Wednesday, 31 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Health Systems Global – why care????

Posted: 30 Oct 2012 07:26 PM PDT


As colleagues from around the world converge on Beijing, I am stuck in Washington, D.C. with the flight departure screens displaying a never-ending list of cancelled flights. Here in D.C. not many people are aware of the symposium in Beijing, and not many people care about Health Systems Global – or as I would prefer it  to be called, the new Society for Health Systems Research. I am reminded of an email written by a friend when I wrote suggesting that he stand to be a Board member – he wrote back, saying (and I paraphrase): “Why should I care about this, I don’t think this  new global society will have much impact on my country, or the things that I care about.” From a wind and rain-swept, election-obsessed D.C., it is easy to feel the same.

But I do care, and I am upset that I will not be there for the opening of the Symposium. Why is this?

I have been blessed to have worked with some fantastic researchers in this field – too many to name them all here – but despite this, it has been rare that I have felt part of a professional community. I have constantly had to think about how I position my specific interests in health systems research in a way that will make sense to my epidemiological/ economist/ policy-oriented [delete as appropriate] colleagues. At the first symposium in Montreux I was struck by the fact that, for the first time ever, 80% of my professional network was present at the same meeting.

Cynics might say, ‘So what, this is just another opportunity for an expensive jamboree, that everyone enjoys but achieves little in the end’. I beg to differ.

No one came to HSR to get rich, or to have their name plastered all over the Lancet (pah, the Lancet only recently figured out how much HSR matters). We came because we were intrigued by the dilemmas, because we saw the potential to change health systems, and we began to get an inkling of the major impacts that such changes could have on the poor – not just on their access to services, but on how their voice is included in policy debates, and how their needs are reflected across government.

Health systems research has been an orphan subject for way too long – squeezed between prestigious, epidemiological randomized control trials on the one hand, and mainstream social science research on the other. The Symposium and the new global society for health systems research can be the first steps in changing this and thus, changing the way health systems work for the poor and disenfranchised, as well as the middle class. And that’s why I’m standing for election to the Board of the Society.

For the Society to really work, we need everyone engaged – all those who have been laboring in the HSR trenches and who currently think that there is nothing in Beijing, nor the Society, for them. Despite IHP’s best (and sometimes extremely entertaining efforts), many of us are still in the dark as to what the Society is about. That needs to change: with transparent and responsive governance, the Society could help build community, build HSR capacity, develop a common language and terminology for HSR, and help enable us all to be the change agents in health systems that we want to be.

Airports in D.C. re-open tomorrow: I will be in-line early. Wish me luck!

Emerging Voices 2012: Moses’ experiences

Posted: 30 Oct 2012 04:53 PM PDT

Moses gives his presentation at the final conference


The 2nd Global Symposium on Health Systems Research officially kicks off today here in Beijing, but I’ve already been here for nearly two weeks participating in the Emerging Voices program. Emerging Voices is a joint venture by the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp and Peking University School of Public Health designed to build presentation skills and strengthen voices of younger health systems researchers. The program was incredibly diverse, featuring courses on issues related to health systems research and skills-building workshops on scientific presentation and scientific writing in English in addition to cultural activities in China.

I was selected to participate in the venture as a young researcher from Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda. I am a part of the wider FHS team in Uganda, where I focus on maternal and neonatal health in low-income settings like Uganda. Now that the venture is over, there are three main reflections I have on the two-week session.

The first part of the training program involved an introduction to new methods of presenting scientific research findings to a diverse audience in an effective way. Two particular methods were introduced: Pecha Kucha and the Prezi. Both of these mechanisms have at their core the use of illustrative pictures to communicate. Pecha Kucha emphasizes brevity, with twenty slides of images each rotating automatically after twenty seconds to force the presentation forward. Prezi is an online system for creating dynamic and creative presentations. I found these approaches very creative as it differed from the convectional PowerPoint presentation principals, which mostly have text. The other advantage of the picture principle is that it gives the presenter the opportunity make the presentation in amore natural and interesting way, therefore capturing the attention of the audience.

Secondly, we had cultural and field visits in which we were treated to different local Chinese traditional sites and introduced to the Chinese health system.  I particularly found the cultural visits very rich and was delighted to be able to touch base with old Chinese traditions, which are very vividly painted at the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.  I was also more than delighted to have a chance of seeing a panda at the Beijing Zoo. But more importantly, during the field visits, I was part of a group that went to what is called the ‘rural parts of Beijing’. Here we visited the district health office and two of their health centers. I was particularly impressed by the integration of Chinese traditional medicine with the western medicine within the mainstream health system. This means that they give both disciplines and approaches adequate resources and attention in terms of developing them further.

And lastly, Emerging Voices offered me an important chance to meet and receive some career guidance from senior health systems researchers. We had a huge number of senior researchers and I was able to meet some experts in participatory action research methodologies. This was of interest to me because it forms the principals upon which we are building our current FHS intervention – MANIFEST. MANIFEST is the maternal and neonatal implementation for equitable systems. Our overarching goal is to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality through tapping into exiting community resources and working through exiting structures in order to increases chances of continuity. I believe that Emerging Voices has introduced me to a network of researchers in my field and therefore opened possibilities for learning and sharing. I therefore want to sincerely thank the organizers of the emerging voices first for the organization and for partially funding my training. I would also want to thank the Future Health Team in Uganda for supporting my travel to Beijing to attend this training.

FHS at the 2nd Global Symposium on HSR: Blogging from the front lines

Posted: 30 Oct 2012 04:27 PM PDT

A view of the Bird's Nest in Beijing, around the corner from the Beijing International Convention Center, where the Symposium is taking place


It may be stormy and snowy on the eastern seaboard of the United States, but in Beijing, China, the ginko leaves are starting to turn golden and it’s been a crisp couple of fall days. Members from across the FHS research consortium are gathering here this week to participate in the 2nd Global Symposium on Health Systems Research. According to their website, the symposium is ‘dedicated to evaluating progress, sharing insights and recalibrating the agenda of science to accelerate universal health coverage (UHC)’.

With nearly 1,900 participants registered to attend, we’re expecting the symposium to be very busy and for that main theme to play out in a variety of ways. FHS alone will be participating in a wide range of activities throughout, from the Emerging Voices pre-session, to various satellite sessions today, a stall in the marketplace and number of panels, presentations, posters and even a video presentation.

In particular, FHS will bring attention to the role of the private sector in health service delivery, how a complex adaptive systems (CAS) approach generates new insights to health systems functioning, promoting cross-learning among BRICS countries, effective mechanisms for building capacity for health systems research, and approaches to policy influence and research uptake.

We know that not everyone interested in these issues could be here in Beijing. As such, FHS researchers will be sharing their diverse perspectives throughout by offering opinions and reflections on the FHS blog. Please note that these blogs represent only the opinions of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the position of FHS as a consortium, other researchers or partners within the consortium or of our main funders.

Presentations, videos and pictures will also be made available online, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

African Union to set up Food Safety Authority and rapid alert system

Posted: 30 Oct 2012 05:00 AM PDT

The African Union has announced plans to set up a new Food Safety Authority and a 'Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed' (RASFF). It is hosting a regional workshop on 29-30 October in Kigali, Rwanda, on the subject.

Seeing more clearly: new perspectives on the global land grab

Posted: 30 Oct 2012 04:22 AM PDT

Mechanised agriculture in Tanzania

Land grabbing is never far from the headlines. It's also an issue marked by secrecy in land deals themselves, as well as conflicts over evidence, causes and impacts. What should be done about land grabs, and who should do it, remains a topic of intense debate on the international stage.

So what new debates on this key global policy issues are emerging? The recent international conference on global land grabbing, convened by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) and involving the Future Agricultures Consortium, explored a huge array of material on the subject across 120 papers and six plenaries.

What new perspectives were offered at the conference?  It is impossible to summarise everything of course, but there were a few things that struck me that had changed since the conference held at IDS in 2011, which I commented on in the closing session.

Forgetting John Snow at the Beijing HSR Symposium

John Snow's mapping of the Broad Street Pump
cholera outbreak

We all know the story of John Snow and the Broad Street pump. During the 1854 cholera epidemic in London Dr. Snow painstakingly produced a map of the cases and determined that the infamous pump was the origin of the outbreak. He used his evidence to persuade city officials and the pump handle was removed terminating the epidemic.

Now consider the counterfactual. Suppose the good doctor had taken an online course on global health systems a few months before the outbreak. Dr. Snow’s data would have been an excel spreadsheet repeatedly forwarded until it reached the desk of a global disease burden specialist. Disibility Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost would be calculated. Tree diagrams would be produced. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of various strategies would be tabulated. With luck, the evidence would be sufficient to host a global summit at which donors would pledge millions to launch a “Decade of Action” against cholera. With much fanfare a fleet of carriages emblazoned with “The Cholera Project” and a highly vetted logo would be parked next to project headquarters ready to avert cholera DALYS across the globe. No doubt there would be a research institute to develop biomedical solutions — an amazing vaccine, or special rehydration liquid that would require an army of doctors, nurses, and health workers to aid the stricken. John Snow would be promoted to head the corps of do-gooders, and his picture would be featured prominently in The Lancet as a global health hero.

Nightmare over. History did not turn out that way—at least not for 19th century England. Fortunately due to an enlightenment era faith in the responsibility and capacity of local government to improve the wellbeing of humanity, the people of England institutionalized the local solution of local public health problems. Despite tremendous economic growth in the 19th century, health in the UK did not improve until the English invented public health. More money was not enough to improve health and life expectancy did not top 40 years until 1870. Throughout the 1840s, 50s, and 60s England passed a series of laws that created local health boards, empowered local health officers, and developed local health codes that could be locally enforced. Political resistance to health reforms occurred locally and was overcome locally. Public health reforms prevailed with much more success after voting reforms in 1867 enfranchised the working men whose families stood to gain the most from transforming pestilent crowded slums into livable cities. The John Snow strategy worked and England’s life expectancy began to climb from 40 years in 1867 to 65 by 1945 — before antibiotics and most modern 'cures' were discovered. Other countries around the world had the same success with the same strategy. Prior to the 1950s, economic growth alone wouldn’t bump a country’s health statistics; doctors and universal coverage offered weak remedies. Public health strategies helped translate growing prosperity into hygienic living conditions and this was the route to good health. It still is.

This week the world will gather at the 2nd Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Beijing meeting to collectively forget everything that John Snow stood for. Almost all the programming is about improving the delivery and financing of medical services. Attendees will forget that the best solutions are local solutions based on local data used by local health advocates in harmony with their local community. Few presenters seem to notice that the best and most important part of any health system is not the gleaming hospitals and ICUs. The part that of the health system that creates health changes the social and physical determinants of health through good old fashioned public health practice. Most participants are content to sway to the siren’s song of universal coverage and pretend that doctors are the solution to every malady.

James Joyce speaks in Ulysses of the “ineluctable modality of the visible” – what can be seen with the eye becomes the mode and draws our mind with no escape. The unseen forces in the world may be much more powerful than the visible, but even the most well-intentioned and wise will be drawn to what they can see. The whole world sees doctors and nurses so deploying them and fixing their business problems has become the business of global health. Public health officers stay out of sight by preventing problems before they occur. Who has ever seen a public health officer? What Broad Street survivor would recognize or remember that their life was saved by John Snow?

The good news is that at least one woman in Beijing remembers John Snow. Dr. Afisah Zakariah is Director of Policy, Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation for the Ministry of Health in Ghana. At the Thursday session of the conference she described Ghana’s plans to strengthen its essential public health functions. Building on a World Bank measurement tool, Ghana will audit the performance of district health management teams. The audits will give each district health official a same-day report card and form a foundation for a personalized performance improvement plan with regular follow up coaching visits. The essential public health functions that will be graded and improved in Ghana are the essence of what John Snow did on Broad Street — collecting and using local surveillance data, mobilizing the community around the data, and collaboratively implementing local public health measures. Lucky for Ghana that Dr. Zakariah is on board. This is potentially lucky for Dr. Zakariah’s audience. Maybe they won’t forget John Snow and the spirit of 1854.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

FHS at the 2nd Global Symposium on Health Systems Research

Posted: 26 Oct 2012 08:04 AM PDT

Download PDF (344KB)

From 31 October - 3 November a number of members from the Future Health Systems consortium will be in Beijing participating in the 2nd Global Symposium on Health Systems Research.

The final programme has just been released, and it's a busy schedule. If you are attending, we've compiled a list of sessions, presentations and posters in which FHS members are involved (344kb) -- with a particular focus on complex adaptive systems, health markets, health systems research capacity and knowledge translation. This pamphlet highlights FHS engagement throughout the symposium.

In addition to these activities, FHS will also have a stall in the marketplace. Come say 你好 ('nihao') and find out more about our work!

During the symposium, we'll be blogging away and sharing many of these presentations. So do keep a look out and come back and visit the FHS website for updates throughout.


Friday, 26 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

FHS Uganda research featured in

Posted: 26 Oct 2012 07:56 AM PDT

In a recent opinion piece from the Observer, which was subsequently syndicated on, FHS Uganda Communications Specialist, Kakaire Ayub Kiruna, argued that:

If you are the kind of person who never misses television news, chances are that you watched the story of a pregnant woman who was reportedly abandoned by medics at Mukono Health Centre IV, not so long ago. But in case you missed the story, Ms Patricia Nantume, said to have been experiencing obstructed labour, could not raise the Shs 250,000 wanted by the medical officer on duty before conducting vital emergency surgery. [...]

While Nantume and her baby were lucky not to have become part of Uganda's high maternal and neonatal mortality statistics after sympathisers had her rushed to Kawolo hospital using an ambulance which was bought by area MP, Betty Nambooze, many don't find themselves this fortunate. [...]

Initiatives like Mukono's, where sympathisers spontaneously pooled financial resources to save a mother in danger remain unstudied, yet they could contribute to the body of evidence needed for policy influence and diffusion purposes.

He continues by outlining a new action research initiative spearheaded by the FHS Uganda team called the MANIFEST project, which is working to understand how community resources can be utilised to help reduce maternal and newborn mortality.

The article was featured as part of an ongoing series with in partnership with the Institute of Devleopment Studies. The initiative aims to produce and distribute compelling multi-media content on critical issues for Africa’s future as part of a development reporting initiative.


Global Brazil meets the new Africa: how much of an introduction do they need?

Posted: 25 Oct 2012 08:10 AM PDT

BRICS2Last week, Canning House, the London-based Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Council, hosted a panel discussion entitled "Global Brazil meets the new Africa". Diplomats, business people, journalists and researchers gathered around the room to talk about present and past interactions across the South Atlantic and the prospects for fruitful engagement.

As it is often the case in discussions about Africa and Brazil, historical, cultural and physical affinities were played up and argued to be a comparative advantage of this particular partnership. But divergent political and socio-economic trajectories in post-independence and post-colonial history  were also noted (Brazil celebrated its independence more than 100 years earlier), as were breaches in knowledge about what each side of the Atlantic has come to represent today  in terms of internal politics and social fabric.

The question that comes to mind then is: how much of an introduction do "global Brazil" and "new Africa" need about each other in the current state of affairs? The argument that follows suggests that an up-to-date profiling is due on either side to ensure both parties can get the best possible outcome from this partnership and prove it to be as special as it is hoped to be.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Kenya: cattle in the capital - urban agriculture comes to town

Posted: 25 Oct 2012 04:41 AM PDT

Focusing on urban agriculture and nutrition in Kenya, this is the third in a series of special multimedia packages from the IDS-AllAfrica development reporting partnership.

ESRC STEPS Centre wins prestigious award

Posted: 24 Oct 2012 09:42 PM PDT

The IDS-coordinated ESRC STEPS Centre has won and award for its contribution to public understanding of the social dimensions of science.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Kenya: Vaccines, Vitamins and Vegetables - On Nutrition Fight Frontlines

Posted: 16 Oct 2012 04:50 AM PDT

Focusing on nutrition and healthcare on the frontlines in Kenya, this is the second in a series of special multimedia packages from the IDS-allAfrica development reporting partnership.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Land grabs: knowledge and resistance

by Nathan Oxley, STEPS Centre communications officer
Shalmali Guttal from Focus on the Global South addresses the opening plenary

The Global Land Grabbing II conference at Cornell last week brought together an impressive range of people with different disciplines, views and experience on large scale land deals – a phenomenon that's erupted worldwide in the wake of recent global crises.

Supporters of large scale acquisitions of land make some big claims for them: that they help to boost economies, create jobs, make the most of 'underused' land and feed the hungry. These claims are examined and contested by those concerned about the violence and injustice that goes along with some large-scale land deals. As speakers at the conference showed, dodgy economics and even dodgier science join forces with powerful interests, with deals often negotiated behind closed doors. Even the participation of vulnerable groups in decisions about land is not what it seems: it can even be a method of controlling them without giving them a real say in what happens.

One of the challenges for research is to deal with the secrecy, uncertainty and variability of land deals. How do we best measure and understand the scale, scope and effects of land grabs? What are the most constructive ways of resisting unscrupulous deals and violent takeovers? How can the (almost over-abundant) research on land grabs be useful for guiding activists and policy makers alike, and what are the political spaces for change, locally, nationally and at international level?

One of those spaces is processes around the UN FAO, whose Director-General José Graziano da Silva addressed the conference on day 3. The Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure is one of a set of efforts to move towards global governance. But these and other guidelines at global level are non-binding: what happens when countries act on them will vary and depend on many factors, including local and national politics and balances of power. You can watch the video of José Graziano da Silva's presentation on the conference website and download a copy of his speech.

Another space for change is in building alliances between civil society, research, activists and authorities to shed light on land deals and find ways of making them work for poor people. The conference was one of the places where these alliances could be strengthened.

Here are some other highlights from the event:

Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre director, on the 'big questions' in land grabbing

Blogs by participants
For more presentations and interviews, there's a YouTube playlist with presentations and interviews from the conference.

The conference was hosted at Cornell University and organised by the Land Deals Politics Initiative, which includes Future Agricultures Consortium, the International Institute of Social Studies, the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) and the Polson Institute for Global Development at Cornell University.

For more STEPS research on different aspects of land grabbing, including 'green grabs' and 'water grabs' see the page of resources on land grabs on our website.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Saturday, 20 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Land-grab or land-give?

Posted: 19 Oct 2012 01:19 PM PDT

Guest blogpost by Kathleen Sexsmith, Cornell University

Are foreign investors the real land-grabbers, or should we be assigning more responsibility to the local political actors who allow land deals to go through? At a panel on the importance of local politics on day 2, Lauren Honig from Cornell University and Festus Boamah from the University of Bergen highlighted the uneasy coincidence of interests between local chiefs and global capital, and how this situation is producing many contemporary land-grabs in Africa.

Land grabs: how do we know what we know?

Posted: 19 Oct 2012 12:44 PM PDT

Guest blogpost by Holly Buck, Cornell University

"How do we know what we know?" asked Marc Edelman in a roundtable on methodologies, rounding off day 2 of the Global Land Grabbing Conference.  Taking a historical perspective, Edelman pointed out that historical studies of land tenure show us numerous problems for measuring land: archaic units of contested sizes, antiquated surveying techniques, areas in titles that don't correspond to boundaries in reality, boundaries specified using markers that move, and a host of other practical challenges.

Land grabbing Q&A: Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South

Posted: 19 Oct 2012 12:31 PM PDT


Q: You said during the opening session: 'How much more information is necessary for us to know that this land grabbing needs to stop'. Could you elaborate on what you meant?

Shalmali Guttal:  A few years ago when the term land grabbing exploded on the world scene, many of us who've been working on various rights to do with land and resource, had been using the word land grabbing for a very very long time. Then 4 or 5 years ago it becomes this big thing: oh, land grabbing is happening.  And we thought: that's fine, at least the term is now going all over the world, and the impacts of these large scale land expropriations are going to finally be discussed.

One of the things we were always asked about is: where is the evidence?  And when the land grabbing craze hit the media, people started doing research frantically—and now, if you just Google "land grabbing" and see how much comes up, there have been so many studies in every country where there have been large scale land deals, and all of them show that this model is not working, and that this is a destructive model.

Nobody, even the World Bank, one of the biggest supporters of large scale land expropriations, is able to say that this kind of system works: that's why they're coming out with their own version of principles for agricultural investment—because they know that they cannot justify this.

So I guess my question now is that if we know all this, then how much more evidence is needed? Why are we still being asked to produce more evidence? How many details on the ground and how many details of the mechanics do we need to interrogate to put an end to this?

Friday, 19 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Geographies of hope: resistance and land

Posted: 18 Oct 2012 02:19 PM PDT

Protestors against dams in India

by Kathleen Sexsmith

Although scholars on the Politics of Land Deals: Regional Perspectives panel on Oct 17th presented perspectives from disparate locations across the globe, their findings presented a number of commonalities in the ways these processes are taking place – and being resisted.

The violent and coercive role of the state in the dispossession of agricultural producers in India and Ecuador was well documented by Michael Levien (Michael's paper - pdf) and Juli Hazlewood respectively. The recently retooled Ecuadorian Constitution – internationally hailed as a means of restoring the rights of nature and the social-nature metabolism – is paradoxically providing a constitutional means for the potential use of military force against resisters, by placing rights to "ecological services" in the hands of the government.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

New FHS book launched yesterday in Washington DC and online

Posted: 18 Oct 2012 03:29 AM PDT

On 17 October 2012, members of the DC Health Systems Board gathered at the Results for Development Institute in Washington DC and online to participate in the launch event for the new book from FHS, Transforming Health Markets in Asia and Africa.

A Storify that captures key points from the presentations and questions from the audience is available below.

Land grabs: changing the planet

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 07:51 PM PDT


By Holly Jean Buck, Cornell University

One popular question about land grabbing today was: What is new about the phenomenon? How is it distinctive from dispossessions and enclosures throughout history?

One possible answer is: it is taking place in the Anthropocene, the so-called age of humans, where humanity has become a geological agent through its modifications in earth processes.

Land grabs: framing the debate

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 07:10 PM PDT


By Youjin Brigitte Chung, Cornell University

What are the different perspectives from which we can frame the land grab debate? This was the overarching theme of the first parallel session of the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing. The panelists for this session – Farshad Araghi (Florida Atlantic University), Tania Li (University of Toronto), Phil McMichael (Cornell University), and Pauline Peters (Harvard University) – all provided different standpoints from which to understand the nature, scope, and patterns of contemporary larges-scale land acquisitions.

Land grabs - Governance panel I: from past to present

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 06:56 PM PDT

By Ryan Nehring, Cornell University

Governance of land deals is a hot topic at the moment. Eric Holt-Gimenez chaired the first panel of the conference on issues of governance, rules and formalizing land grad deals.

First, Aaron de Grassi showed how the historical relations with Portuguese settlers has shaped, and continues to shape, pressures for agrarian change in land-use. Aaron used the history of spatial relations with land in Angola as an entry point into analyzing the elite relations with neo-patimonial land tenure. Download Aaron de Grassi's paper (pdf)

10 big questions on land grabs

Posted: 17 Oct 2012 06:22 PM PDT


The first day of the 2nd International Conference on Global Land Grabbing got off to a dynamic start with a plenary panel on big-picture questions, featuring Melissa Leach (STEPS Centre), Lorenzo Cotula (IIED), Sam Moyo (African Institute for Agrarian Studies), Eric Holt-Gimenez (FoodFirst!), and Tania Li (University of Toronto).

The discussion was very wide-ranging, but here are 10 of the "big questions" raised by the panel – questions which pose a challenge to this conference and beyond.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

KNOTS blogger

KNOTS blogger

Water grabbing: a slippery business

Posted: 16 Oct 2012 06:22 PM PDT


The global rush for land is rarely out of the headlines for long. But one of the untold stories of the global land grab is the quest to capture another vital resource: water.

As land is grabbed and earmarked for development, this often has implications for the water nearby. But access to water is also a key motivation for some major land grabs.

World Food Day: The State of Food Insecurity in the World and the Need for Coordinated Action

Posted: 16 Oct 2012 12:59 PM PDT

By John Thompson and Jim Sumberg

The three Rome-based agencies of the United Nations – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – formally launched the 2012 edition of the annual State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) on World Food Day (Tuesday, October 16th). The report presents new estimates of undernourishment which show that progress in reducing hunger over the past 20 years has been better than previously believed, as the proportion of hungry people in developing countries has fallen from more than 23% in 1990-92 to less than 15% in 2010-12, bringing the estimated total number to 870 million in 2010-12.

Significantly, the new figures do not show an increase in global hunger following the recent food price crises of 2007-8 or the economic slowdown since 2009, let alone more recent food price increases. However, the report does find that from 2007 there has been 'a significant slowdown' in progress, bringing hunger reduction 'essentially to a halt for the developing countries as a whole'. According to the report's authors, given renewed efforts, it may be possible to reach the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger at the global level by 2015. However, the number of people suffering from chronic undernourishment is still unacceptably high, and eradication of hunger remains a major global challenge.

This year's report also discusses the role of economic growth in reducing undernourishment, particularly growth in the agricultural sector. Sustainable agricultural growth is often effective in reaching poor hungry people because the majority of them live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for a significant part of their livelihoods. However, growth will not necessarily result in better nutrition for all. Thus, the SOFI authors argue that in order for economic growth to enhance the nutrition of the neediest, poor people must participate in the growth process and its benefits and use the additional income for improving the quantity and quality of their diets and for improved health services; and governments must use additional public resources for public goods and services to benefit the poor and hungry. Furthermore, this agricultural-led growth must be 'nutrition-sensitive' – i.e. it must result in better nutritional outcomes through enhanced opportunities for the poor to diversify their diets; improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation; improved access to health services; better consumer awareness regarding adequate nutrition and child care practices; and targeted distribution of supplements in situations of acute micronutrient deficiencies.

The SOFI report also makes the case for public sector investments in social protection – e.g. social safety nets (cash transfers, food/input vouchers, etc.), social insurance, complementary social welfare services, labour market policies – to accelerate hunger reduction. First, social protection can protect the most vulnerable in society who have not benefited from economic growth. Second, when properly structured, can contribute directly to more rapid economic growth through human resource development and strengthened ability of the poor, especially smallholder farmers, to manage risks and adopt improved technologies with higher productivity.

We think that the arguments and analysis in this year's SOFI report are fairly robust, however the report falls short in its examination of 'purposeful and decisive public action' to create a supportive environment for pro-poor long-term economic growth. Here, we get the usual policy 'wish list' – i.e. provision of public goods and services for the development of the productive sectors, equitable access to resources by poor people, empowerment of women, design and implementation of social protection schemes and, above all, 'an improved governance system, based on transparency, participation, accountability, rule of law and human rights'. Fair enough, but how?

The good news is that some of these thorny governance issues are being addressed in the latest draft of the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition – a 'dynamic framework' which is supposed to provide a set of rules to ensure cooperation and policy coherence between countries and which will be submitted to the Plenary of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in mid-October. The CFS is a reinvention of a long-standing UN committee with a less than impressive track record. In its current incarnation, however, the CFS unites FAO, IFAD and WTO and creating a new space for civil society to engage actively in inter-governmental negotiations. Today, it is formally recognised by most institutions as the appropriate body to coordinate responses to the food and nutrition security challenges identified in the 2012 SOFI report. Nevertheless, the CFS still faces resistance of some governments to making the necessary reforms. In particular, the G-20, the group of the world's most economically powerful nations, has staked its own claim to leadership of the global food security agenda by launching its own competing process. In June 2012, Mexico, as G-20 President, presented a commissioned, inter-agency report, Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small Family Farms, which reviewed progress made since the Cannes Declaration (when France held the G-20 Presidency in 2011) and called for investment in innovative research and technologies to help the developing world adopt more productive and sustainable agricultural solutions. The report argues that success depends heavily on a free flow of goods, ideas, knowledge, and services, including training services, across borders. Maintaining this free flow will require global policymakers to work together and ensure a transparent market and institutional environment.

Last month a follow-up meeting of G-20 chief agricultural science advisors was also held in Mexico. While there was a clear recognition that the domestic agendas of different countries have some significant areas of alignment, there was little agreement about fundamental food governance issues. Moreover, much of the emphasis was still on increasing production as the key route to reducing global food insecurity, rather than on addressing access and entitlements issues. This supply-side bias is linked to still deeply-rooted domestic priorities among the G-20 countries, particularly in difficult economic times, which encourage a focus on production increases at all costs.

Despite being a self-appointed body with little formal authority, the G-20 has sought to systematically bypass the reform agenda of the UN and CFS. Similar actions by the most powerful countries also recently derailed progress in major summits on climate change and trade, with potentially dire implications for agricultural development and food security. While the CFS was established under international law with formal governance systems and a clear mandate, with inclusive, if sometimes messy, procedures that bring different agencies and stakeholders to the table, the G-20 has none of these features. It is an invitation-only club of some of the world's most powerful nations. The emerging and developing countries in the group have no mandate to speak for larger blocs of countries, as is the case in other international bodies such as the UN and the World Trade Organization. And because the G-20, as an extension of the G-8, has no formal institutional structure, it lacks even the transparency and accountability of the G-8, let alone that of the World Bank and other institutions where civil society has won important democratic reforms.

Much of the G-20's work is hidden from public view. Its assertion of leadership in development finance, including a response to the global food crisis, undermines accountability in the international system, and weakens the efforts of the international organisations and inter-agency processes that should be addressing these problems. Furthermore, too much of the G-20's food security agenda is focused on addressing the mismatch between supply and demand in international markets – as if global hunger were the result of physical scarcity at the aggregate level – while comparatively too little attention has been paid either to the imbalances of power in food systems or to the failure to support small-scale farmers to feed themselves, their families, and their communities.

Much of the G8's work is hidden from public view. Its assertion of the role of leader in development finance – including in the response to the global food crisis – undermines accountability in the international system, and weakens the efforts of the international organisations and inter-agency processes that should be addressing these problems. What is more, too much of the G20's food security agenda is focused on addressing the mismatch between supply and demand in international markets while too little attention is paid either to the imbalances of power in food systems, or to the failure to support small-scale farmers to feed themselves, their families and their communities.

Looking ahead, if we are to address the food security needs of the 870 million people who remain chronically undernourished, the CFS and its emerging Global Strategic Framework holds out the best hope of a new era of cooperation and coordinated action. However, even in the CFS the chronic structural issues – poverty, political marginalisation, inadequate access to productive resources, finance and markets, etc. – that are so central in the daily creation and re-creation of cycles of food insecurity and undernutrition are not on the agenda. We should all be very clear: until these underlying structural issues are put at centre stage, better cooperation and coordination will do little to address food insecurity and undernutrition in ways that do justice to the spirit and aspirations of World Food Day.

Contested Agronomy: Agricultural Research in a Changing World is out now in paperback, edited by James Sumberg and John Thompson
The book is part of the STEPS Centre's Pathways to Sustainability book series.

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