Editor's Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.
What has happened in virtually an instant in the context of human history is truly astounding. In the past 25 years, our world has cut hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in half and lifted a billion people out of poverty. Over our lifetimes, conditions in the world have improved by virtually every measure. Personally, I believe these facts and figures are among the most striking indications that God is moving in our time. As someone who comes from a long line of farmers and grocers, I also know American farmers have been a central driver of this global progress, putting affordable food on the world’s tables and keeping our country running.
However, the more recent news has been alarming. Global hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row. The number of undernourished people globally increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, up from around 804 million in 2016. Malnutrition remains the underlying cause of nearly 50 percent of childhood deaths, killing 3.1 million children under five every year—more than malaria, tuberculsosis and HIV/AIDS combined. Moreover, if children do not receive the necessary micro and macro nutrients in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception through their second birthday, the development of their brains and their bodies is permanently stunted, a condition that affects 1 in 3 people on earth. It is robing billions of individuals of their ability to grow into their full potential, leeching our world of critical human capital, reducing national GDPs by as much as 12 percent, and making entire portions of the globe more vulnerable to shocks and instability.
In this age of medical breakthroughs, fighter jets, and $1200 iPhones with facial recognition and animojis, how is it that something so basic and so horrifying as malnutrition continues to steal the future of so many? How much longer before every mother is simply able to feed and nourish her children?
The problem is two-fold. First, donor funding to fight malnutrition is extremely low compared to investments in other areas of global health and development. Less than 1 percent of US overseas development assistance is spent on malnutrition. Given that nutrition programming is found again and again to be among the most cost-effective investments we can make in terms of both economic growth and lives saved, we should be doing more.
Second, the countries most affected by malnutrition have historically failed to prioritize the problem. Leaders of low and middle-income countries often choose to invest in roads and armies, which are not necessarily bad investments, but they neglect to invest in the nutrition of their people. In Uganda in 2016, our foundation—the Eleanor Crook Foundation (ECF)—invested nearly 12 times more than the Ugandan government in nutrition programming for Ugandans. If nutrition programs and their impacts are to be sustained, local governments will need to have more skin in the game.
In response to the global problem of childhood malnutrition, the Eleanor Crook Foundation was founded in 1997 with the mission to end hunger. Our foundation makes investments that fill critical gaps and test and scale-up improved solutions, ultimately striving to make every dollar invested in nutrition go further. Last year we committed to investing $100 million to fight global malnutrition by 2030. We partner with a broad range of stakeholders, including universities, NGOs and governments globally. We pride ourselves on being accountable and informed, going beyond our grants to ask tough questions and play a key role as convener, problem-solver, resource, thought-partner, and advocate. We believe that nutrition needs a movement that ignites the level of passion which has united other global health movements, like the HIV/AIDS community, and has allowed them to make major strides toward ending other horrible afflictions and diseases. We hope to be the catalyst to give nutrition the platform it deserves in the US and the global community.
In case you’re still not convinced, nutrition Investments are also vital to US economic interests and the global economy. This makes sense because when individuals suffer and die from malnutrition, economic growth is constrained. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside of America and international trade supporting 41 million American jobs, US businesses undoubtedly benefit from healthy and productive consumers abroad.
Investing in food security and nutrition would also make the US a safer country. According to a 2017 report by the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), conflict is the main cause of the current rise in global hunger. Conflict and fragility lead to food insecurity and hunger, but food insecurity and hunger are also linked to igniting conflict.
While the economic and national security argument is strong—and these benefits alone should stimulate action from the US government—it is crucial to recognize that citizens in the United States also care deeply about addressing global malnutrition as a moral issue. ECF has partnered with faith leaders, farmers, NGOs and others to build a stronger collective voice in support of US leadership for global nutrition. We know that we have an incredible opportunity in front of us. The US can be a facilitator, convener, and funder to improve the impact of nutrition assistance.
The good news is that the Eleanor Crook Foundation is not fighting alone. There seems to be an increased appetite for prioritizing and funding nutrition both within the US government and throughout the global community. For nearly two decades, US funding for global nutrition lagged significantly behind US investment in other areas of global health, but in 2019 Congress acknowledged this trend and increased investments in nutrition programs by $20 million, for a total of $145 million. In 2014, USAID launched its Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy, which provides a roadmap to elevate and integrate nutrition as a priority for all of the agency’s work to support countries to reach the 2025 World Health Assembly Nutrition Targets. These are terrific next steps. However, given the magnitude of the problem, and the tremendous toll that malnutrition continues take on society, we must continue to do more. Now is the time to build on our previous successes and accelerate our efforts to fight against global hunger and malnutrition.
Proper nutrition drives resiliency, stability, and prosperity. Nutrition programming saves lives and increases school retention, productivity, and lifetime earnings. Good nutrition also creates the pathway for countries to graduate from depending on international assistance to becoming self-reliant societies. If the US and our partners continue to make smart nutrition investments at scale, perhaps even in our lifetimes—when every child, every economy, and every society is properly fed and nourished, and the need for foreign aid ceases to exist.
About the author: William Moore has served as Executive Director of The Eleanor Crook Foundation since 2015. Moore serves on the Board of Directors for Bread for the World and The Alliance to End Hunger, as well as the Advisory Board for the Centre for Innovation and Health at Concern Worldwide. A North Carolina native, Moore graduated from Columbia University with a degree in American Studies.
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