Where should #globaldev community focus aid to end hunger?

A farmer in Kabale, Uganda. Given the scale of the food insecurity challenge and the lack of support for foreign aid, the fulfillment of goal to end hunger will depend on finding cost-effective and innovative solutions that enhance the ability of existing institutions, mechanisms and resources. Photo by: Gwynne Zodrow / MSI

According to U.N. figures, the earth’s population is expected to soar from 7 billion to about 9.6 billion by 2050, with most growth occurring in the developing world. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates food production will have to grow 70 percent to meet the needs of this increase in population, as well as meet changing demographic demands. Other factors that will likely exacerbate food shortages include climate change, poor soil quality, conflict and displacement, unstable markets, and yield plateaus.

The 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report points to the proportion of undernourished people in the developing world having almost halved between 1990 and 2015, while noting that about 795 million people still remain undernourished and over 90 million children under age 5 remain underweight.

The recent 17-country survey implemented by Ipsos finds overwhelming support for the 17 sustainable development goals due to be agreed upon this month. On average, 9 out of 10 respondents in established and emerging donor countries identified the SDGs as being important.

The goal focused on “ending hunger, achieving food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture” was identified as “very important” by 57 percent of those interviewed, second only to the goal “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.” But that does not translate into support for increased aid allocations. Despite the recognition of the importance of the SDGs, a majority of the survey respondents want to see cuts in foreign aid, and are of the view that too much foreign aid money goes to corrupt governments and that money is better spent on domestic programs.

Given the scale of the food insecurity challenge and the lack of support for foreign aid, the fulfillment of this SDG will thus depend on finding cost-effective and innovative solutions that enhance the ability of existing institutions, mechanisms and resources.

The role of governments and the public sector

Management Systems International’s prior research highlights the pivotal role governments can play in addressing food security challenges. In particular, agricultural development — and particularly smallholder-based development — depends on public sector support to address market failures resulting from monopoly of power, economies of scale in supply chains, policy distortions and political favoritism.

In response to this realization, there have been several new initiatives over the past decade by developing country governments to invest and support strengthening public sector institutions in the agriculture sector, and as of March 2015, 41 African Union member states had signed Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program compacts and 33 had developed their national agriculture and food security investment plans.

The Ipsos survey results also highlight popular support for governments’ role in meeting the food security needs of their people. When asked who should take the responsibility of paying for programs and policies that work toward these SDGs, the plurality of respondents (36 percent) interviewed mentioned “governments of all countries.” This was followed by 19 percent of respondents suggesting transnational organizations like the United Nations and around 12 percent singling out developing countries.

Support governments through capacity development and scaling up efforts

Our experience suggests two important ways in which the development community can play an enhanced role in supporting government efforts to achieve the SDG on ending hunger and enhancing food security, namely:

MSI’s scaling up approach and experience

For the past 12 years, MSI has fine-tuned and applied our Scaling Up Management Framework and Scaling Up Toolkit. The framework and toolkit were initially tested and applied to pilot programs in Mexico, Nigeria and India, and subsequently applied across a wide range of organizations and sectors in the United States and 14 other countries. We have applied our approaches and methodologies to scale efforts in agriculture and food security, health, education, justice and the environment. The framework and toolkit have been used to design pilot projects, assess scalability and for managing the scaling up process.

1. Build governments’ institutional capacity to increase food security: Many governments lack the capacity to support the complex and diverse agriculture systems in their countries. There is a need to significantly and rapidly increase the institutional capacity of governments to handle their expanded role in leading, managing and coordinating agricultural development to maintain successful and sustained food security initiatives. Practically, this translates into building the capacity of government entities, such as the local equivalents of ministries of agriculture, health and nutrition, and public works (i.e., roads and irrigation) across the different types of institutional functions — production, knowledge support and coordination — that constitute a food security system; strengthening the mechanisms for linking these institutions; and expanding governments’ capacity to broker public-private partnerships.

2. Support governments in scaling up innovative approaches to addressing food insecurity: Governments and donors are increasingly making investments to support innovations and pilot projects to address food insecurity. But most of these pilots are unlikely to scale up spontaneously and without active support from the public sector. Governments therefore need to play a critical role when it comes to moving from the pilot phase of these efforts to population-scale impact. The development community can support such government efforts by providing tools and funding for assessing scalability and helping local institutions managing the scaling up process.  

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Ali Hayat

    Ali Hayat is a monitoring and evaluation specialist at Management Systems International. He has worked on designing and conducting research projects focused on conflict, stabilization, political and economic development in over 20 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and South Sudan. He did his Ph.D. coursework in Comparative Politics at the City University of New York.
  • Gwynne Zodrow

    Gwynne Zodrow is a technical manager on the Strategic Management and Performance Improvement team at MSI. As a technical manager, Zodrow provides M&E support to multiple clients in a variety of sectors, including health, agriculture, education and food safety. Zodrow’s technical support includes the implementation of result-based management components, which includes facilitation of workshops and the overall development of strategic management tools, such as results framework, indicators and performance monitoring plans. In addition, she has experience in managing, designing, developing tools, and collecting and analyzing data for impact and performance evaluations.