Malnutrition is a huge problem worldwide, especially chronic malnutrition, the kind of everyday, year-round hunger that stunts children’s growth and means they never reach their full physical or intellectual potential. But rates are declining, and in some countries the numbers are falling fast.
Care and Action Against Hunger/Action Contre le Faim, together with researchers from the Oakland Institute in the US, the Institute of Development Studaies (IDS) in the UK and Spain’s Tripode Proyectos, have studied national success stories in a bid to tease out the factors behind the improvements.
Political policy turned out to be a common thread. The principal factor in reducing malnutrition was not farming or food aid, but political commitment.
The realization by a politician that reducing chronic hunger may get him elected or keep him in power can have a wonderfully bracing effect. In Niger, a military coup provided the catalyst. According to Manuel Sanchez-Montero of Tripode Proyectos, “In the last years of President [Mamadou] Tandja, hunger was a banned word. One of the reasons for putting him out [of office] was a food crisis, and the government was trying to keep control of information and not recognize that there was a food crisis coming. The transitional government took the fight against malnutrition as one of their priorities, because they knew it was one of the key reasons for their public support.”
The new studies also look at how political commitment is turned into practical success. Apart from having leadership commitment and citizens prepared to lobby energetically for the cause, successful countries took a multi-sectoral approach, tackling poverty in a wider sense, not just malnutrition alone, and often using cash transfers and social protection programmes to do it.
They worked on institutional coordination, getting government departments and NGOs to work together and stop duplication. Mejia Acosta said it had been helped by the way it was done: “In Peru there was a very clear division of labour where they said, ’We don’t step on each other’s toes.’ The other issue was that they were not engaged in pooled funding, so there was never this issue of who puts more money in which pot.”
The EndingHunger campaign
The EndingHunger campaign began in 2010 as an FAO initiative in partnership with nonprofit groups, private companies and other UN agencies. Initially referred to as "The 1billionhungry project," the campaign raised eyebrows with its provocative "I'm MAD as HELL" street posters and angry television ads featuring British actor Jeremy Irons.
In just six months the project attracted over 3 million signatures to a petition to end hunger, triggered many anti-hunger events and drew thousands of engaged fans to its Facebook community.
In its 2011 season, the campaign now challenges its followers to bring others into the movement, to educate themselves about hunger's causes and solutions, and to plan actions to push hunger to the top of the national and international political agendas.
"The EndingHunger movement operates on the premise that the dynamics of chronic hunger are already known," said Williams. "The solutions to hunger are known, but unfortunately most governments have never made food security a national priority.
"We want to change that. Because ending hunger in our lifetime is totally feasible."