Kind of crazy to think that I have had the opportunity to work on a project that got published in The Lancet. I knew the journal had extremely high visibility and impact, but intellectually knowing this and actually experiencing it are 2 different things. The journal article was released by Lancet last night and it is already getting major attention, with an article in the Guardian, an article on GIZMODO, and requests from several newspapers to talk about our findings.
While it took a lot of work and time to get the article through through the peer review process, it was a fun experience on the whole. It was great getting to collaborate with colleagues, such as Marco Springmann, at the University of Oxford to explore the effects of climate change on diets, and health. Hopefully, this is just the start of several future collaborations, which will allow us to explore the intersections of agriculture, trade, diet, and health. It is kind of crazy to think that this whole endeavor started almost 2 years ago when I met Marco in an IMPACT model training workshop I led in Cali, Colombia.
The abstract of the article is available for free at The Lancet:
Unfortunately, it looks like the full article requires a subscription to read. I am looking at what options we have for sharing the article. In the mean time, you can check out this blog post I made on the IFPRI Research blog summarizing some of the work, as well as the press release written by my colleagues at Oxford.
The CGIAR Research Project on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (2014) just released their 2014 annual report. They have done so in a fairly innovative and interactive online format. Lots of cool work was done for CCAFS on a variety of different topics across a range of scales and regions. Some of the work that I did last year working with the OECD was highlighted in the report, which is pretty gratifying considering how much time and effort went into the report. You can take a look at the Annual report at: http://ccafs.cgiar.org/research/annual-report/2014/
This book like the one on West Africa has chapters focusing on the unique challenges each country in Southern Africa will face due to climate change. The book is free to download in whole, or by chapter if you are only interested in a particular country or want to reduce your downloading time.
Check out the new IFPRI research monograph about climate change and agriculture in West Africa. I’ve been working off and on helping out with the project (mostly on modeling methodology and graphs) for the last year. It is a pretty interesting book with chapters focused on the countries of West Africa and the challenges they may face due to climate change. The book is freely accessible, and you can download chapters if you are only interested in a subset of the countries studied.
Some of these links are a little older, and I just hadn’t gotten around to reading them till this week. Any way on to the links:
White House Proposal Could Revolutionize Food Aid – From the Center of Global Development’s Rethinking US Foreign Assistanceblog, this blog post is a couple of weeks old. However, I think that it is an excellent piece especially considering that U.S. foreign aid and development budgets will almost certainly face cuts this year. This blog post points out that there are some low hanging fruit that could be picked to not only reduce spending but also to follow development best practices and potentially lead to improved outcomes. The article focus particularly on the extremely inefficient Food for Peace program, which is more of a subsidy to American Agriculture and Transportation sector than it is an effective development/assistance program. However, the preference towards U.S. producers and service providers are ingrained throughout the U.S. foreign assistance program. If we could move away from giving preferential treatment to U.S. producers and service providers, we could save money as well as encourage more local production. This could potentially build greater local resilience. Will there remain a role for U.S. produced food in creating a safety net in case of severe food emergencies? Probably, but we should try to source as much of the food aid as possible from the region, and thereby incur the double effect of boosting local economies, while reducing costs and trade distorting subsidies. Additionally, following through with this reform we could correct the farce of a foreign assistance program that largely benefits domestic sectors. If we want to assist domestic sectors it would be better to do so directly than covertly through U.S. foreign assistance.
Behind the Brands (PDF) – A briefing paper from OxFam looking at the role of the major food processors in the overall food production chain, and trying to assess how effectively these companies are towards promoting valuable social outcomes. On the whole their conclusion is that they are not doing enough to ensure that the global food chain is just. Overall the paper is interesting, but leaves a bit to be desired in terms of implementable policy solutions. Their main call is for increased transparency, which is probably a good starting point as there is terrifying ignorance about what goes on in the global food chain. This particular quote I found particularly insightful:
This consolidation of the market-place has made it difficult for consumers to keep track of who produces which products and the “values‟ behind a brand… But perhaps more troubling is that since the global food system has become so complex, food and beverage companies themselves often know little about their own supply chains. Where a particular product is grown and processed, by whom, and in what conditions are questions few companies can answer accurately and rarely share with consumer
As consumers and governments become more interested in the social aspects of production, and push for products that represent their own social values producers will feel monetary incentives to demonstrate to consumers the quality of their own supply chain, or at least this is the causal chain that OxFam is hoping for. OxFam makes a good case that it is in the best interest of companies to gain better control of their supply chains, if only to better protect their own brands from embarrassing negative publicity. On the whole I agree with this, but with some caveats. Demonstrating value in the way a good is processed in harder than showing value in the quality of the final good. Consumers and to a lesser extent producers cannot observe the whole production process (producers can’t observe everything their suppliers do), and must rely on others to confirm the value of the production process. To do this there needs to be better certifications that clearly explain to consumers (and producers) the intrinsic values of the way the good are made. Right now there are too many different standards (Green, Sustainable, Fair Trade, Organic, Shade-grown, Local, etc.), which imply certain social values in the production process. However, most consumers have trouble differentiating many of these standards, or knowing which is better. When consumers cannot effectively perceive the quality of the production process, then their actions are formed on poor information, which dilutes the market signals to producers to maintain socially beneficial production. This paper is pretty timely considering the horse meat scandal in the United Kingdom, and some of the articles I’ve read recently about the mislabeling of seafood in the U.S.
The multilingual dividend – An interesting article from the Financial Times looking at the benefits of knowing more than one language. The benefits aren’t just limited to the language, but allow for more active brains, that allow people to look at the world from different perspectives. This improves problem solving, as well as making people more culturally aware and effective in teams. I thought it was particularly interesting that these benefits are not lost if you learn a language later in life, so for those of you interested in picking up another language go for it.
Quina: The little cereal that could (World Bank Blog) – Another post about my favorite pseudo-grain. This one has some good info about the global expansion of quinoa. It also speaks about the challenges producers in Bolivia are now facing in buying quinoa due to higher price.
ICTs and Literacy (World Bank Blog) – Interesting look at the role ICTs are currently playing in teaching literacy. I also really liked the point Michael Trucano made about the importance of 20th century skills (literacy and numeracy) and not to skip them in a rush to teach 21st century computer and technology skills. There are definitely opportunities to jump ahead to modern technologies, but without traditional skills like literacy people are not able to maximize the utility of these new technologies.
Decided that the easiest way to summarize a bunch of the stuff that I read during the week is to start a weekly summary and review of some of the articles and papers I found interesting.
So on to the links:
Undernutrition: the invisible killer of 3 million children a year – A nice summary of many of the effects of malnutrition in children. There isn’t anything particularly new in the article. Nevertheless, I think it is important to keep highlighting the topic due to the enormous value to society of tackling and correcting child malnutrition.
45-Year Trends in Women’s Use of Time and Household Management Energy Expenditure – Seemed to attract some controversy on the NY Times website, because people interpreted it as sexist and that the report was suggesting that women’s greater participation in the labor force was leading to their obesity. This is an incorrect interpretation. The report is the second part of an overall study looking at levels of activity today vs. 50 years ago. The first report looked primarily at office activity, which showed less physical activity today compared to 50 years. This second report was needed because women were underrepresented in the first report because of the lower level of labor participation by women 50 years ago. Therefore, this paper looked at the activity level of doing household chores 50 years ago as compared to doing the same chores today or activity in the office. The overall take away from both of these studies is that people are significantly less active today then they were 50 years ago, in large part due to greater automation and use of new technologies. Not sure what is controversial about this conclusion. It seems like it is a good first step in testing the anecdotal hypothesis of less physical activity contributing to increasing obesity in the U.S.A.
How USAID Could Score a Double-Win for Learning and Transparency – Greater sharing of data in development would be a huge plus. This article covers some excellent benefits that could be achieved by sharing the raw data of development interventions. Sarah Rose (author) points to improvements in transparency, and ensuring the quality of reported development results. However, Rose didn’t mention another major benefit, which is the power of cloud sourcing analysis. Development practitioners use their data for their own specific objectives. They collect all of their data usually with a very specific task in mind. However, all this information maybe very valuable for a wide array of other uses. By freely sharing it, who knows what independent data users and analysts might be able to make of data. There are undoubtedly thousands of interesting side-effects of development interventions that may be missed by the development agency. Or entirely new connections observable in the data that the data collectors may never have found.
Measuring impact: Keep it clear and simple – Article from Stanford Social Innovation Review. Makes the point of the importance of measurement in development. I do agree on the importance of measurement, I am not as much of a fan of the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle. Yes having clear objectives that we can measure progress toward is critical. However, I am less enthusiastic about focusing only on simple metrics. I am concerned only trying to influence things we can easily measure. Entire fields of development could be ignored, especially in areas like institution and political reform. Economic development isn’t easy. Communities are complex systems, looking for simple changes can encourage a sort of checklist mentality that implies development is just a long to-do list. We should instead be thinking about the complex interactions between people and institutions and the incentives that drive both. Certainly there can be simple changes that dramatically change systems, but we shouldn’t just get involved on easily measurable goals. This should instead encourage us to find ways to measure progress on more complex objectives. I have no doubts that simple goals make fund raising much easier, and that it is a lot easier to show that you are achieving your limited objectives. It is less clear if this would lead to overall better development outcomes if applied widely. While I am skeptical on simplicity in development, I wholeheartedly agree with one of the other points made in the article – the need to use longer term budgets in development. Far too many projects are designed around annual and biannual budgets. This isn’t realistic. Change takes time, we need to have development budgets that take this into account and allow for greater stability, such that development agencies can plan long term interventions with the necessary follow up with the knowledge that the funding will be there in the later stages of the project.
This is an interesting set of statistics, a little too clean for me to accept blindly but interesting nevertheless.
I don’t doubt there is a great deal of waste in the global food chain, I am just curious how some of these statistics were collected. I can’t imagine there is good data on harvest lost at the farm in much of the developing world. I also wonder how they have defined waste when putting together this list of numbers. Does food that is starting to go to waste and is fed to animals considered waste, how about compost? While it is true that these uses may be sub-optimal they are also not complete losses for the farmer.
The other thing that I found interesting from this page is that waste in the developing world and the developed world are remarkably similar in terms of total food waste. The difference is where the waste is occurring. In the developing world waste occurs primarily at the farm-level and in transportation to the market. Clear symptoms of poor infrastructure and access to technologies like cold storage, and good roads. In the developed world the waste occurs mostly on the tail end of the food production chain with food going to waste in consumers homes or at supermarkets due to food standards that are focused on aesthetics. While both are food waste, the causes are very different as are the consequences to society from this waste.
Waste at the farm level hurts farmers who lose potential food and revenue. Without the security of selling all of ones harvest due to waste creates major disincentives to investing in farm productivity (irrigation, weeding, fertilizer, etc), as the farmer can’t be sure these investments.pay off, as the harvest may end up spoiling in bags while waiting to reach the market. In many ways, the worst losses from post harvest loss comes from missed economic opportunities.
Waste at the end of the production chain is perhaps less visibly damaging, because it disappears once people have had their opportunity to eat what they want. However, in many ways it is more wasteful than waste after post-harvest. Why? Think about all the steps that are taken to getting food from the farm to our tables. There is harvest, transportation to a processing center, processing and converting primary goods into market ready goods, packaging, transportation to super market, and then transportation to your home. Waste at the end of the chain means that all of the work, and energy required to move harvested goods all the way through the chain has also been wasted when we throw away unconsumed food.