The Gates Foundation has also backed an initiative from African nations made in 2003 to pledge 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Ten years on, 24 countries have signed up, though only four have met their targets so far. Nevertheless, the mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa is down 18 percent since 2005.
The grandstanding aid strategies led by old, rich world governments are beginning to look out of date. Besides, the coffers are not as full as they used to be. So those attending Saturday’s London nutrition summit were largely developing country leaders and people from the business world, including Bill Gates and Unilever chief executive Paul Polman, gathered because of last year’s G8 initiative: the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
Set up to combine the forces of African businesses and governments with those of rich nations, it is said to have raised US$4 billion of private money already.
Targeting specific issues around food that can get tangible results seems to make sense. Despite those awful statistics on child death, there have been stunning gains in child nutrition. According to Lancet’s research, one-quarter of children in the poorest countries are stunted, in brain or body, but that figure was 40 percent in 1990. So, largely due to healthcare improvements and breast-feeding, the quarter of a billion children maimed by hunger has dropped to 165 million today, despite the population increase.
Reducing child malnutrition-related deaths further may be quite easily achieved and Bill Gates was upbeat at Saturday’s summit about the approach and the benefits.
“When children don’t get the right nutrition in the first 1,000 days — from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday — it affects not only their growth, but their brain development. From that point on, no matter how much we invest in the education of that child, they simply won’t achieve their potential and neither will their country,” Bill Gates said.
He said 20 percent of children are stunted before they are born, but giving their mothers the right food, vitamins and minerals can prevent that.
That is why British Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening launched a vitamin-rich “super potato” on Friday last week, intended to be grown by 3 million developing world farmers, whose children are in danger of blindness and anaemia. Funding for the development of the sweet potato has come from the British government and (you guessed it) the Gates Foundation.
However, a former British government adviser on sustainable development, professor Tim Lang of London’s City University, is critical of this narrow approach to the world’s growing food supply problem.
“We’ve had many summits talking about hunger since the oil and commodity price spike of 2007 [and] 2008, rightly, but not enough has happened to change the food system. My worry is that this one is shifting policy focus away from the complex picture of how food connects land, health, power and ecological damage. Technical fixes, like food supplements, may appear sensible, but they do little to address the systemic problems,” Lang said.