and, therefore, double-duty actions that simultaneously address more than one dimension must be implemented for policy solutions to be effective.” This is a developing field: “Although [research] findings have sometimes converged, there is still work to be done to understand malnutrition's multiple manifestations.”

The double burden of nutrition is defined and measured by the levels of several main indicators of nutritional problems. These generally include childhood stunting, childhood wasting, underweight in women of childbearing age, and adult or child overweight. Depending on the threshold used to indicate a severe burden of overnutrition, the number of countries affected varies. 

If, for example, the rate of overweight and obesity considered severe is set at 40 percent or more of the population, there are 10 countries with severe double burdens. If overnutrition affects 20 percent of more of the population, the number rises to 48 countries. Moreover, in every case for which there is past and present data to compare, the problem is worsening. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia/Pacific now have the heaviest double burdens of malnutrition.

Developing solutions that apply to all types of malnutrition, whether it’s in the form of stunting, micronutrient deficiency, obesity, or one of several others, is sure to be the subject of much discussion at the Nutrition for Growth summit as it is in other nutrition forums.

Organizers identify the five priority areas of the Tokyo summit as health, food, resilience, data-driven accountability, and new investment and innovative financing mechanisms. The summit and a kick-off event planned for July, just before Japan hosts the Olympics, “will continue the [Nutrition for Growth] legacy and signal the beginning of a new race … toward a world in which all people, including the most vulnerable, have access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food by 2030.”

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

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. About 5,000 people have been crossing borders daily to leave Venezuela over the past year, according to UN data. Colombia, April 2019. UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Conflict and Fragility Are Hunger Issues

By Jordan Teague

“Fragility” has a special meaning in global affairs. It’s sometimes summed up as the inability of governments to protect and provide basic services to their populations. During armed conflict, governments are unable or unwilling to protect the lives of their people—it is a severe level of fragility. For much more on fragility and its main causes, see Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities.

The world has overwhelming—some would say exhaustive—evidence that conflict causes hunger. The number of forcibly displaced people has soared in the past several years to nearly 71 million, according to the latest data. The largest number of conflict-related deaths, especially those of women and children, are caused by hunger and disease, not by weapons. Most of the world’s remaining hungry people live in conflict zones, and this proportion is increasing as low-income countries at peace make further progress against hunger.

Bread for the World has envisioned a world without hunger since our earliest days in the 1970s. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), called for cutting hunger in half—a goal that was very nearly attained. The SDGs, adopted in 2015 by the United States and 193 other countries, call for an end to hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. But continued conflict will make this impossible.

As often mentioned in Institute Insights, global hunger has been on the increase since 2015. Data from 2019, once complete, is expected to show another increase, and 2020 does not look brighter. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) projects that 88 million people in 46 countries will need emergency food assistance this year.

That is 2 million more people than the expected total for 2019—and a staggering 87 percent increase since 2015. These figures do not include millions of Venezuelans now suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Political upheaval, violence, and an economy in freefall have quadrupled Venezuela’s hunger rate and produced 4.6 million refugees.

Other areas of greatest concern include South Sudan, Yemen, and Nigeria. In some cases, including South Sudan and Nigeria, the hunger crisis began due to conflict but was later worsened by natural disasters and climate change.

But is it all doom and gloom? In God’s world, the answer is always no! The global community can take actions in 2020 that help people in need now while also enabling them to prepare for post-conflict recovery and progress. To that end, Bread for the World has just launched our guiding principles for policies to address conflict, fragility, and hunger.

First and foremost, we support efforts to prevent conflict from breaking out or spreading and to keep fragility from worsening or becoming entrenched. U.S. assistance should include investments to build community capacity to solve problems and identify the root causes of hunger, poverty, and violence, and then begin to address those they are able to influence. 

U.S. assistance alone cannot support such initiatives everywhere they are needed, so the U.S. government should encourage other donors to prioritize building strong local institutions as they work to meet people’s basic needs. Resources must go first to the most vulnerable people, who often belong to groups that have been systematically oppressed for generations or centuries. 

Clearly, prevention efforts do not always succeed. When prevention fails, Bread for the World supports effective humanitarian assistance, diplomacy efforts, and equitable foreign policy to meet immediate humanitarian needs and lay the groundwork for durable and sustainable peace. Ensuring that humanitarian programs have the resources needed to provide appropriate food assistance quickly to all in need must continue to be a top priority.

U.S. foreign policy should include a strong emphasis on resolving conflicts. Building community capacity to solve problems, as mentioned earlier, is one way to do this. Supporting peace processes is a vital element of an equitable foreign policy, as is penalizing parties who prolong conflicts, particularly those who prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching people in need and/or commit war crimes. U.S. foreign policy as a whole must support peace; U.S. military, intelligence, and/or security support should not go to such actors.

Finally, we support responsible engagement in conflict-affected and fragile countries that helps them rebuild and then move forward. The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 elevated the understanding that it is not effective to separate humanitarian and development assistance; organizations working in these areas should no longer work separately. Integrating development efforts into emergency assistance can reduce the risk of recurrent crises. All efforts to address humanitarian and development goals should also strengthen the capacity of local systems and institutions through long-term and comprehensive strategies of partnership with fragile countries.

Bread for the World urges U.S. leaders to follow these principles in 2020 and beyond. U.S. influence and resources, when properly targeted, can do a great deal to prevent and end conflict, which is responsible for much of the hunger in the world today.

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

The Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown III. Courtesy of Black Church Food Security Network

Baltimore’s Black Churches Take On Food Apartheid

By Todd Post

In Baltimore’s African American neighborhoods, grocery stores are a rare sight. Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown III, the senior pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, calls the situation “food apartheid.”

In 2015, Brown founded the Black Church Food Security Network in Baltimore, aiming to build an alternative food system for residents of neighborhoods without grocery stores, mainly using fresh produce grown in gardens on church properties. Today, 12 Baltimore churches are part of the network, and Baltimore’s initiative has inspired similar church-led efforts in other areas of the United States.

The term food apartheid is increasingly used to explain the lack of access to nutritious foods in black communities, but the more common term among anti-hunger activists is “food desert.” Heber explains that food desert does not fully convey the racial inequity caused by disinvestment in black communities. Lack of investment is just one item on a long list of laws and practices, from slavery and sharecropping to Jim Crow and redlining, that have created the segregated neighborhoods of concentrated poverty that are the visible signs of past and present U.S. racism.

Across the nation, black communities are more likely not to have a grocery store than majority white communities. Instead of food retail outlets selling healthy foods at prices residents can afford, black communities typically have many fast food outlets as well as corner or dollar stores that sell either highly processed foods or none at all. In many communities, such businesses have reached a saturation point.

When Brown became a pastor at Pleasant Hope in 2010, he didn’t expect food to be part of his ministry. But when he found himself spending inordinate amounts of time visiting members of his church in hospitals—many with diet-related conditions—he realized that something needed to be done. Brown was only 30 at the time, while most of his ailing parishioners were seniors. Their conversations reminded him of his grandparents—most were too proud to admit that they couldn’t afford healthy food, could not travel long distances to stores that carried these foods, or both. 

At first, Brown was at a loss as to what to do for them. Baltimore already has established food charities, and his people were not looking for charity anyway. As he was walking up the front steps of the church, he passed a modest-sized lawn—why not plant a garden? Except he didn’t know anything about gardening. So he raised the idea of planting a garden during one of his sermons, and found there was not only interest but excitement, especially among older members of the church, many of whom had grown up on farms and knew a thing or two about growing food.

Sister Maxine Nicholas taught him how to work the land, and he was astonished as their little garden yielded 1,200 pounds of produce the very first year. He had never imagined they could produce that much food on their modest plot of land. The garden provided members of the church with fresh foods that were rarely or never seen in the neighborhood.

Before long, the success of gardening at Pleasant Hope attracted local media attention, and other churches in the city were reaching out to him for help. “Right after I shake the pastor’s hand,” says Brown, “I’m immediately looking around for the Sister Maxines. You’ll never see them standing on podiums at conferences, but those are the natural leaders.”

Brown thinks a lot about the sustainability of the alternative food system. The church is the most well-established institution in the black community, and that’s why he believes the work should be anchored in the black church. But sustainability depends on individuals willing to do the work. Sister Maxine passed away in 2018 at the age of 83, and he’s acutely aware that transforming food systems requires the energy of young people.

“You have to offer a compelling vision about the pride in doing what we have to do to take care of ourselves,” he said. But it’s not easy, he admits. Like Brown himself, they are city kids, and they may be more likely to associate agriculture with slavery than with liberation.

Unlike Sister Maxine and others volunteers behind the scenes, Brown does stand on podiums to talk about food system transformation. As often as he can, he brings young adults from the church with him. He wants to enable them to see themselves as part of a movement that transcends themselves and their neighborhoods. 

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

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