UK amongst top donors for reducing hunger and undernutrition in developing countries

4 June 2013

New research by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) has ranked the UK as performing relatively better than most other developed nations over the past decade at meeting its overseas aid spending commitments on ending undernutrition. The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) has ranked the UK with the highest overall score out of 23 OECD members despite its overseas aid spending on nutrition programmes accounting for a lower proportion of its wealth than countries like Denmark and Canada.

Launched today, HANCI's new Donor Index measures a wide range of factors to determine overall political commitment of donor countries to tackling hunger and undernutrition. These include the amount of aid given for agriculture, food security and nutrition and policies and treaties that could impact on hunger and nutrition levels in poor countries.

The UK's track record is varied but its high overall position in the index is largely thanks to consistent meeting of spending commitments on overseas aid for nutrition, support for biodiversity initiatives and endorsement of an international framework on nutrition. However, the UK scores poorly compared to some countries on funding for food security and nutrition programmes relative to its wealth.

Other countries that ranked highly overall were Canada, Denmark, Germany and Ireland. Canada leads in terms of its enduringly stable financial support for agriculture and food security over the last decade. Denmark scores well for aid spending with particularly stable and enduring spending on nutrition. It also invests well in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) provides two separate indexes, which are the first global indexes of their kind. Alongside the donor index, there is also an index that measures the political commitment of 45 developing countries to tackling hunger and undernutrition, findings from which were published in April. Globally hunger affects around 870 million people and undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year.

Lead HANCI researcher at IDS, Dr Dolf te Lintelo said: "Developed countries have a key role to play in ending hunger and undernutrition. Many of the challenges poor countries face in enhancing food security and improving nutrition are linked to the policies and actions of OECD nations. Aid is important, yet so is action on climate change, the protection of global biodiversity and rolling back agricultural subsidies in donor countries. With millions of lives at stake it is essential that we create greater public accountability on this key development issue. The UK can play a critical role in helping to lead the fight against hunger and undernutrition. There are areas it can be rightly proud of but others where there is still much to be done."

"We hope that all those committed to combating hunger and undernutrition, whether in communities, NGOs or governments, will use HANCI as a rallying call for change."

HANCI uniquely analyses government efforts on hunger and undernutrition, rather than just hunger and undernutrition levels themselves. Hunger and undernutrition are not the same thing and the policies and programmes needed to address them differ.

Hunger is the result of an empty stomach whereas undernutrition may result from a lack of nutrients in people’s diets or illness caused by poor sanitation. So donors may support spending on nutrition programmes but these may do little to reduce hunger. Likewise, emergency food aid may reduce hunger but it is not aimed at achieving balanced diets.

The Donor Index therefore measures performance on hunger and nutrition separately. It compares 23 countries’ performance on a total of 14 indicators of political commitment to reduce either hunger or undernutrition. These indicators span two areas: overseas development aid expenditure and domestic policies and programmes and international agreements that contribute to tackle undernutrition or hunger.

Key findings from the HANCI Donor Index

UK amongst leading countries in fight against hunger and undernutrition.

The UK particularly owes its high ranking, just beating Canada and Denmark, to its strong performance on policy, programme and legal indicators. It does well for supporting the Scaling Up Nutrition movement (SUN); biodiversity protecting agreements and relatively low levels of protection of domestic agricultural markets. In terms of spending, the UK has a strong record delivering on its commitments for nutrition; whereas its ODA support for nutrition (while not being highest) have been stable and enduring over the last decade.

However, the UK scores poorly when compared to other countries on several spending indicators: its levels of aid funding for agricultural development, food security and climate change are comparatively low.

Canada does well on policies, programmes and legal indicators.

It supports the SUN movement, does well in terms of low protection of agricultural markets and sets relatively low biofuel blending mandates, and is amongst the top performers in terms of delivering on its green house gas emission reduction pledges. Its performance on spending indicators is variable. Canada leads in terms of its enduringly stable financial support for agriculture and food security over the last decade. It does also fairly well on this for nutrition. However, Canada also shows weak spending performance on social protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Denmark scores well for spending indicators.

It gives a solid performance in terms of supporting nutrition, and this support is stable and enduring. It also invests well in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Spending support for climate change is not entirely coherent with policy action on this. Denmark does poorly in terms of delivering on its greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges, yet is leading on the development of domestic climate change adaptation strategies and plans.

Ireland gains especially strong scores on biodiversity, endorsement of SUN, and is amongst the top donors investing in social protection.

Ireland also shows enduring and stable financial support for agriculture and food security.

Good development partners could do more for hunger and nutrition.

Donors championing the cause of hunger and nutrition are not necessarily the biggest spenders. The ten highest HANCI Donor rankings are not strongly correlated to the share of the Gross National Income (GNI) given as aid. This also suggests that countries that have a relatively good track record on international development like France, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland, who are not in the top 10 HANCI rankings, could do more for hunger and nutrition.

To view the full HANCI data or download an info graphic please visit www.hancindex.org.

HANCI has been produced by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) with funding from Irish Aid and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).