Institute Insights: December 2017

Contents:

 In rural Zambia USAID programs in paternship with the Zambian government is helping equip villagers with the knowledge of proper nutrients. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

From the Director

We’re coming to the end of 2017. It has been a particularly devastating year for millions of hungry and poor people caught in conflict zones around the world. The risk of conflict is increasing as more and more people confront the impacts of climate change, such as droughts or floods.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports in The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 that chronic hunger around the world rose in 2016, to 815 million people from 777 million.

More than 20 million people have spent 2017 on the verge of famine. Those at greatest risk of starvation live in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and northeastern Nigeria.

Bread for the World Institute and our partner organizations have been working since early this year to draw attention to the famine and near-famine conditions. We continue to urge the U.S. government to help stop the conflicts and save as many lives as possible. We also continue to follow developments and advocate for policies that will help resolve the root causes of hunger and malnutrition and thus enable the world to end chronic hunger for 815 million people.

There are signs that the effort to improve global nutrition, particularly maternal and child nutrition, has sustained its momentum this year. Donors made new commitments to maternal and child nutrition at the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan; there is greater recognition of the need to tackle the multiple forms of malnutrition affecting many countries; more emphasis is being put on accountability tracking and measuring the impact of investments in nutrition; and so far, Congress has not cut global nutrition funding. For more on nutrition, see Deepening Global Commitment to Improving Nutrition and Global Nutrition Report 2017: We need to do nutrition differently in this issue of Institute Insights.

In the United States, the unemployment rate decreased, to 4.2 percent as of October 2017. And food insecurity rates showed a slight improvement in 2016, falling from 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent.

While this is certainly positive, hunger rates increased among some groups, including African Americans and female-headed households. The food insecurity rate among female-headed households, for example, rose to 31.6 percent. We are also concerned about a longer-term trend: U.S. hunger rates have not yet returned to pre-Great Recession levels, despite the fact that the recession ended several years ago. It is increasingly clear that programs such as SNAP and WIC are critical to preventing widespread hunger and that the best path toward sustained progress against hunger is additional jobs that pay enough to lift a family out of poverty.

Congress is currently debating taxes. The tax bill passed by the House and now before the Senate includes a repeal of the “individual mandate” that requires most U.S. residents to carry health insurance. This would cause an estimated 13 million people to lose their health insurance within a decade. The tax bill includes other harmful provisions such as the requirement that taxpayers claiming the Child Tax Credit (CTC) use a Social Security number to file their taxes — effectively excluding both U.S. citizen children whose parents are undocumented immigrants as well as undocumented children. For more on the CTC, see Undocumented Households Should Have Access to the Child Tax Credit. Congress is also likely to miss its opportunity for criminal justice reform, despite bipartisan support for it this year.

In 2018, Bread for the World Institute will continue to work with you and all our partners to advance policies that will reduce and ultimately end hunger. Despite setbacks in 2017 that caused considerable human suffering, the longer-term trend is encouraging.

As we end the year, we hope you have found Institute Insights helpful. As always, we welcome your feedback. Please feel free to email me directly at alateef@bread.org.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and many blessings in 2018.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Faustine Wabwire, speaking at a seminar hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Climate resilience, sustainable food systems, and healthy diets: Can we have it all?

By Faustine Wabwire

This was the question at a recent seminar hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Other panelists and I tried to answer it. The event was one of a series that Bread for the World Institute and many partner organizations rallied around in the lead-up to the next meeting in the ongoing global climate change talks. The 23rd Conference of Parties — popularly known as COP 23 — took place in Bonn, Germany, from November 6-17, 2017. The landmark COP 21, held in Paris in 2015, produced the historic Paris Agreement that shapes the world’s current and future climate action plans.

As many Insights readers know, climate change has everything to do with hunger, nutrition, and poverty. A recent report by the World Bank projects that climate change-related shocks will drive an additional 100 million people — largely in Africa and South Asia — into poverty by 2030. Climate change affects the livelihoods of millions of people today. It is not just a threat of the future as scientists used to think. One sector that is heavily impacted is agriculture. Changes in rain patterns, temperature, pests, plant diseases, and more reduce productivity on farms, taking badly needed food and income from crop sales from smallholder farmers who were already struggling.

This is why my remarks at the IFPRI policy seminar stressed the need to ensure that efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by 194 countries in 2015, dovetail with climate action. The Paris agreement helps link climate goals with the other SDGs, which include ending hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by 2030.

We know that communities struggling with hunger and poverty are at greatest risk from shocks related to a rapidly changing climate. Many millions of people — including the majority of hungry people — depend on agriculture to support themselves and their families. Shocks related to climate change include crop failure from reduced rainfall, spikes in food prices after extreme weather events, and increased incidence of disease after heat waves and floods. They destroy much of the hard work smallholder farmers are doing to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.

COP 23 continues the focus of previous talks: responding to the complex confluence of impacts arising from climate change. We have come a long way, with year after year of patient negotiations aimed at building consensus on how to confront the crisis. Some negotiations, such as COP 21, have been more successful than others (for example, COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland, which is remembered for the "Warsaw walkout”).

The outcomes of COP 23 are as important as sustained political leadership, scientific knowledge, policy processes, and actual implementation — because they represent the commitment of the global community to work together to solve the problem. The process needs U.S. participation, and it is heartening that significant climate efforts continue at the U.S. state, local, private sector, and civil society levels. Those who attended COP 23 included a group of five senators who stood with the rest of the world.

As leaders commit to rapid and inclusive policies and programs on climate change, the rest of us need to do our part as well. Citizens of each country should commit to holding ourselves and our leaders accountable for steady progress on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Equally important, we must protect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and other poor communities around the world that are suffering most but have contributed least to climate change.

Faustine Wabwire is senior international policy advisor with Bread for the World Institute.

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Mother and Child. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Global Nutrition Report 2017: We need to do nutrition differently

By Jordan Teague

The goal of ending malnutrition by 2030 is at risk. According to the Global Nutrition Report 2017 (GNR), the world is off track to meet the World Health Assembly global nutrition targets by 2025, and in turn to end malnutrition in all its forms as included in the Sustainable Development Goals.

A few countries have made good progress toward individual targets such as reducing stunting, wasting, and anemia and increasing exclusive breastfeeding. But at this point, the world is not on track to meet any of the 2025 targets.

Child stunting is falling steadily though very slowly. The latest data show a decrease from 156 million stunted children in 2015 to 155 million in 2016. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding has increased slightly since 2012: just 2 percent in four years. Yet even such slow progress means that the lives of individual women and children have been saved and families have greater opportunities.

On other targets, we are seeing reversal of earlier progress. The number of children suffering from wasting increased by 2 million from 2015 to 2016, and the percentage of women with anemia rose to nearly 33 percent in 2016. These setbacks, as well as the slow pace of improvement in other areas, have multiple causes and influences — but both the GNR and The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World have identified increased conflict and climate-induced natural disasters as causes. These problems will continue to hamper progress if not resolved. The GNR also found that 88 percent of countries are burdened by two or more types of malnutrition, complicating efforts to find solutions.

The GNR in 2016 and the FAO in 2017 noted that malnutrition and conflict are interlinked. FAO reported that the majority of stunted children under 5 live in countries affected by conflict. And the GNR noted that, at the time a conflict breaks out, child malnutrition rates have sometimes been 50 percent higher than their pre-conflict baseline.

Analysis from the World Bank found that the total amount invested in nutrition worldwide needs to nearly triple, so the GNR’s findings that Official Development Assistance for nutrition increased by just 1 percent from 2014 to 2015 mean that funding is far from sufficient.

But there is some good news. According to the GNR, 36 percent of the commitments from the first Nutrition for Growth conference, held in 2013, have been completed or are on schedule to be completed. These include the U.S. government commitments. Our financial commitment was met in 2014, and the nonfinancial commitment is considered to be on track. The latter includes actions such as establishing a USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy and a U.S. Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan.

But clearly, something must change to speed up progress and undo setbacks. The global community needs to do nutrition differently. The GNR offers three suggestions:

  1. Connect nutrition across development
  2. Invest in nutrition in a more integrated way
  3. Make nutrition commitments deeper and more accountable

Despite the setbacks, Bread for the World Institute is committed to the U.S. goal of ending malnutrition by 2030. We call on the U.S. government, other donors, national governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to make changes as recommended in the GNR; to mainstream nutrition in every area of work; and to reaffirm that malnutrition anywhere is unnecessary and completely unacceptable.

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

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The SUN Gathering, held November 7-9 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, brought together more than 700 people interested in advancing nutrition.

Deepening Global Commitment to Improving Nutrition

By Asma Lateef

In early November, I had the opportunity to attend two events that deepened the world’s resolve to improve maternal and child nutrition.

On November 4, I participated in the Global Nutrition Summit, hosted by the Italian government and the city of Milan in collaboration with the U.K. Department for International Development, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the International Coalition on Advocacy for Nutrition. The Summit both celebrated progress and called for continued action to reach the global nutrition targets embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals. These targets include progress against dangerous forms of malnutrition such as stunting. The United States and 193 other countries endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

Inspiring leaders Graça Machel and Kofi Annan reminded participants of the enormous responsibility we all have to our youngest children, whose life potential depends on receiving the right nutrients between pregnancy and age 2. The Summit was an opportunity to explore emerging issues such as the challenge of multiple forms of malnutrition in the same country (for example, both stunting and obesity); how food systems can deliver better nutrition, especially in cities; and the importance of closing the gender gap on nutrition, especially among adolescent girls.

The 2017 Global Nutrition Report, launched at the Summit, takes stock of nutrition financing as well as progress toward various nutrition goals. It is an important accountability tool. The sobering analysis in the 2017 report shows that overall funding for nutrition remains stuck at a mere 0.5 percent of global aid flows. It is a timely reminder that new and renewed sources of financing are urgently needed — and the Summit delivered just that with $3.4 billion in funding commitments.

Perhaps most exciting, more than $600 million came in the form of new commitments, including some made by foundations in India, Nigeria, and Nepal. Some of these commitments include $100 million by 2030 from the Eleanor Crook Foundation; $100 million over five years to promote breastfeeding from the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation, based in Switzerland; $100 million over five years from the Aliko Dangote Foundation, a Nigerian foundation, to reduce undernutrition by 60 percent in targeted areas of Nigeria; and $50 million over five years from Tata Trusts, an Indian foundation, to reach more than 10 million children under 5 and 300,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women. The World Bank renewed its commitment with $1.7 billion over two years, and a group of U.S. nongovernmental organizations extended their commitment by $1.1 billion.

I found my second event, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Global Gathering, particularly compelling because I had just come from the Global Nutrition Summit with its emphasis on emerging issues and announcement of new funding commitments. The SUN Gathering, held November 7-9 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, brought together more than 700 people interested in advancing nutrition. Many represented government, civil society, and business in the 60 countries that now make up the SUN Movement, while others came from donor countries, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, global civil society organizations, and the global private sector.

Political will at the highest levels was on full display at the plenary sessions, whose speakers included the vice president of Cote D’Ivoire, the first lady of Haiti, parliamentarians from several SUN countries, and Akinwuni Adesina, president of the African Development Bank and the 2017 World Food Prize laureate. Each leader spoke eloquently about why they were there, perhaps best summarized by the frequently-heard comment, “Nutrition is both a maker and a marker of development.” The workshops featured deeper discussions of issues and challenges such as delivering nutrition in fragile contexts; building trust among stakeholders for more effective collaboration; accountability, implementation, and budget tracking; gender; and others. But it was between the various sessions that the passion, commitment, and eagerness to learn were most visible. This was when participants explored the “marketplace,” a collection of exhibits where various country delegations and SUN networks shared what they have accomplished and what they are now planning.

It is this kind of sharing that gives the SUN Movement so much potential — and in fact, sharing is critical to the success of the Movement. Solutions need to be locally-owned and locally-driven, but sources of inspiration can come from halfway around the world. I left Abidjan more hopeful and more energized, grateful for the individual and collective commitment of all who were able to attend the SUN Gathering, and for the commitment of the many who couldn’t be there but faithfully continue to do the hard work. I also left realistic about the challenges that remain — but I am convinced that they are not insurmountable if we work together. That is what the U.N. Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) is all about.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Undocumented Households Should Have Access to the Child Tax Credit

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

The tax bill passed in November by the House of Representatives contains language that limits eligibility for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to taxpayers who provide a Social Security number (SSN). But this provision is misguided and will hurt both low-income families and local/state economies.

Losing access to the CTC would worsen hunger and poverty among U.S. citizen children who live with an undocumented parent. This group of 4.5 million children is already at higher risk of hunger and food insecurity — the term the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses for those who sometimes run out of money for food. This is certainly ironic given that the original intent of the CTC was to keep children from falling into poverty. And it succeeds in its mission: in 2016, the CTC lifted approximately 2.7 million people out of poverty, including about 1.5 million children.

Currently, people who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) because they do not have a SSN can claim the CTC. According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are more than 2 million working poor families who pay taxes with ITINs and would be affected by this provision.

Half of all families who claim the CTC earn less than $20,000 per year. Some live on far less, because undocumented farm workers earn as little as $7,500 a year — only one-seventh of the median national income of $59,039. Such low earnings explain why undocumented immigrant households have a food insecurity rate of nearly 24 percent — more than twice the national rate. The average CTC refund of $1,800 is a significant sum for families living in poverty, and one that will buy a lot of groceries.

The second harmful impact of restricting the CTC to taxpayers with SSNs is damage to local economies, particularly in communities with many immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 8 percent of the workforce. They pay taxes and spend money in their local economies. In fact, undocumented immigrants currently pay $11.6 bil­lion annually in state and local taxes. That is in addition to the jobs they support with their local spending, and in addition to federal taxes. Taking resources from families with children, many of whom are struggling to put food on the table, will only hurt local economies since these families will have less money to spend.

If we are serious about ending U.S. hunger and poverty, policymakers need to be serious about preserving the original intent behind smart policies such as the CTC. A tax refund for low-wage workers with minor children helps the workers, the children, and the economy. According to the ideals our country was founded on, we should be expanding opportunities for everyone so they can improve their own lives and those of their children. 

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

Proposals to restrict CTC access would make more children fall into poverty — the very thing that the CTC is intended to prevent.

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