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Groundbreaking Conference Sparks Cross-Regional Learning on Development and Poverty Reduction

March 30, 2010

High-level policymakers, internationally recognized researchers, and development practitioners from Asia and Latin America gathered in Lima, Peru this month to share research insights and lessons from successes and challenges in the efforts of both regions to accelerate economic growth and reduce hunger and poverty.

The conference, “Fostering Growth and Reducing Poverty and Hunger in Asia and Latin America: Opportunities for Mutual Learning and Cooperation,” which was jointly organized by IFPRI and Peru’s Universidad del Pacífico, covered five major themes:  overall growth strategy, agricultural growth strategy, macroeconomic policies, trade and investment, and social protection.

“To the best of our knowledge, a conference of this scope—one that compares successes and challenges from the local to the national and regional levels—has not been held before,” said Maximo Torero, Director of the Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division at IFPRI. Read more…


Biofortification: A Cost-Effective Approach

March 30, 2010

A recent HarvestPlus study suggests that among various food-based innovations used to improve micronutrient malnutrition, biofortification (the process of breeding crops with higher nutrient content) could be the most cost-effective strategy. The study found that biofortification could be highly effective in averting the illnesses, permanent health conditions, and premature death caused by micronutrient deficiencies, especially in Asia and Africa.

Traditionally, supplementation and fortification (the process of adding nutrients to foods during processing) have been the two main methods of combating micronutrient malnutrition, which affects millions of people worldwide every year. However, these interventions require continual investments, whereas biofortification requires a one-time investment to produce a new micronutrient-rich food crop that farmers can grow for years to come and that consumers can adopt into their diets.

The study, which was published in World Development, examined the cost-effectiveness of staple crops biofortified with zinc, provitamin A, and iron in 12 countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It found, for example, that in India and Bangladesh, rice biofortified with zinc could save one year of a person’s life that otherwise would have been worsened or lost due to complications from micronutrient malnutrition for just $2 per year saved. Read more…

Sick and Tired: Climbing Out of the Health-Poverty Trap

December 15, 2009

© 2006 Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos.

There is never an ideal moment to get sick. People do not plan for illness and injury when they are formulating their schedules, budgets, or goals for the future. But health shocks, which arise suddenly and can linger indefinitely, can have devastating results. For many people, the personal and financial burden of severe health shocks (like chronic illness, serious injury, or the death of a family member) can be overwhelming. For the world’s poor, however, these shocks are nothing short of catastrophic.

Understanding the health-poverty trap

Poor health is the number-one poverty trigger. It can quickly tip people into poverty, specifically those already near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lack health insurance or substantial savings to cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs. The financial repercussions related to health shocks also have the power to keep poor people submerged in poverty by quickly depleting any of their accumulated wealth with often exorbitant medical bills. Anirudh Krishna, associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, calls this phenomenon a “health-poverty trap.” After studying household poverty dynamics across four continents, Krishna concluded that millions of people per year fall into poverty because of ill health and high (and uninsured) healthcare expenditures.

“It is usually a sequence of events, of which illness is primary, that forces people into poverty,” Krishna says. “Some of the other [shock] events might be droughts, high-interest loans, price fluctuations, or job loss. But ill health is often one of the main events.” Illness triggers include chronic diseases that are prevalent in many developing countries, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS; seasonally triggered illnesses such as pulmonary and gastric diseases, which tend to affect areas of India during monsoon season, for example; or workplace injuries or roadside accidents. No matter the specific ailment, these shocks, as Krishna explains, pose a “double whammy,” meaning that high treatment costs and lost earning power are a dual threat to health and well-being as well as to livelihoods and assets. Read more…

Interview: Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, Director of the Pan American Health Organization

December 15, 2009

Dr. Mirta Roses Periago

IFPRI Forum talks with Dr. Mirta Roses Periago about the relationships between health, agriculture, and poverty in Latin America.

FORUM: What do you see as some of the major challenges facing regional health organizations, such as the Pan American Health Organization, and the people they serve?

Roses Periago: The Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region contends with four major challenges in public health, namely:

  • Changes in health profiles and cumulative lags in health. Health profiles have changed as a result of demographic, epidemiologic, and technological changes that have both required and allowed for new benefits and treatments over increasingly longer human lifetimes, thereby increasing the cost of health services and healthcare expenditures. Cumulative lags in health reveal historical deficiencies and as well as the accrued social debt in terms of access to timely and quality healthcare services. Because it has extremely inequitable income distribution and a high level of exclusion, the LAC region experiences an “epidemiology gap”: non-communicable diseases are sharply rising, while communicable diseases and maternal and child ailments have yet to be satisfactorily resolved and are disproportionately affecting the poor.
  • Inequity in, or lack of, access to health services. This deficiency aggravates the burden that exists from geographic, ethnic, and gender-based inequities that are hidden behind regional and national averages and aggregate figures.
  • Insufficient and inadequate distribution of public spending on health. A level of public spending on health of between 5 and 6 percent of GDP is needed to achieve universal access to health care services, yet the percentage of public spending on health has essentially remained flat during the past 10 years, at 3.6 percent of GDP for 2004–2005. This problem is aggravated by the absence of mechanisms to ensure that public spending on health benefits the most disadvantaged groups in society. As a result, families endure extremely high out-of-pocket spending on health. Since this expenditure represents a higher proportion of the total income of poor families, health spending—including outlays for medications—ends up being an important cause of the impoverishment of families when chronic or life-threatening diseases quickly turn into catastrophic situations. Read more…

Commentary: The Costs of a Pandemic

December 15, 2009

Clare Narrod

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as a new virus that emerges, causes serious illness when it infects humans, and spreads easily and sustainably. The recent spread of swine flu and the subsequent panic has once again shed light on global threats, reminding us of the need for risk analysis to inform decisionmaking.

Between 2003 and August 2009, 62 countries reported highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in their domestic poultry or wildlife. Human cases, however, were reported in only 15 countries, mostly in Asia and Africa. Though the outbreak has been relatively limited thus far, the World Bank has estimated that an HPAI pandemic could cost the world economy between US$800 billion dollars and US$3 trillion dollars (from lost poultry production, control measures, and multimarket effects), depending on the virulence of the virus. The fear of a pandemic has led to an extensive global response to the outbreak; thus far, billions of dollars have been pledged—and diverted from other uses—to HPAI prevention and control methods. The reasoning behind such spending has been attributed to the idea that if HPAI were to become a human pandemic, it would have an impact beyond developing countries.

However, since the initial outbreaks, fewer and fewer countries have experienced infections in either poultry or humans. In 2009, only 10 countries have had proven H5N1 avian influenza cases in domestic poultry or wildlife and only 3 countries have had any human cases. However, the World Bank suggests that despite the limited number of infections, the threat of an HPAI pandemic remains unchanged. According to the Bank’s 4th Review of the Global Responses to Avian Influenza and State of Pandemic Readiness, sustained vigilance and continued investment in both surveillance and response capacity is required worldwide.

This view has led many countries to develop extensive action plans to be implemented should an HPAI pandemic occur. However, the prevention and control strategies that appear in many of the plans have not yet been tested or validated, especially in countries where outbreaks have not taken place. Furthermore, evidence indicates that during the early, acute stages of a new virus, governments and the international community often react by implementing as many prevention and control measures as possible to minimize the magnitude and scope of the disease. These measures include culling, compensating producers to encourage reporting, imposing restrictions on restocking, implementing biosecurity requirements, closing live bird markets, and vaccinating.

The question remains as to whether these measures are cost effective or even necessary. There has been little consideration of the potential impact of these measures on the livelihoods of poultry producers, actors along the value chain, and consumers. Nor has much attention been paid to the direct costs of the measures or to the indirect costs of building institutions and mechanisms to support the measures. Read more…

Change in Leadership at IFPRI

December 15, 2009

Shenggen Fan

As of December 15, the new director general will be Shenggen Fan. He joined IFPRI almost 15 years ago, and in 2005 became director of IFPRI’s Development Strategy and Governance Division, which has grown considerably in size and scope under his leadership. He also served as director of the International Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and is an Executive Committee member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists.

Joachim von Braun

IFPRI’s director general, Joachim von Braun, will be leaving IFPRI to return to Germany, where he will serve as director of the Center for Development Research and professor of Economics and Technological Change at the University of Bonn.

Documenting the Impact of Biofortified Sweetpotato in Uganda

December 15, 2009

© 2009 Martin Malungu

On a cloudy day in May, the Bakyala Kwagalana farmers’ group eagerly gathers in Saayi within the Mukono District of Uganda to share stories about how a strangely orange sweetpotato (OSP) has greatly improved the health of their children. A team of researchers from IFPRI’s Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division and HarvestPlus are just as eager to assess, document, and learn from this apparent success.

The farmers, most of them mothers, are part of a pilot project led by HarvestPlus, an international research program created to combat micronutrient malnutrition. Through a process called biofortification, HarvestPlus has helped scientists at the International Potato Center and Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation use conventional methods to breed staple crops with higher levels of key vitamins and minerals. Since late 2007, these farmers—who traditionally ate cassava and white sweetpotato—have been growing four different varieties of vitamin-A enriched OSP.

When the project began, nearly 25 percent of children in the Mukono District got sick often, due to deficient levels of vitamin A—a vitamin that prevents blindness and contributes to a healthy immune system. Today their mothers tell a different story. Read more…