Top 10 Trends of 2011 for Ending Hunger and Poverty

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By John Coonrod
Executive Vice President

Despite a continuing global financial crisis and large-scale disasters, the world community made significant progress last year in areas vital to ending hunger and poverty, including the widespread adoption of women-centered approaches, for which The Hunger Project has long advocated.

Here is my top ten list:

  1. Gender Equality finally goes main stream: Seema Jalan of Women Thrive Worldwide declared 2011 as the year that gender integration “arrived.” Gender equality became one of the six core principles for US international assistance programs. Both the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization dedicated their flagship reports to buttressing the case for women’s empowerment with statistical evidence and analysis. The world’s main donor group, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), launched its first gender initiative. In dozens of developing countries, implementation plans for women-centered national strategies in public health and food security were created with a mandate to base them on gender analysis, and most teams took these mandates seriously.
  2. It’s all about small-scale farmers: While the 2009 food price crisis saw the world “rediscover” its commitment to agriculture, the debate heated up as to whether the commitment was to modern, industrialized agriculture or to empowering small-scale farmers, most of whom are women. In early 2011, the major agencies sided squarely with small-scale farmers. New strategies from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Gates Foundation both recognized that if one is serious about ending hunger and poverty, then the focus must be on building the capacities of small-scale farmers.
  3. Arab Spring and the demand for democracy. Early 2011 saw the Arab Spring — a movement that extended into an African Summer — as thousands took to the street to demand democratic reforms and an end to long-standing autocratic regimes. The Arab Spring injected new leadership and enthusiasm into global civil society as, for example, young Tunisian women, flush with success, joined their colleagues from Africa, South Asia and Latin America at international conferences.
  4. What do we mean by country ownership? In the 2005 Paris Principles of aid effectiveness, donors promised to support strategies owned and led by the developing countries themselves, but it was unclear how that would translate into action. Did it mean aid would only go to governments in developing countries, with no meaningful role for NGOs? Six years later, during 2011, entities such as InterAction and the EU clarified this concept of "country ownership." They noted that it requires transparency and accountability, consultation with all stakeholders, broad participation by civil society, and investments in capacity building.
  5. Seats at the Table: Civil Society continued making progress in establishing a formal role in international governance for development. Democratic processes are being established for civil society to select its own regional representatives who now have formalized roles on the steering committee of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program at the World Bank, in the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), and on the reformed Committee on Food Security in Rome.
  6. New Donors: The Paris Principles were designed by the “conventional” donor countries: France, Germany, Japan, the US, etc. Today, countries such as Brazil, India, China and others are asserting themselves as major new sources of financing for development, bringing new concepts for South-South cooperation. This was seen by many as a threat to the progress represented in the Paris Principles. In 2011, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea, both old and new donors agreed to create a new platform for coordination based on the Paris Principles — a tent big enough for everyone.
  7. Protecting Budgets: Bold recent moves by the US to reform its aid programs appeared threatened by political pressure to drastically cut US budget deficits. Given the US leadership role, such cuts could lead to cuts by other donors as well. In November, the US Congress passed a FY2012 budget that did NOT significantly cut programs for ending hunger and poverty, and in fact provided new funding for the World Bank and IFAD.
  8. Climate change: The year ended with a break though in one of the most contentious global issues. At Durban, for the first time, world governments committed themselves to write a comprehensive global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions covering both developed and developing countries. Also, for the first time, agriculture received far greater focus, addressing how agriculture can be used to drive economic growth in an environmentally stable way. (Coming soon: a web page on THP's historical involvement in this and other UN processes.)
  9. Transparency: Information about how aid dollars are spent have been notoriously hard to find, and organizations such as “Publish What You Fund” have pressed for greater transparency. In 2010, the World Bank took a radical step forward by making all its data freely available on the web. We now get to see reports the same day the World Bank Board can see them. The movement got a further boost on November 30 at Busan, when (following similar announcements by Canada and the Inter-American Development Bank) the US announced it would join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Earlier in the year, the US launched its Foreign Assistance Dashboard, a new web portal that unifies access to programs of State/USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation and will eventually include all US Government foreign assistance programs.   
  10. From Priorities to Principles: The Hunger Project has always based its strategies on principles and core values rather than rules or lists of priorities. We do this in recognition that well articulated principles can inspire ownership, alignment and creativity across diverse cultures. The trend towards basing development strategies on clear principles continued building on the example of the Paris Principles. In 2011, global civil society who created and aligned upon its own eight principles of development effectiveness: the Istanbul Principles. The US government committed to the following principles to guide its programs: gender equality, innovation, focus, evaluation, sustainability, integrated approaches and partnership. The UN High Level Task Force on Food and Nutrition Security distilled its Comprehensive Framework for Action into ten principles.  

Humanity will continue to struggle with all of these issues in 2012. It is far too early to declare victory on any of these fronts, and vigilance will be required to ensure new strategies translate into improved opportunities for hungry people.