Thursday, 11 December 2014

Povertics blog will no longer be updated but you can read all the latest opinions from the IDS community on our website

This will be the last post to be published on this blog. The Institute of Development Studies now publishes all our members’ and guest bloggers’ posts directly onto our website.

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The IDS Communications and Engagement Unit

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tackling ‘hidden hunger’: Launch of the Global Hunger Index

The lack of essential vitamins and minerals in diets, known as hidden hunger, affects over two billion people worldwide. This was the focus of this year’s Global Hunger Index, launched on Monday by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. Despite increased access to food, the absence of micronutrients in a person’s diet can wholly undermine efforts to tackle hunger and malnutrition.

Because micronutrient deficiencies in all but their most severe forms are invisible, affecting people’s ability to fight disease and work proactively, and for children, to grow adequately, but not producing a specific physical disease, they are often overlooked.

Focusing on nutrition security on World Food Day
Today, as civil society, governments and communities come together in a call to action on World Food Day (WFD), the GHI is a reminder that efforts are needed tackle the causes of malnutrition. The focus of WFD this year is on “feeding the world, caring for the earth”. It highlights significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition.

This marks a shift in how the global community thinks about hunger; moving beyond just thinking about consuming enough energy to thinking about nutrition more holistically and looking and what the nutrition community calls nutrition security. Nutrition security is about consuming the right amounts (not too little or too much) foods, in adequate amounts to meet both energy and nutrient needs to live a healthy and active life.

Governments need to support the fight against ‘hidden hunger’
Malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, are caused by a range of factors from poor dietary diversity by reliance on a few staple foods, to unsanitary environments due to lack of clean water and sanitation facilities leading to disease and poor absorption of nutrients. Additionally, wider structural barriers have an impact, such as a families’ ability to purchase ‘nutritious’ foods or maternity cover benefits allowing mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months.

As Lawrence Haddad, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI discussed on Monday night, the soon to be launched Global Nutrition Report found there is only data on micronutrient deficiencies for 5 out of 185 countries globally, highlighting both the need for more data on micronutrient status and the need for more actions to fight micronutrient deficiencies.

There are some interesting programmes underway seeking to improve micronutrient status of poor and vulnerable households and trial and ways of increasing dietary diversity. In Zambia, over 40 per cent of children under five are stunted or too short for their age due to inadequate dietary intake and disease. At the launch of the GHI, we heard from Richard Mwape, the District Programme Coordinator for Concern Worldwide in Zambia who told us about an agricultural programme he works on, Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN) which aims increase household consumption of crops of high nutritional value, as well as increasing homestead gardening and small scale animal husbandry.

While programmes like these are critical to trial new programmes and reach those communities who often struggle to access government programmes, ultimately we need governments to step in and for people to hold their governments to account.

What needs to happen next?
What do we need to do as a global community to address the challenge of hidden hunger?

  • Post 2015 development goals need to include specific goals not just looking at hunger and food security but taking a much broader view of the need for nutrition security and ensuring goals and indicators will address hidden hunger.
  • There is a need to create an enabling environment globally that will increases people’s access, especially vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and adolescent girls, to micronutrient rich foods and invest more into sustainable and diversified productivity increases for a range of foods such as fruits, vegetables and animal source foods. 
  • Governments must ensure that they are creating a regulatory environment that promotes good nutrition- actions that range from enforcing the codes regulating the marketing of breast milk substitutes to ensuring that private companies are incentivised to produce nutritious foods. 

We need to make sure that the Global Hunger Index is used as a tool to incentivise action and that people can use the information to hold their government to account and push for more action to ensure that everyone, everywhere has adequate food to lead an active and healthy life.

By Katherine Pittore - Nutrition Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Good news on Inequality in Latin America – Highlights from the UNU-WIDER Inequality Conference 5-6 September, Helsinki

Something ought to be done on inequality…..

I have just got back from a major UNU-WIDER conference on Inequality (5-6 September). Inequality is big news.

Something ought to be done.

It’s not just me that says so. Even the World Economic Forum has realized – and they should know about inequality. They live it. (Although Oxfam turned up this year and spoilt the fun with a report arguing that 85 people own as much as half the world population – quite brave really in a gathering which is reputed to attract 70 billionaires.)

It reminds me of the joke during the Yugoslav wars, when the international community was going through one of its all too frequents bouts of not knowing what to do. The cartoon showed an international general instructing peacekeeping troops – “On the command ‘do something’, do something”.

Something ought to be done ….. but what? Brazilian experience

The keynote address was by Marcelo Cortes Neri, Minister for Strategic Affairs in the Brazilian government. In an intellectual tour de force, he deployed a bewildering array of indicators to show how Brazil is doing on inequality and poverty reduction. See Inequality in Brazil: measurement, trends, impacts and policies (pdf)

Perhaps the most dramatic figure presented by Neri is the 69% fall in absolute poverty (US$ 1.25 per day PPP) in only 10 years from 2002-12. Half of this is accounted for by income growth and half by decreased inequality. So the good news is not restricted to cash transfers (Bolsa Familia) but is indicative of a much deeper social transformation. Declining inequality is illustrated by progress in the Gini coefficient from 0.607 in 1990 to 0.526 in 2012. The chart illustrating the trend in the Gini coefficient showed 30 years of increasing inequality to 1990, followed by over 20 years if decrease to a level below that of 50 years ago.

Per capita income for the poorest 5% (where the contribution of the Bolsa Familia is primarily felt) of the population has grown 138% in the period 2001-12, compared with 26% for the top 5% . Bolsa Familia is good value for money.
The Minister noted the contribution of education, but showed that there is much more to be done on quality (using the low maths ranking in the Pisa/OECD comparative chart, despite recent improvements).

Using the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), 41% of municipalities showed a very low HDI in 2000. Ten years later, this figure was only 0.6%.Neri also argued that citizens seem determined to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for the authorities to help them. Improvement of housing conditions and acquisition of household durables serve as indicators, but so do studies of perceptions which show that people are more positive about improvement in their own living conditions than they are about the general society. In the Gallup World Poll rankings, Brazil’s score (averaging 8.69 out of 10) has been the highest in the world every year from 2006-14 (measuring self-perceptions of “highest future life satisfaction”). Bolsa Familia recipients showed the greatest increase in present happiness compared to past happiness. It is a scheme which covers 25% of the population at a cost of 0.5% of GPD and has a higher multiplier effect than other social transfers. Without Bolsa Familia, the numbers in extreme poverty would rise by 36%.

Income inequality remains high, but Brazil has the second lowest inequality of expected future life satisfaction (a Gini of expected life satisfaction in five years) – after Belgium.
The Minister used a telling image – that there is much to be done on inequality so that many of these snapshots represent a good frame in a bad movie. Inequality in 2011 was still 18th highest of 155 countries (calculations based on data from Milanovic and Neri). The presentation was  remarkably un-complacent – and he spent some time explaining the profile of those involved in the recent demonstrations (younger, better educated, mobilized through social networking).      

Although growth has slowed, Neri concluded that continued progress was achievable and sustainable because of the rising indicators for education, labour, HDI and housing.

Brazil is in many ways a microcosm of the world. As Neri showed the poorest in Brazil would be poor by Indian standards, and the rich are rich like rich Americans. Brazil’s growth in GDP per capita was similar to change in the world average (3.5% to 3.6% from 2002-12).

The conclusion which I feel one must draw is that policies matter. I first visited Brazil in 1983 and visited Diadema where Lula’s PT had just taken control locally and I saw early housing projects. I also saw some of the slum conditions and the work being done by progressive sectors of the Catholic church. The work of the social movements over the past thirty years has been the foundation for changed social attitudes – and has provided the bedrock of support which makes policies of this kind sustainable. It is a remarkable achievement – but not so remarkable that it cannot be replicated in different ways in different contexts. Policies matter. Redistribution is easier to finance in a growing economy.

Not just Brazil

Brazil is special – but also part of a continental trend. This is suggested by detailed work conducted in a UNU-WIDER project led by Giovanni Andrea Cornia which analysed Falling Inequality in Latin America since 2000. See Falling Inequality in Latin America: Policy Changes and Lessons.

Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has fallen in almost all of the 18 countries studied (exceptions being Nicaragua and Costa Rica) returning the region to pre-liberalization levels (early 1980s) of inequality. It seems that the impact is lasting, not cyclical as inequality (unlike in other world regions) continued to decline during the crisis of 2009-12.

This is not only a story about social transfers. Accumulation of human capital by workers (education and training) has led to a decrease in the skilled-unskilled wage ratio, rising demand for less skilled workers and increasing minimum wages. Cornia and colleagues argue for a comprehensive understanding of the decline in inequality pointing to a range of factors: a shift towards left-of-centre governments committed to reversing inequality; prudent macro-economic policies; careful fiscal and monetary policies; commitment to using redistribution decrease net inequality (after taxes and transfers); avoiding financial crises, reducing dependence on foreign borrowing and increasing trade (intra-regional – and with Asia).

In this context, social expenditure and labour policies also play their role. A better protected and better educated work force, as well as policies designed to address inherited problems of the past including unemployment, informality and weakened collective bargaining institutions.

An even fuller picture can be gained by putting these results alongside the Commitment to Equity project coordinated by Nora Lustig. When I spoke with her at the UNU-WIDER conference, she explained that its purpose is to assess the readiness of governments to use the tax system and social transfers to address poverty and inequality. 

Other insights: Databases and beyond

Lustig was also the opening speaker in a significant panel on the evaluation of international databases on inequality, put together by the Journal of Economic Inequality. The timing was good as it coincides with an update of the World Income Inequality Database (WIID) which was developed and is maintained as the only fully global source. Stephen Jenkins (London School of Economics) expressed a clear preference for WIID (, albeit with some caveats on data ) over SWIID – the Standardized World Income Inequality Database devised by Frederick Solt which is entirely based on imputational methodology. 
There was much more to praise and think about at the UNU-WIDER inequality conference, including:

Material presented at the UNU-WIDER Inequality Conference can be accessed here (see presentations, papers, and video)

by Roger Williamson 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Jobs, light manufacturing and structural transformation - a comprehensive package for poverty reduction

The best thing about being a Visiting Fellow (in my case both at IDS and UNU-WIDER) is that you meet people from very different networks. Another good thing is that sometimes you stop “visiting” and get to sit down and record what you have learnt. Today is that day.

I was recently in Vietnam at the UNU-WIDER conference on “Institutional Reforms for Transformation, Inclusion and Sustainability”. Vietnam used to be one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world, but has posted sustained and remarkable growth rate figures, privatised most of its state-owned enterprises, the private sector has got into manufacturing, and the country has significantly reduced poverty rates. Is there a message here? Yes.

In the immortal phrase of The Economist, it is important to “make things you can drop on your foot”.

One of the things I do for UNU-WIDER is interview some of the brilliant conference presenters for their website. It is a crash course in their thinking for me, and an easy way in for viewers. I now want to give you some snapshots of what I learnt on work at the conference.

Think of the “new structural economics” and you think of Justin Yifu Lin, former World Bank Chief Economist. 

In his conference presentation on how to avoid the “middle income trap”, he gave a six-step toolkit for growth identification and facilitation, showing how to spot industries and competitors who are ahead which are “ripe for the taking" - provided a government in the poorer country can remove binding constraints and cash in on latent comparative advantage. He shows how to develop a sensible industrial policy and avoid the traps of the old structuralism, primarily “comparative advantage defying economics”. That sounds bad. It is. It does not fly. It costs money and wastes resources.

Hinh Dinh and colleagues have spent years looking at light manufacturing in great detail – both all over Africa also in China. Certain industries are key to getting industrialisation going – light manufacturing tasks such as clothes, footwear and leather, woodworking, basic metal work, agroprocessing. In short, stuff people need for daily life, shoes, a shirt, a table. If you can make them, you can sell them, and you can eventually move up the value chain in manufacturing. Hinh Dinh’s work is full of detailed case studies. Reading the Africa accounts, you can also learn that cherry tomatoes have more value to growers in West Africa than bigger ones, and the story of Michelle Obama’s “inauguration shoes” – and how Ethiopia (with Chinese investment and know-how) broke into designer footwear. (It also helps to have a lot of cattle in your country. The shoe industry – it’s what you can run if you have the hides.)
Martin Rama gave us a global run-down on jobs based on the huge amount of work put into the 2013 World Development Report. Surprisingly enough, it is only the second time in 35 years that the WDR has focussed on employment. This report is a comprehensive approach to making good that omission.

Gary Fields has spent a lot of time talking to ordinary people in the informal and the formal sectors about their working experience in different parts of the world. This wisdom and experience is distilled in his book Working Hard, Working PoorFields goes back to basics – for him economic development means “improvements in people’s material standards of living”. One of his key messages is that given the extent of informal and self-employment among the poor, rather than wishing it did not exist, ignoring or even repressing informal workers, policy makers should understand their lives, the decisions they have to make and finding policies which help them.

There was much more good work presented – and the outlines by Lin, Hinh Dinh, Fields and Rama can be found among the conference presentations on the website. Of course the real scholars among you will read the entire works – cover to cover – with much benefit! 

By Roger Williamson

Photo of Roger Williamson

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Going beyond sports: The Commonwealth has an important role to play in development

Photo of Sir Richard JollyWhat remains of the Commonwealth?

Watching the teams march past for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games remains as stirring as ever, for the handsome diversity of the athletes themselves and the dazzling colours and contrasting styles of their uniforms: 73 teams from 53 countries for "the friendly games." But is this the best that remains of the Commonwealth today?

If so, it is a bit sad and perhaps a challenge to remember and revive some of the Commonwealth's earlier achievements. At its best, the organisation's Secretariat provided practical and highly professional support for countries coping with the early challenges of independence or grappling with such divisive issues as negotiating fair deals with mining companies or multinational corporations.

The Commonwealth also produced policy reports on topics such as ending corruption or engendering development. The Institute of Development Studies provided some of the experts contributing to these activities - Mike Faber, Roland Brown, Richard Longhurst and others.

Interaction and shared learning should not just be confined to the sports arena

Many of us believe that the Commonwealth could and should still have a role in such activities, providing support and speaking out with frankness on difficult topics in a way which too readily get lost or distorted in the larger UN or in more limited regional organisations such as the OECD or EU or ESCAP. The Commonwealth has English as a common means of communication but otherwise is a microcosm of the larger world, with rich, middle income and poorer countries and many of the LDCs and Small Island States which need special consideration.

Corruption, financial regulation, reporting on assets held in overseas tax havens are only the beginning of a list of hot economic topics suitable for Commonwealth consideration. What also about topics such as diffusing tensions arising from religious or cultural differences, on which many Commonwealth countries have rich experience to draw on? Or multicultural education? The UK as well as other rich members of the Commonwealth now have as much to learn as they have to contribute in these areas.

Sport should not be the only arena for interaction and mutual learning, or the only place where Commonwealth countries, large and small, can gain medals and recognition from such friendly participation.

By Richard Jolly