In these increasingly uncertain times, the simple question of “what’s for dinner?” is no longer a straightforward one. More people in more places are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Current World Bank analysis suggests that 600 million people may remain severely food insecure through 2030 if additional action is not taken immediately.
To help meet the challenge, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) recently combed through the evidence from past and current World Bank operations to address food insecurity. The resulting Evaluation Insight Note found that the World Bank is increasingly integrating resilience-building features into its food security operations, which is an effective way to bridge the gap between immediate crisis responses and longer-term sustainable development aims.
What is food and nutrition security and what are the current drivers of food insecurity?
Food and nutrition security exists when all people, at all times, have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
So, what is going wrong?
Food insecurity and malnutrition are exacerbated by low or regressing agricultural productivity, ongoing conflicts and wars that limit food availability and access, high food prices that reduce households’ purchasing power, a lack of information about nutrition that hinders people's ability to eat healthy nutritious food, and the intensifying impacts of climate change that cut agricultural production. It’s worth noting that the agrifood sector also contributes to climate change, accounting for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Bank intends to respond to the challenge with a range of specific actions.
The World Bank has committed US$50 billion to tackle the food and nutrition security crisis, increasing its 2022 commitment of US$30 billion. Additionally, an upcoming World Bank global challenge program aims to both accelerate a transformation of the long-term food and nutrition system and enhance food and nutrition security crisis preparedness response systems.
In its Evaluation Insight Note, IEG found that the World Bank’s food security operations are increasingly focused on resilience and that projects with resilience features achieved higher development outcome ratings than projects without resilience features. The insight note acknowledges that resilience building takes time and that, when resilience building is combined with longer project duration, projects are more successful.
Given the complexity of food and nutrition security and resilience building, projects need to focus on multiple aspects simultaneously while also combining complementary interventions to ensure success.
This is already happening. Agriculture projects tackle various issues from production through to market integration, stability building, risk management systems, access to land, finance and value-chain infrastructure development. Multipronged social protection approaches have also been successful in responding to the food and nutrition security challenge. Addressing short-term household vulnerability through cash for work while building resilience by providing off-farm income-generating activities ensures farmers are prepared for lean seasons and global shocks.
Technology and innovation are crucial for addressing climate change, improving agricultural productivity, and building efficient and inclusive value chains. The evidence indicates that the World Bank needs to further leverage agricultural research for technology generation and adoption and scale up successful innovations, including digital technologies, with appropriate incentives especially in regions facing multiple challenges.
The private sector plays a pivotal role in moving the needle on food and nutrition security. The World Bank and the International Finance Corporation can increase private sector involvement by derisking low carbon investments, particularly for climate adaptation of agrifood systems, and increasing options for blended finance. Additionally, the World Bank can broaden its collaboration and convening efforts with private sector partners and donors to address financial, policy, and capacity constraints at the country level.
Strong community-based implementation is a success factor for improving project performance. Community interventions involve building the capacity of a wide range of actors at the national, subnational and community level and promoting behavior change on nutrition.
Finally, country-level programming should better compile and synergize cross-cutting issues across sectors, themes, and World Bank Group partners. Analytical work can draw on data to identify and prioritize food and nutrition security. Management can leverage this knowledge to address food and nutrition security in country engagements, including through advisory work. Where relevant, management can prioritize lending, including through partnerships. The World Bank has started to implement the multiphase programmatic approach, particularly in Africa. This approach is instrumental in improving sequencing and targeting operations, but more needs to be done in other regions. Country-level analytical work also needs to include further details on the Food Crisis Preparedness Plans that offer a useful framing for the specific challenges on food and nutrition security.
Instituting some of these urgent changes will ensure that more people in more places can answer the vital question: What’s for dinner?