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Hunger: Irish and experts focus on children, research and small farmers

Child at Port-au-Prince’s general hospital, where the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and NGO Concern have teamed up to create a new nutrition centre for malnourished children. UN Photo/Logan Abassi Cameron may have neatly put down Mitt Romney's criticisms of the London Olympics but the UK Prime Minister's performance as host of next Sunday's hunger summit can only be judged in the long-term.

When it comes to choosing priorities, there is growing evidence that a focus on child nutrition and small farmers, could be the best ways to tackle hunger. Both are current priorities of the Irish Government.

Last May, a panel of five leading economic experts – four with nobel laureates – set priorities among a series of proposals for confronting global challenges. Based on a cost-benefit analysis, the top priority of Copenhagen Consensus 2012 was given to bundled interventions to reduce undernutrition in pre-schoolers. It found that each dollar spent would yield a 30-fold return. Sixth on the list was research and development to increase agricultural yields.

A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (published the following day) found that targetted funding for smaller farmers could be the most effective way to decrease hunger-related problems in developing countries.

The report “Reducing the risk of food and nutrition insecurity among vulnerable populations” calls for a percentage of all aid to be set aside for “resilience-building programmes.”

Projects aiming at supporting agriculture and tackling child malnutrition the developing world were launched in Dublin in the same month.

Tánaiste and Minister for foreign affairs Eamon Gilmore announced a funding boost of €8 million for international projects focusing on agricultural research and improving conditions for small shareholders.

“Through the Irish Aid programme, Ireland is investing in cutting-edge agricultural research to increase the yields of poor farmers and support them to build better futures for their children,” he said.

Irish Aid works with a number of organisations on these projects including the United Nations, the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the World Food Programme.

Funding will support pro-poor research – stimulating agricultural development – and give assistance to famers, especially women, in boosting productivity.

According to the Tánaiste, Ireland spends 20 per cent of its aid funding on programmes tacking global hunger. 

The Tánaiste was speaking at the launch of a “1,000 Days” campaign by Irish aid agency Concern.

This campaign, to be run over three years, will focus attention on providing nutrition for babies and their mothers in the crucial 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second year.

Also speaking at the launch, Concern CEO Tom Arnold said even in times of recession Irish people can still make a positive impact on poorer countries.

“If we want to tackle the devastating problem of global hunger and its complex economic and social repercussions, we must hold ourselves accountable for delivering solutions to undernutrition in children and mothers,” he said.

Studies have shown that malnutrition at this early age has serious health effects in later life, including stunted growth and brain development.

Solutions suggested by the campaign include:

  • Ensure that mothers and young children get the necessary vitamins and minerals they need;
  • Promote good nutritional practices, including breastfeeding and appropriate, healthy foods for infants;
  • Treat malnourished children with special, therapeutic foods.

This is not the first such project run by Concern. In Zambia, the RAIN partnership between the Zambian government, Irish Aid, the Kerry Group and other charities is focused on preventing stunted growth.

According to Concern about 45 per cent of Zambian children suffer from stunted growth.

Mr Arnold said that commitment to keeping this five-year project – launched in December 2011 – running will be crucial in changing those figures.

Arnold has accepted an invitation to attend the high-level Global Hunger Event at No. 10 Downing St on Sunday, which will also be attended by heads of state, and individuals from the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

“Ireland is widely recognised as a world leader not only in combating hunger and undernutrition in the world’s poorest countries but in working behind the scenes to keep it very much on the international political and diplomatic agenda at the highest levels. It is hugely significant that this is happening on the final day of the Olympics,” said Mr Arnold.

“Millions of children in the developing world are both physically and mentally stunted due to undernutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, from which they cannot recover. If we can bring further international political momentum behind this issue at this meeting, it will be a very positive outcome for all concerned,” he added.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon launched a “Zero Hunger Challenge” at the Rio+20 summit in June. It has has five main objectives. Two of the five are to end malnutrition in pregnancy and early childhood and to increase growth in the productivity and income of smallholders, particularly women. The other three are: to achieve 100 per cent access to adequate food all year round; to make all food systems sustainable; and to achieve a zero rate of food waste.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) had made food security the theme of its Africa Human Development Report 2012. It argued that a broad approach is needed to end food insecurity: from rural infrastructure to health services, to new forms of social protection and empowering local government and civil society groups.

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Related publications

Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) Food security alerts, updates and briefings

UN FAO FAO Food Price Index (July 5; forthcoming: September 6, 2012).

Save the Children The Child Development Index 2012: Progress, challenges and inequality (press release: “More hungry children now than at any point this decade” July 18, 2012)

Oxfam The Food Transformation - Harnessing Consumer Power to Create a Fair Food Future (press release : “Mothers want to help fix our broken food system” July 18, 2012)

The White House New U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa (press release June 14, 2012)

UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future (press release May 15, 2012)

IFPRI/IFRC Reducing the risk of food and nutrition insecurity among vulnerable populations (press release May 15, 2012)

Copenhagen Consensus Center Copenhagen Consensus 2012 (press release May 14, 2012)

ActionAid USA Pledges, Principles, and Progress: Aid to Agriculture Since L’Aquila (press release May 4, 2012 )

African Development Bank Agriculture Sector Strategy 2010 - 2014 (press release April 10, 2012)

Lídia Cabral and John Howell Measuring aid to agriculture and food security (ODI Briefing Papers 72, February 2012)

Oxfam, Save the Children A Dangerous Delay: The cost of late response to early warnings in the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa (January 18, 2012)

Duncan Green, Oxfam Why did help arrive so late? Evidence v Incentives in the Horn of Africa drought. (January 18, 2012)

Key global development and media publications released in 2012

Selected campaigns

Several high-profile NGOs are fundraising to address current food crises, such as #Sahel2012. In addition, some have specific campaigns on hunger.

The 1,000 Days partnership is a global partnership that promotes targeted action and investment to improve nutrition for mothers and children in the 1,000 days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's 2nd birthday when better nutrition can have a life-changing impact on a child's future and help break the cycle of poverty. Irish Aid, the US Department of State, Concern, and One are among the partner organisations.

Concern Worldwide “1,000 Days” campaign

One Thrive: Breaking the Cycle of Hunger and Poverty

Oxfam International's GROW campaign and Agriculture campaign; Oxfam Ireland's GROW campaign - a youth-oriented communication initiative spearheaded by FAO, in partnership with other UN agencies, civil society groups and interested individuals.

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