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4 THE WAY FORWARD During the concluding session of the workshop, two breakout sessions were convened to discuss how metrics associated with sustainable food security could be improved and made more useful to policy makers. Each group was asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of food security indicators and priorities for further research and investment as well as possible new institutional arrangements. The first breakout group examined metrics for food security, nutrition, and poverty, and the second group examined metrics related to agricultural production and natural resources. This chapter summarizes discussions during the breakout sessions as well as other ideas mentioned during workshop presentations and the background paper on metrics for food insecurity and malnutrition (see Annex A). It also includes a summary of Prabhu Pingali’s suggestion to establish a peer review process to assess the methodologies used in developing these metrics. Many participants in both groups concluded that the quality of metrics is not as good as it needs to be for accurately understanding, monitoring, or predicting food security. In particular, they stressed the importance of strengthening national level statistics both as inputs to global level indicators and more importantly for guiding and evaluating national level policies. Some participants emphasized the need for good national and local data and encouraged international funding organizations to find ways to better understand the needs of national and local decision makers. They also expressed concern about the metrics used to measure the sustainability of food production processes, given natural resource conditions, policies, and market incentives. Many participants stated that suites of metrics and indicators are needed to understand the phenomena associated with sustainable food security (both availability of food and access of poor populations to it), although even existing suites of metrics are rarely integrated adequately for decision makers today; and there are few integrated sets of relevant data that are widely accessible and allow analysts to work at sufficiently broad scales and at more local (including household) scales. Individuals from both breakout groups stressed the need for better spatial and temporal data; good spatial level data was seen as critical especially in targeting humanitarian aid. A number of participants suggested that an inventory of existing food security and poverty indicators be created to provide better user access and to allow users to understand the limitations of the data and methodologies used. Some participants expressed concern about the different ways of understanding and measuring these concepts and relating them to each other (e.g., household poverty and children’s heights) in meaningful ways. The fact that indicators were often not available at the same geographic scales, they said, was particularly problematic. For example, data on production and productivity may be available at the level of households, fields, farms, landscapes, river basins, nations, regions, or continents, while data on poverty or hunger may only be available at a 59
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60 A SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE: FOOD SECURITY FOR ALL national or global level. Several participants emphasized the importance of collecting data, stating that information at smaller scales could also be meaningfully aggregated to meso- and macroscales. Emmy Simmons provided highlights of the breakout session on agricultural productivity and natural resources. She noted that most of the participants believed there were relatively good data for six major categories of natural resources—habitat, soil health, water, chemicals, air quality, and greenhouse gases―but that, for the most part, little of this information was linked to economic or social variables. Several breakout session members suggested that future efforts should focus on strengthening a limited set of indicators―those most likely to have the greatest impacts, positively or negatively, on global food systems. There was also considerable support for creating a dialogue between scientists, the public and key decision-makers to assure that the science was well understood, and encouraging markets and governments to take action based on the science. Kostas Stamoulis briefly summarized the discussion from the food security, nutrition, and poverty breakout group. He noted that most participants believed that the quality of anthropometric data are generally good, but that metrics addressing micronutrient deficiency and diet diversity are scarce and should be expanded, as they are important predictors of good nutrition. Several participants complained that information on nutritional status is generally not linked to important co-variates, such as family income or intra-household food allocation, nor are data readily available to determine whether individuals suffer from acute or chronic malnutrition, important measures for determining appropriate policy interventions. Stamoulis described the discussion on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicators, highlighting the need for better food balance sheets, since these are the basis for the FAO hunger indicators. Many participants emphasized the point that the FAO hunger numbers purport to provide information about food consumption, but in fact do not. They are based on 3- year trend data on aggregate food supplies or food availability, and as such, they do not reflect the changes in the number of people who are hungry because of price fluctuations or short term food supply disruptions. However, the numbers are useful as a way to focus high level attention on the problem of global hunger and to secure continued international financial support for anti- hunger initiatives. Several participants also noted that these measures are not useful for national level decision-makers, who need to target specific anti-hunger interventions, and therefore other metrics are needed such as those developed from household survey data or other national level statistical collection efforts. Some participants suggested that household surveys, albeit costly, can provide essential national level data on key measures not covered by the FAO data or other global data sources―information on household level access and utilization of food as well as measures of malnutrition. Several participants remarked that it would be useful to have a core set of questions for household surveys that would allow for greater comparability across countries. Also as part of the final workshop session, Prabhu Pingali of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation discussed the need to increase the reliability and transparency of global food security numbers and asked workshop participants to provide their views on the possibility of establishing a peer review mechanism. He explained that global numbers on hunger and poverty are important to target populations that need assistance, and indicators on natural resources and productivity help to identify the long term impact of development and to identify needed
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THE WAY FORWARD 61 interventions. As a donor organization, the Gates Foundation uses these numbers almost on a daily basis, but the reliability and credibility of these numbers are widely questioned. Pingali noted that published worldwide hunger numbers can rise by 200 million in a matter of weeks and then fall again in a matter of weeks. Published statistics on the number of underweight children in India are increasing, but the country’s economy has been growing at a rate of 8 percent a year for the last two decades. He also expressed concern that the institutions and governments generating these numbers have certain self-interest in reporting specific magnitudes and trends. To overcome these problems Pingali suggested creating a peer review process. It could be modeled after the International Organization for Standardization, focused on certifying the quality and reliability of statistics, or an international body of experts from science academies around the world could be convened. Workshop participants had numerous questions about the proposal, but many were supportive of the idea of having a process for the peer review of methodologies used to develop key global indicators, with some participants suggesting that a first step might be to compile an inventory of indicators and provide a platform or portal which would provide easier access to these data. Additional discussion of the proposal took place during the second workshop, and Pingali talked with the staff of the InterAcademy Council (IAC) about the possibility of managing a peer review for global statistics on food security. During the course of this project, IAC has announced that it will explore potential new peer-review mechanisms for improving the quality and reliability of statistics produced by international organizations which measure worldwide poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and general food security.
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