Progress lagging on food and nutrition

Over the past 16 months or so, the world has been preoccupied with the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions, which started in December 2010 and the ongoing global economic downturn that spawned the universal ‘occupy’ movement. Here in Guyana we also were tuned in to our 2011 campaign and elections that gave rise to the historic opposition parliamentary majority. With all this going on, two significant global milestones were reached, though that progress is now in danger of being eroded.

In 2010, five years ahead of target, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people worldwide who lived in abject poverty, was attained. According to the World Bank Global Monitoring Report 2012, titled ‘GMR 2012: Food Prices, Nutrition and the Millennium Development Goals’, released on Monday last, the goal of halving the number of people without safe drinking water was also attained well ahead of the UN’s 2015 target. Also, the report said, targets on education and ratio of girls to boys in schools are within reach.

However, rampant increases in the price of food over several years, with spikes in 2008 and 2011 and the volatility that goes along with that now puts these goals at risk of being undermined. In recognition that unhealthy fatty foods, while filling, also put people’s health at risk, emphasis has been placed on not just food, but nutrition as well. And the report says that the developing world’s progress is seriously lagging on global targets related to food and nutrition.

Ultimately, this will affect hunger and have a domino effect on poverty, while seriously stymieing any progress towards the goals for health and education. While development aid has targeted malnutrition in the poorest countries in the world, obesity, often the springboard for several chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease taxes health budgets, particularly in the developed world. Poor nutrition, whether it is spun on the thin or fat side of the coin also has implications for other MDGs like infant and child mortality and maternal mortality.

According to the report, “Even temporarily high food prices can affect children’s long-term development.
“Early life conditions [from conception to two years of age] provide the foundations for adult human capital. Vicious circles of malnutrition, poor health, and impaired cognitive development set children on lower, often irreversible, development paths. Child malnutrition accounts for more than a third of the under-five mortality – and malnutrition during pregnancy, for more than a fifth of maternal mortality,“ the report added.

In addition, families that are unable to meet their basic food and other needs quickly resort to pulling children out of school, either because they simply cannot afford to send them or because they have to be sent to work to contribute to their families’ income.

The GMR 2012 report makes recommendations which can help boost resilience in the face of food price spikes. It suggests agricultural policies to encourage farmers to increase production, and social safety nets. It urges the strengthening of nutritional policies to improve early childhood development as well as the designing of trade policies that could enhance access to food markets, reduce food price volatility and induce productivity gains. It posits that these broad areas would have to be narrowed to fit individual countries’ situations.

In Guyana, for instance, local food price spikes can be linked to low supply as a result of soil conditions such as flooding, drought and crop diseases. It is, however, rare for local food prices once increased to decrease. Relief would have to come in the form of increased consumer spending power; through higher salaries and lower income and value-added taxes.

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