Institute Insights: November 2018


Climate change field school programs in the Philippines are part of the overall effort to educate and prepare small holder farmers on how to adapt and mitigate negative effects of projected weather changes. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Letter from the Director

I’ve just returned from the Borlaug Dialogue and the World Food Prize ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, where the 2018 World Food Prize was presented to two outstanding advocates for nutrition, Dr. David Nabarro and Dr. Lawrence Haddad. The award recognizes their lifelong commitment to improving maternal and child nutrition.

A little more about their work: Dr. Nabarro led efforts to envision and establish the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN). SUN has grown quickly into a movement of 60 countries, all with high burdens of malnutrition, that have come together to expand the reach of the most effective nutrition actions, as identified by the famed U.K. medical journal The Lancet, to the most vulnerable pregnant women and young children in their populations. Dr. Haddad’s research has been critical to strengthening the evidence on the importance of nutrition and the need to make it a top priority, and he is a longtime advocate who is adept at explaining to policymakers why malnutrition is a critical problem that can be solved. For more about this year’s laureates, see my letter in the August issue.

People describe one of the most important principles in our effort to end global hunger and malnutrition using various adjectives—“comprehensive,” “holistic,” “integrated,” “multisectoral,” “non-siloed,” and so forth. But perhaps the simplest wording is also the most accurate: seeing the big picture. Human life is not divided into isolated issues, none affecting any of the others, so it makes sense that our problems can’t be solved in isolation either. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize this as a critical principle: they are interconnected rather than individual goals, and “leave no one behind” is in effect an SDG mantra.

Many of the meetings that made up the three-day Borlaug Dialogue and its side events embraced this concept of integration explicitly. On the first day at 8:30 a.m., anti-hunger leaders from around the world discussed “The Nexus of Agriculture and Nutrition.” On the third day, we discussed strategies for linking humanitarian and development nutrition efforts in crisis situations. The symposium concluded with insights from Dr. Nabarro and Dr. Haddad on how to connect what we know from successes, failures, and research with the political leadership and public support that are essential to solving the problem of hunger and malnutrition.

The idea of breaking out of siloes and isolated approaches runs through the pieces in this issue of Institute Insights as well. They include a look at the first four years of the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as discussions of Indigenous communities coming together to find solutions to child hunger, efforts to reach the millions of “disconnected youth” in the United States, and the urgent need to frame responses to climate change with an understanding of the planet and human life as a synergistic whole.

It is encouraging that so many decision makers, researchers, and advocates have now realized that significant human problems such as hunger can’t be solved in a vacuum—they require not only context, but an understanding that the causes of problems and the impacts of actions travel in two or more directions.

At the Institute, our focus is policy. Poetry and prose are generally not part of our days as anti-hunger advocates. But people have always relied on storytellers and, later, writers to help us express our thoughts and feelings. My colleague, Michele Learner, who edits this newsletter, reminded me of the English writer E.M. Forster’s line in his novel Howards End:

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon … Live in fragments no longer.”

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Mothers and their children attend a food demonstration conducted by Female Community Health Volunteers with the Suahaara II Program in Nepal.  Photo by Kesi Marcano-Collier.

A multi-sectoral approach to nutrition: Assessing USAID’s progress

By Jordan Teague

In 2014, Bread for the World welcomed USAID’s launch of its first-ever nutrition strategy—a strategy we had pressed for and supported for several years preceding its adoption. The strategy is a plan to guide nutrition work throughout USAID, most prominently in global health programs and in Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s flagship global food security initiative. The strategy’s top goals are to elevate and integrate nutrition as a priority for all of USAID’s work, and to improve USAID’s ways of working so that it can better implement nutrition programs around the world.

It has been four years since the USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy was launched. What difference has it made in improving the nutrition of women and children through USAID programs? Bread for the World Institute set out this year to assess USAID’s progress in implementing its nutrition strategy.

Based on interviews and field visits, our analysis concludes that having a nutrition strategy in place has elevated the profile of maternal and child nutrition at USAID. It has shaped high-level policy on nutrition, including a continued emphasis in Feed the Future policies on improving nutrition and a higher priority for nutrition in the U.S. Food for Peace strategy. But this emphasis on prioritizing nutrition and integrating it into other development programs is not yet widespread and systematic at all levels, including in USAID missions and among USAID implementing partner organizations.

The strategy has led to improved coordination of nutrition initiatives at USAID headquarters in Washington, DC, which has in turn strengthened policymaking and spurred the development of materials to guide those who are beginning either to implement nutrition programs, or to further incorporate nutrition as a component of other programs. Also, in the past year, USAID missions that participate in Feed the Future have increased their focus on nutrition in the development of their country plans.

However, the question of whether these high-level successes have been translated into systematic action in USAID missions and impact in USAID projects deserves a more mixed response. There is a great deal of room both to expand strategic, comprehensive multi-sectoral nutrition planning and programming in USAID missions, and to foster closer integration of nutrition into other relevant health and development programs.

This is particularly important since preventing and treating malnutrition, especially during pregnancy and early childhood, is a proven and cost-effective way of improving how countries fare in a range of other development areas, including education, health, and economic productivity.

Despite steady progress in reducing malnutrition, the world is off track to meet its nutrition goals, which include global nutrition targets, set for 2025, that pave the way for the ambitious but achievable goal of ending malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. USAID and other stakeholders have more work to do to scale up nutrition in sustainable, equitable, and effective ways to achieve these milestones. In particular, USAID should build on its current multisectoral nutrition efforts in order to make faster progress.

The U.S. government should ensure sufficient and well-targeted funding for nutrition. The uncertainty caused by administration or congressional proposals to cut financial support for programs that improve nutrition, as well as delays and shortfalls in authorized funding, make it less likely that the United States will achieve its nutrition goals. Researchers have concluded that more resources will be needed to meet the 2025 and 2030 goals. A first step toward a fair U.S. contribution to the global funding gap would be for the administration to propose, and Congress to appropriate, annual increases in resources for nutrition.

USAID should also conduct an analysis of its own nutrition spending, aimed at obtaining a detailed picture of how the available funding is being spent. Is it going to activities proven to be most effective? Is it being distributed in an equitable way to the geographical areas with the highest rates of malnutrition, and, within these regions, to the most vulnerable members of the most vulnerable households? It is vital for USAID to have this information so that it can maximize the impact of every nutrition dollar.

USAID should establish permanent staff positions for nutrition focal points or coordinators at the headquarters and mission levels. Our analysis shows that the best way to ensure that USAID programs achieve better results is to establish USAID Mission Nutrition Advisors in all USAID missions that receive nutrition-related funding, are located in countries with a high burden of malnutrition, or both. The people in these positions would oversee all nutrition programming in their missions, regardless of funding source. They would be responsible for ensuring that the available funding is used as effectively as possible for appropriate multi-sectoral nutrition programming in the country.

USAID should establish multi-sectoral nutrition action plans at the mission level. Implementing USAID’s strategy should include identifying which multi-sectoral approaches are most successful in improving nutrition. USAID should encourage and enable missions to plan ahead. As preparations for a new project get under way, staff should ensure that action plans across sectors, aimed at ensuring that nutrition goals are achieved, are incorporated into the project design. Consideration of how various actors, programs, and investments will work together for maximum impact is critical.

To learn more about this analysis and further recommendations, read our new briefing paper, A multi-sectoral approach to nutrition: Assessing USAID’s progress.

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

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A father carries his daughter on the shoulders as residents flee rising waters in search of shelter, after heavy rains caused by tropical storm 'Noel" flooded their homes in Cité Soleil, Haiti. UN Photo / Logan Abassi

Climate Change: Facing the Facts, Moving Forward

By Michele Learner

As the science of climate change has become more sophisticated and more data has become available, updates from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have become increasingly dire.

The most recent IPCC report, dated October 7, 2018, was the first commissioned under the Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015. U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported that the launch of the report, during a plenary meeting of all 195 countries party to the Paris agreement that was held in Incheon, South Korea, “saw delegates hugging one another, with some in tears.”

The panel of respected scientists that authored the report reviewed 6,000 documents to draw its conclusions. The report contains unexpected and sweeping bad news: the generally accepted yet ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C., which is the basis of the Paris Agreement and much of what detailed planning has been done so far, will not be enough to avert devastating impacts. The second piece of bad news: those impacts would begin to be evident by 2040—much sooner than previously believed, and during the lifetimes of billions of people alive today.

Moreover, climate scientists and national policymakers always knew that the Paris Agreement, though a true landmark in global cooperation, contains national commitments that are only a good first step. The agreement calls for countries to commit to faster progress as time goes on. Unfortunately, this has not happened yet. In fact, most countries are off track to fulfill their initial commitments.

The report’s conclusions: the temperature increase should be kept to 1.5 degrees C. rather than 2 degrees, and the world has about 12 years to make the changes needed to accomplish this. The report’s detailed findings showed enormous differences between the two temperature scenarios. Just one example: the first would allow 10 percent or more of ocean coral reefs to survive, while the second would mean a survival rate of 1 percent or less. 

Bread for the World Institute can provide only top-line information on climate change science and corrective actions. Our focus is instead on looking at the problem through a “hunger lens,” with the goal of strengthening advocacy for those who have been suffering from climate change effects for years and will bear the brunt of future impacts: the world’s hungry and poor people. For details on the wider issues, we refer you to the report itself, the Guardian’s concise and articulate analysis of its implications, a well-written U.S. point of view in The New York Times, and the valuable context provided by environmental advocacy groups such as

A difference of half a degree would in fact make a major difference in global hunger. The report does not quantify this difference in much detail, but the information is sufficient for our purposes: food scarcity would be “less of a problem,” in The Guardian’s words, and “hundreds of millions fewer people” would be plunged into poverty. In addition, the percentage of the global population facing severe water shortages could be kept to only half the rate it would be at 2 degrees. These results would be due to several major factors—for example, the preservation of more plant and insect habitats than would otherwise be the case.

The recommendations on greenhouse gas reductions and other adaptations in the new report would require transformations in the world economy in the next 12 years that, said the report authors, have “no documented historic precedent.” But equally important, they are scientifically feasible and, though the changes would be enormously expensive, the world could in fact mobilize the resources needed.

The conclusion that it is still scientifically possible to avert the most catastrophic consequences is heartening. Advocates can use this as both evidence and motivation in our efforts to secure the missing piece: the political will and leadership needed to do what it will take.

In an upcoming issue of Institute Insights, we will discuss potential directions for climate change responses that are either newly identified or have not yet been widely recognized. Examples include the role of forests in creating rainfall rather than merely receiving it, and the potential impact of a U.S. transition, not to vegetarianism, but to a diet with little or no beef.

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

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Indigenous communities have some of the highest hunger rates in the United States. Credit: iStock

Honoring Native American Heritage Month: Drawing on Strengths to Boost Nutrition

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as National American Indian Heritage Month—a time to celebrate the history, culture, and traditions of Indigenous communities in the United States, similar to Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Women’s History Month.

One attribute that Indigenous communities have in abundance is resilience. For hundreds of years and continuing today, Indigenous communities have persisted through a series of traumas, including colonization, genocide, forced migration, land loss, and current forms of structural and institutional racism such as discrimination in the workplace and criminal justice system. Persistent efforts to preserve their own cultures have been essential to their very existence.

I was fortunate to attend the Native American Third Annual Nutrition Conference in October, where resilience was celebrated and promoted through a commitment to ancestral traditions. The conference brought together tribal officials, elders, community leaders, researchers, and people from younger generations to discuss the urgent problem of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity in Indigenous communities.

The national statistics on child food insecurity in the United States show that hunger among children is far too common in such a wealthy country, but the situation is far bleaker for children from Indigenous families than for U.S. children as a group. As we point out in Bread for the World Institute’s new fact sheet, this is largely because of structural racism that has perpetuated deep poverty in these communities. Poverty rates among Indigenous groups are regularly between two and four times as high as for the United States as a whole. The latest available data indicate that Indigenous households as a group have a poverty rate of 25.4 percent and that female-headed Indigenous households have a poverty rate of 54 percent. These rates compare to 12.3 percent for the nation as a whole.

Complex historical traumas have shaped the situation of today’s Indigenous people. The arrival of Europeans several centuries ago meant violent conflict and exposure to new diseases, particularly smallpox. The result was death on a staggering scale. Some researchers believe that the population decreased by as much as 95 percent within a few generations. Even beyond outright violence, a host of U.S. policies contributed to concentrated poverty, both on and off reservations. Today, many Indigenous people lack access to sufficient affordable nutrient-rich foods, leading to medical problems such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

The community, tribal, and research leaders at this year’s nutrition conference expressed their determination to end hunger and malnutrition in their communities. Indigenous communities can draw on their cultures of resilience and perseverance, as well as their traditional emphasis on nutrition, to make this goal a reality. The conference was an opportunity for Indigenous leaders from different regions, customs, and age groups to share innovative projects.

As a part of honoring Native American Heritage Month, Bread for the World Institute would like to lift up some recommendations that conference participants offered to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition among Indigenous communities. These include:

  • Providing financial support and technical assistance to Indigenous entrepreneurs who want to participate in improving food systems. Supporting the creation of Indigenous-led agricultural projects can help eliminate the common problem of food deserts while also creating jobs. This is currently being done, for example, through a two-year USDA grant in Wyoming.
  • Increasing support for Indigenous chefs and nutritionists to establish their own businesses, prepare healthy Indigenous cuisine, and teach cooking skills to others. This will help shift Indigenous cultures toward following nutrition practices that have stood the test of time as well as equipping people to improve their nutritional status and that of their children. Visit the website of the Indigenous Food Lab for more on one approach to doing this.
  • Increasing funding for the Indian Health Services. This would enable the agency to hire additional staff, provide more nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive services to vulnerable communities, and conduct the research needed to identify best practices and future priorities.
  • Increasing the monthly budget for households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is particularly important during seasons when other costs rise steeply—for example, heating for families on reservations in North and South Dakota, where sub-zero winter temperatures are not uncommon.

These recommendations are not comprehensive—rather, they are only a few examples of policy changes discussed during the conference that will help Indigenous communities become better nourished. They are steps in the right direction that are essential if the United States is to meet its goal of ending domestic hunger and food insecurity by 2030.

We can honor Native American Heritage Month by recognizing the incredible work being done by Indigenous leaders and communities—and by urging our elected leaders to enact these policy recommendations, as well as other policies that will move the United States toward zero hunger, both for Indigenous communities and for everyone.

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

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Graphic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

Enabling Young Adults from Low-Income Families to “Reconnect”

By Michele Learner

In Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Challenge, we mention several situations in which people seeking jobs that pay enough to meet their basic needs face especially steep odds. Often, the bottom line is location. For example, in persistently poor rural areas in Appalachia, lack of infrastructure may discourage employers from setting up operations in local communities and also prevent workers from traveling to where jobs are available.

Another type of challenging location affects far more U.S. residents, particularly people of color, than it did even 10 years ago: communities of concentrated poverty. The number of people in neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of the residents live below the poverty line doubled between 2000 and 2015. Almost 14 million Americans live in areas of concentrated poverty. Reports in 2016 indicated that although whites made up nearly half of all U.S. residents living in poverty, poor Latinos were more than three times as likely as poor whites to live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, and poor African Americans were almost five times as likely.

Children from low-income families who grow up in neighborhoods that are not largely low-income or largely segregated by race are likely to attend better schools, have easier access to libraries and community centers, and enjoy safer places to play than their friends or cousins who live in areas where large numbers of their neighbors are also low-income. Fewer amenities such as supermarkets, difficult or impossible commutes to areas with good jobs, schools with fewer resources to attract highly qualified teachers, a larger number of abandoned buildings—the list goes on. In the end, the overall living conditions take a heavier toll on residents than the sum of various individual challenges.

Growing up in poverty, particularly in areas of concentrated poverty, also carries the very real risk of long-term difficulties caused by toxic stress. As reported in The Jobs Challenge, we know now that the toxic stress associated with childhood poverty can “disrupt the architecture of children’s developing brains, rerouting neurological pathways and putting the children at higher risk of physical and mental health problems, lowering their academic achievement, and threatening their connections with work and other responsibilities as adults.”

Reaching adulthood with few or no material resources available to them and potentially suffering from the effects of toxic stress, some adolescents and young adults become, in a sense, paralyzed. “Disconnected youth” is a term for young men and women, ages 16 to 24, who are neither in school nor working. There were an estimated 4.6 million disconnected youth in 2016. According to Measure of America, a program of the Social Science Research Council, this number, large as it is, is a significant improvement—a decline of 1.2 million people—from 2010, the year most heavily impacted by the Great Recession. It is also lower than the total number in 2008, before the recession.

See Chapter 3 of the Hunger Report for examples of how communities from Charlotte, NC, to Seattle, to the Harlem Children’s Zone are working to prevent children from becoming disconnected and to re-engage those who have dropped out. As The Jobs Challenge points out, “A long-term commitment, drawing on the strengths of all the stakeholders, is paramount to achieving a sustainable neighborhood transformation.”

The federal government has little input on policy and only modest financial investments with schools serving K-12 students, but it is more active at the post-secondary level. Federal need-based aid has enabled more low-income students to attend college and allowed some students to avoid having to drop out for financial reasons. Pell Grants, which total $30 billion annually, help almost 8 million students afford college or a certificate program.

In addition to the good news on the national level—1.2 million fewer “disconnected” young adults in 2016 than in 2010—several localities have made faster progress with successful reengagement initiatives. Washington, DC, reduced its rate of youth disconnection by nearly 44 percent between 2010 and 2015. New Hampshire, by “reconnecting” almost 32 percent of its disconnected youth, now has the lowest rate of any state.

Not surprisingly, the first to “reconnect” are generally those who have more options because of job skills or qualifications, family support, privilege based on race and/or gender, or other advantages. This, in turn, means that those at risk of being left behind are the young people with the greatest barriers. They include young adults who grew up in foster care, those with criminal records, young mothers, those with limited English proficiency, people who are undocumented, those with disabilities or serious health problems, and those without a high school diploma or GED.

Being disconnected, as the Measure of America project explains, means missing out not only on job credentials, but on opportunities to form social networks, develop skills, discover interests, and build confidence. Our country cannot and should not simply give up on millions of people who are 16 or 18 or 21 and have “their whole lives ahead of them.”

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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