April 19, 2016

Guest Commentary – Targeting Efforts to End Hunger by 2030

By Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, and John W. McArthur, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution

In September 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations agreed to end hunger in all countries by 2030. This is one of 17 headline objectives established under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving the hunger goal will require roughly a tripling in global rates of progress. This can only be instigated through more deliberate targeting of international policy efforts to promote food and nutrition security (FNS).
Targeting forms a central theme in our recent study, Ending Rural Hunger: Mapping Needs and Actions for Food and Nutrition Security, and the accompanying data tools. The project focuses squarely on the rural component of the hunger SDG, because roughly three quarters of the world’s hungry people live in rural areas and face distinct structural challenges compared to hungry people living in urban areas.
We define targeting as the extent to which international efforts can support countries based on three factors: their needs, policies, and available resources. In the best case, the fastest SDG results will be achieved by supporting countries with high needs, strong domestic policies, and very limited resources. In the worst case, little will be gained by supporting countries with low needs, weak policies, and extensive resources. Our project aims to inform SDG decision-making by benchmarking the relevant challenges across all points of the needs-policies-resources spectrum. 

Figure 1 – A Simple Targeting Framework: Needs, Policies, and Resources 

  • Needs. The SDG for hunger includes four underlying targets that are well suited for country-level assessment.  In simplified terms, these are: (i) end undernourishment, (ii) end malnutrition, (iii) boost smallholder agricultural productivity and incomes, and (iv) ensure resilient agricultural systems. By collating and synthesizing relevant indicators for each target, we rate the nature and extent of each country’s needs.
  • Policies. On average, countries with higher levels of income per capita tend to have better domestic FNS policies (such as favorable rural investment climates and land rights for women farmers) and less hunger. However, at any particular level of income, countries with better FNS policies also tend to have lower levels of hunger. In Ending Rural Hunger, we therefore benchmark each country’s FNS policies by assessing, first, the quality of local economic policies and, second, the extent to which political leaders prioritize FNS writ large.
  • Resources. Countries that invest more in FNS tend to have lower hunger needs. Again, this is true after controlling for income levels. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made commitments to raise agricultural spending in the Malabo Agreement; Ending Rural Hunger monitors how well they are meeting these commitments and compares them with other countries across the world. As a proxy for FNS resources available in each country, our study adds up several types of resources while adjusting for size of rural population: domestic government spending on agriculture and FNS; official development assistance (ODA) and other official flows aimed at FNS, including from BRICS countries; foreign direct investment in agriculture; and United States private non-governmental philanthropy for FNS. Unfortunately, there are no reliable global cross-country data sources on either domestic private investment in agriculture or private philanthropy from outside the United States, both of which would ideally also be included in the calculation.
Data for Decision-Making
Benchmarking each country’s needs, policies, and resources allows an evidence-based approach to implementing the hunger SDG across all countries. (The same logic could inform the implementation of many other SDGs too.) Figure 2 maps developing countries based on their current overall FNS needs (on the vertical scale), policies (on the horizontal scale), and resources (the size of the bubble). Green bubbles indicate low-income countries and orange bubbles indicate lower-middle-income countries. 

Figure 2: Benchmarking Rural Hunger Needs, Policies and Resources

The driving motivation for Figure 2 is to empower each country to identify where it can reduce needs, improve policies, and better allocate resources. The graph also offers a logic for prioritizing ODA. Top candidates for incremental financing are the small circles in the top-right quadrant: i.e., those with high needs, good policies, and limited current resources. Less efficient strategies would allocate ODA to countries depicted by large bubbles in the bottom-left quadrant: i.e., those with low needs, weak policies, and ample resources. All the in-between countries prompt judgment calls, especially where needs are high and policies are weak. In those cases, targeting effort implies not just financial resources but also human resources and policy dialogue. For example, it might require peer-learning from other countries with successful policies.
Advanced Economy Policies
Informed by the Needs-Policies-Resources framework, ODA providers can be evaluated based on the extent of their FNS resource targeting, in addition to other metrics of ODA volume and quality. Each country’s domestic agricultural and trade policies can also be separately assessed for the extent to which they contribute to global market distortions. Our most recent results are presented in Figure 3 for the subset of G-7 countries. Note that the respective ODA and trade policy measures are not simplistically summed together, since doing so would misleadingly add “apples and oranges” as if equivalent.
Figure 3: Benchmarking G-7 Countries’ Domestic Policies and Aid Policy for Global Hunger

Informing Policy Analysis
The ultimate goal of the Ending Rural Hunger project is not to offer any precise country rankings or point estimates. Instead it aims to support decision makers and analysts by providing an easily accessible policy logic and set of data tools. It also highlights areas where important data are not available, like for food waste and smallholder productivity.
The project’s full data set and simple chart-making tools are available online for all countries and indicators at endingruralhunger.org. The database is also being updated on an ongoing basis as underlying sources release new information. We have great hope that a straightforward and evidence-based approach to the SDGs can help ensure rural hunger is indeed eliminated, as it should be, by 2030. 



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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