Tag Archives: hunger

Measuring Progress in Ethiopia

Two Farmers in Ethiopia Pick Coffee Cherries, the fruit processed into coffee beans (Image courtesy The Upcoming).

Two Farmers in Ethiopia Pick Coffee Cherries, the fruit processed into coffee beans (Image courtesy The Upcoming).

A new report issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) claimed thatthe child mortality rate in Ethiopia has been cut from more than 200 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1,000 today. With a per capita gross domestic product of less than $1,200, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 169th (out of 180) according to World Bank estimates. The Ethiopian economy is heavily dependent on coffee exports, which account for more than a quarter of the country’s export earnings. Coffee production—like agricultural production in Ethiopia more generally—is highly dependent on rainfall. But the Unicef report suggests that Ethiopia—a country with a long history of famine and malnutrition—is one of the few African countries making progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality rates. The country’s success, according to Health Minister Kesetebirhan Admasu, has been based on a strategy of “aggressively expanding its primary healthcare network.” Increased household incomes have, according to Admasu, “also resulted in better nutrition for children [and] women; this has translated into better sanitation – all these have direct or indirect impact on the survival of children.”

Global Coffee Stocks and Prices (Image Courtesy Marginal Revolution)

Global Coffee Stocks and Prices (Image Courtesy Marginal Revolution)

Ethiopia’s success has been driven, at least in part, by a price increase for coffee between 2003 and 2010 (see graph above). This price increase generated additional employment and income at the household level and higher tax and excise revenues at the national level. But since 2010, global coffee production has grown sharply and prices are starting to decline. And with lower coffee prices, Ethiopia’s development strategy might falter as well. For now, though, Ethiopia is rightly basking in the limelight, having shed its image as a land of famine and hunger.

What do you think? Does Ethiopia’s success in reducing child mortality rates suggest a path for other developing countries? Or is Ethiopia’s dependence on coffee exports too risky a model? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

(An earlier version of this story was originally blogged as “The Role and Risk of Coffee-Based Development in Ethiopia” at Global Food Politics. This version is reprinted here by permission).

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India’s School Lunch Program Tragedy

An Indian girl eats lunch at school as part of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

An Indian girl eats lunch at school as part of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

Tragedy struck in India this week as 47 students fell ill and 22 died after consuming food tainted with a powerful insecticide. The tainted rice was consumed as part of a school lunch known as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, consisting of rice, soybeans, and potatoes on Tuesday. India boasts the world’s largest public nutrition program, and the lunch was served as part of that program, intended to bolster school attendance and improve student performance in school. The program reaches some 120 million children in 1.2 million schools across the country.

The tragedy sparked protests on Wednesday. During the protests, at least four police vehicles were set alight. The government has promised a complete investigation into the incident and has offered to compensate the families of the children in the amount of 200,000 rupees (about $3,300).

Each of the deaths of the 22 children is a tragedy in its own right. Equally tragic, though, would be the loss of the school lunch program as a result of the poisoning. Recent improvements in the program have resulted in more timely delivery of higher quality food. Some are concerned that the tragedy may undermine support for and participation in the program. And the tragedy certainly speaks to the need to improve safety in school kitchens and the quality of the food served. But the program itself remains a powerful tool to in addressing the challenges of childhood malnutrition in India.

(This story was originally blogged at Global Food Politics and is reprinted here by permission).

Hunger and Public Policy Revisited

When Amartya Sen published his groundbreaking book, Hunger and Public Action, he challenged the prevailing wisdom about the reasons for hunger. Conventional wisdom (which continues to dominate discussions of hunger even today) was that the primary cause of hunger in the global south was overpopulation. The theory, dating back to Thomas Malthus’ analysis in the early 1800s, rested on the assumption that population growth would necessarily outstrip the ability of humanity to increase food production, leading to widespread hunger. In the nearly two hundred years since Malthus’ published his argument, there has been widespread hunger, massive famine, and other calamities. But Malthus’ argument remains problematic. In the vast majority of cases, food remains available during famines. In general, the problem has not been one of underproduction—of a lack of food availability—but of access to the food produced. Even during the worst of famines, food remains available for those who can pay for it. Sen’s work highlights this apparent paradox in through his use of the concept of “entitlement,” which he defines as “the set of alternative commodity bundles that a person can command in a society using the totality of rights and opportunities that he or she faces.” In the context of famine and hunger, then, what is important is not the amount of food produced, but the ability of individuals to secure access to the food that is available. (Georgois Altintzis offers a critical engagement with Sen’s argument, highlighting some of the challenges it has faced since the early 1980s but concluding that it continues to offer a good explanation of food crises sparked by trade shocks, wars, crop failure, erratic weather, and sanctions).

Blogging for Oxfam, Duncan Green offers another take on Sen’s argument, drawing attention to a recent report by the NGO ActionAid published a “Hunger Scorecard,” in which they rank 29 developing countries in their success in addressing hunger. Brazil, China, Ghana, Vietnam, and Malawi fall in the top five, with Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Haiti, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo rounding out the bottom five. The striking point in their analysis, however, is less the individual rankings than the common themes they draw from the most successful countries. According to ActionAid’s analysis, the most successful countries

  • Reject the conventional wisdom of free market economics, instead asserting a central for the state in agriculture, in particular by supporting small farmers (through access to credit, research and extension services, technology, income or price supports, etc.
  • Balance policy support between commercial agriculture for export and production of food for domestic production.
  • Encourage a more equitable distribution of land by engaging in land reform efforts.
  • Establish basic social protection measures.

In short, the most successful countries appear to establish policies that encourage domestic production by small farmers while simultaneously attempting to guarantee food entitelements.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week for the U.S. economy. According to figures released on Thursday, the U.S. trade deficit jumped by 16.3 percent to $32 billion in June, a figure sharply higher than the $27 billion that had been forecast. The dramatic increase in imports was fueled by the “Cash for Clunkers” program, which led to a dramatic increase in auto imports. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that the poverty rate had increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent in 2008. The poverty rate, which is defined as the number of people with an annual income of less than $11,200 (or less than $22,000 for a family of four), increased as a result of the global economic downturn. Home foreclosures also remain near their record high level. The troubled status of the U.S. economy led the Federal Reserve to indicate that it would be unlikely to raise interest rates in the first half of next year.

In news from outside the U.S. economy last week:

1. A trade dispute between the United States and China may be headed to the World Trade Organization for resolution. The United States last week imposed a new duty on tires manufactured in China, less than one week after it also imposed higher tariffs on Chinese steel piping. A spokesperson for the Chinese government condemned the move as protectionism, warning that “a chain reaction of trade protectionist measures that could slow the current pace of revival in the world economy.” Observers fear that the Chinese could respond with higher tariffs on U.S. agricultural and automotive exports, potentially sparking a trade war. But in an interesting editorial in the Financial Times, Clyde Prestowiz argued that the imposition of higher tariffs on Chinese exports to the Untied States could potentially help the push for free trade.

2. With the German election just a couple of weeks away, campaigning is in full force, and observers are already working through the numerous possible coalition arrangements. But in perhaps the most interesting development to date, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück last week called for the imposition of a new global tax on international financial transaction, the proceeds of which would be used to repay governments for the cost of fiscal stimulus packages and bank rescue operations. While not dismissing the idea out of hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the proposal “electioneering.” Steinbrück’s call follows a similar proposal made by the Chair of the British Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner, and could make for interesting discussions at the upcoming G20 summit.

3. The counting process in the Afghan elections continues to drag on. Although incumbent President Hamid Karzai now has enough votes to win the disputed presidential election outright, according to the most recent results of the Independent Election Commission, widespread irregularities have led to calls for partial recounts. On Sunday, the IEC agreed to move forward with discussions on a recount, but it stopped short of spelling out precisely what votes would or would not be included. The Electoral Complains Commission, a body established by the United Nations to observe elections and investigate allegations of fraud, noted “clear and convincing” evidence of fraud and vote rigging in southern provinces which went heavily towards Karzai.

4. The first high-level contact between the government of Zimbabwe and the west took place on Sunday, as the European Union’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development and the Swedish Prime Minister (who also holds the European Union’s rotating presidency) met with representatives of the Zimbabwean government in Harare. The meeting is the first high-level contact since the European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002. While the European Union delegation remained noncommittal regarding the future direction of contact with the Zimbabwean government, stating only that “We’re entering a new phase. The [power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe] was an important step forward, but much more needs to be done. The key to re-engagement is the full implementation of the political agreement.” The status of the power sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe remains uncertain, as President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, continue to struggle over the distribution of political authority within the country.

5. The government of Guatemala last week declared a “state of calamity” in response to the widespread hunger gripping the country. The World Food Programme estimated that the country would require an immediate shipment of 20 tons of food the worst affected areas in order to stave off starvation. Alvar Colom, Guatemala’s president, said that global climate change was affecting the El Niño, causing a massive drought in the northeastern portion of the country. But Colom was also critical of the high level of inequality in the country, observing that “There is food, but those who go hungry have no money to buy it.” Critics also note that poorly defined land rights, narcoviolence, and alleged corruption have also undermined food production. According to the World Food Programme, half of all children under five in Guatemala suffer from malnutrition.

And in a bonus story for this week:

6. After more than three months since the general election, the political situation in Lebanon remains cloudy. On Thursday, Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western majority, resigned as prime minister designee, despite performing well-above expectations in June’s elections. According to Hariri, the country’s parliamentary minority blocked efforts to develop a coalition government, leaving the country in a period of political uncertainty.