United Nations System
Report on the Meeting of the Working Group on Household Food Security
Thursday 13 April 2000, World Bank,
Chairman Elect Ngongi presented some of his initial reactions to the consolidated agency report. He noted that: (a) an enormous amount of work is currently ongoing in the household food security area in the SCN agencies; (b) the research reported on was becoming more operational in nature, for example work on womens status and its effect on child nutrition status; (c) the steady shift of poverty and malnutrition to urban areas was noted; (d) the profusion of databases on food and nutrition security and the need to harmonize indicators across databases; (e) the large number of publications that are available and downloadable from various websites; and (f) the large number of partnerships. Most agencies are working together on these issues.
Discussions following presentations on the state of food insecurity and poverty. A presentation was made by FAO on the state of food insecurity in the world showing progress in some areas and declines in others, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. A presentation by the World Bank was made showing that even unprecedented income growth would only get us half way towards the target of halving undernutrition rates by 2020. The critical role of direct nutrition programs was highlighted. The subsequent discussion revolved around implications for targeted poverty programs, the impacts of redistribution of income, and the generalizability of the findings, particularly at the household and community levels.
The next session focused on FIVIMS, the WHO study on food security and nutrition of vulnerable groups, and work by IFPRI on urban food and nutrition security. During the FIVIMS presentation, three proposals were put to the group: (1) that the FIVIMS inter-agency working group play a major role in the SCNs efforts to disseminate information on nutrition; (2) that FIVIMS works closely through UN reform processes such as UNDAF and CCA; (3) that FIVIMS forms the basis of a new SCN working group on information systems. Several discussants strongly endorsed the proposals made by David Wilcock and there was strong support for FIVIMS being a vehicle for collaboration on ICN follow up. A discussion followed on how FIVIMS could help countries strengthen their information systems. A question was also posed as to the feasibility of improving FAOs method for estimating the numbers of food insecure people. The discussion then switched to the need to do more work in urban areas. Several examples provided from the floor of new programming initiatives in urban areas, including those from CARE, FAO, GTZ, and ADB were mentioned.
The next session focused on ways in which agriculture and other food-based approaches could enhance their impact on malnutrition. One presentation was made on a recent review of foodbased interventions to address vitamin A and iron deficiencies. A second presentation focused on an ongoing dialogue relating to ways in which the agriculture and nutrition communities could work together more fruitfully. The final presentation was on plant-breeding approaches to increasing the micronutrient density of staple grains.
The discussion noted that a lot of work has been done on nutrition and agriculture linkages and that a historical perspective would be helpful for the new initiative. Questions were asked about how the plant breeding work would be implemented in practice. The presenter responded that the micronutrient dense seeds would be disseminated like any other high-yielding variety through national agricultural research institutes. In addition, concerns were expressed that high micronutrient staples might reduce the incentives for households to diversity their diet. The presenter pointed out that this is also a concern with fortification and supplementation interventions. One participant stressed that the success of the plant breeding project would be crucial to reversing declining donor support to agriculture and that the results of the study needed to be well documented and publicized. On the food-based approaches, while the call for more rigorous efficacy trials was endorsed, it was stressed that the proposed new wave of efficacy trials should not diminish the vigor with which existing food-based interventions are implemented.
A specific proposal about the future workplan of the Group was put forward by DANIDA, calling for a focusing of the Working Groups activities on food-based approaches to improving nutrition. A number of people endorsed this proposal, stressing that it was time to pick this issue up again. Several additional topics were suggested for the Groups workplan over the next two to three years and these include: (a) a focus on the household food security and nutrition impacts of project food assistance, both domestic and international; (b) the impact of HIV on household food security; (c) the role of participation in household food security interventions; and, (d) the role of the public sector in generating biotechnology for the poor consumer and producer. Several participants volunteered to be on a task force to develop a workplan that is highly focused on two or three issues. The task force would have virtual meetings over the next two to three months to build on the progress made during the working group. The following individuals volunteered to be part of the task force: Kraisid Tontisirin, Kathy Kurz, Carol Levin, Krishna Belbase, Joseph Hunt, and Leda Nemer. Lawrence Haddad volunteered to call the first meeting within the next two few weeks.