Robert Allen’s recent AER paper on “Absolute Poverty: When Necessity Displaces Desire” is a fascinating read, on many levels. The paper uses linear programming (LP) to compute (four variants of) least-cost diets for twenty countries, using prices from the International Comparisons Project (ICP) microdata. To the resulting least-cost food budgets, estimates of non-food costs covering housing, fuel, lighting, clothing and soap are added, generating “basic need poverty lines” (BNPL) for each country.
Mention China at your next dinner party, and chances are you will be met with references about future superpowers, exchange rates, and the joys of traveling through gleaming new airports. And while the conversation may touch on the dining scene along the Bund or outstanding new restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing, the impact of food standards on global consumers will almost certainly not be the center of discussion.
The fact is, however, that trade in agriculture is one of the most important ways the world connects with China. China’s exports of food products increased from US$ 9.7 billion to US$ 56.3 billion between 1992 and 2012. The United States alone imported US$ 6.5 billion worth of Chinese fish, seafood, juice, vegetables, fruit, and other food products in 2012—making China the third largest source of US food imports.
With 2015 fast approaching, many of us in the development community are paying close attention to how post-MDG plans are unfolding. At Bread for the World Institute, we are using the 2013 edition of our annual Hunger Report to share our thoughts about getting to 2015 and how we’d like to see the post-MDG agenda develop.
The 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach – Global Development Goals, calls for a strong push, starting right now, to meet the MDG targets by 2015.
The latest Global Monitoring Report analyzes the impact of recent food price spikes on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), paying particular attention to the negative consequences that temporary food price shocks may have on nutrition.
Nutritional outcomes are directly linked to the MDG on hunger (MDG 1.c) and indirectly to most of the remaining development targets, through its effects on cognitive skills of young children and consequently on human capital accumulation. Unfortunately, progress in fighting undernourishment is considerably lagging across nearly all developing regions (figure 1).
High food prices, especially when they have increased suddenly and unexpectedly, have been found to hurt many poor people around the world. The Global Monitoring Report 2012: Food Prices, Nutrition, and the Millennium Development Goals (GMR) finds that the food price shock that peaked in early 2011 pushed nearly 50 million people into poverty. On one level, this is not surprising—the poorest people, after all, spend nearly all of their income on food. But on further reflection, this result is not so obvious— three quarters of the world’s poor are rural and the majority of them depend on farming for their livelihoods. The problem is that—unlike farmers in rich countries—many poor farmers in developing countries don’t produce enough food to meet their families’ needs. These net buyers of food are hurt by higher food prices even though they are farmers.
Three years from the deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals, two-thirds of countries will not reach MDGs 4 and 5 (child and maternal mortality, respectively). And now the second food price rise in three years is a wake-up call for the development community.
In this context, the Global Monitoring Report 2012: Food Prices, Nutrition, and the Millennium Development Goals examines some of the possible consequences of food price increases, such as a rise in poverty and undernourishment1. Households cope through a variety of mechanisms, including: eating less nutritious diets and then less food; making more household members work (women and children); and not seeking health care when ill. The most vulnerable (the poor, children, and pregnant women) bear the brunt of these adverse impacts. Moreover, as countries seek to maintain food prices, some increase food price subsidies and cut into other services.
Our world is only three years away from the 2015 deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Two global targets have been reached well ahead of schedule – according to preliminary estimates for extreme poverty the proportion of people living on less than a $1.25 a day has fallen below half its 1990 value. The same is true for the target to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.
A few more MDGs are in sight of the finish line. These are primary school completion rate and gender equality in primary and secondary education.
However, some others will need a real push, particularly child and maternal mortality and access to improved sanitation facilities. Hence, it is too early to claim that the mission has been accomplished, especially when we look at individual countries and achievements per region. Disparities among regions and countries remain large and much remains to be done to make progress towards the MDGs a reality for all.
Major funders of public health research – the World Bank included – have today issued a joint statement to champion the wider sharing of data to achieve better public health worldwide.
|Mother and boy being attended to by Health Education nurse. Sri Lanka. Photo © Dominic Sansoni / World Bank|
This is a great step forward: advances in public health throughout the decades, perhaps like no other discipline, have been underpinned by careful research based on data. An early and celebrated example is the epidemiologist John Snow’s study of the relationship between the water supply and cholera outbreaks in central London in 1854, which used public data to establish the link between contaminated water and the disease. More recently, the mapping of the human genome was completed by a global collaborative effort based on the sharing of effort and data.
In many fields and in many countries, sharing of data is fast becoming normal practice (www.data.gov). An environment where data are open, freely available and easily accessible to all can provide tremendous benefits for development. At the World Bank we opened our databases last April. And there are great examples of agencies starting to routinely provide access to their datasets, which were previously closely guarded, such as data collected through household surveys.