About this Episode:
On this episode we focus on global hunger and malnutrition, which is UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger). Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) joins Alberto Lidji to tackle some key questions: Should anyone be dying from hunger in this day and age? Must we embrace a vegetarian lifestyle? What is the impact of childhood stunting on long-term economic development?
We explore global hunger from various angles and present a clear, actionable path for policymakers, business leaders and citizens around the world to consider as we approach 2030, the target year for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
About Lawrence Haddad:
Dr Lawrence Haddad became the Executive Director of GAIN in October 2016. Prior to this, Lawrence was the founding co-chair and lead author of the Global Nutrition Report from 2014 to 2016. From 2004 to 2014, Lawrence was the Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the world’s leading development studies institute. Before joining IDS in 2004, he was Director of the Food Consumption and Nutrition Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) from 1994 to 2004. From 2009 to 2010, he was the UK representative on the Steering Committee of the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CSF). From 2010 to 2012, he was the President of the UK and Ireland’s Development Studies Association. An economist, Lawrence completed his PhD in Food Research at Stanford University in 1988.
In June 2018, the World Food Prize Foundation awarded the 2018 World Food Prize to Lawrence Haddad, and David Nabarro, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General. Announcing the award - Ambassador Quinn, World Food Prize President - cited the recipients for their "extraordinary intellectual and policy leadership in bringing maternal and child nutrition to the forefront of the global food security agenda and thereby significantly reducing childhood stunting".
The following is a full transcript of the podcast episode:
Alberto Lidji: Lawrence, welcome onto The Do One Better! Podcast today.
Lawrence Haddad: Thank you, Alberto. It's a pleasure to be here.
Alberto Lidji: Excellent. Why don't we start by finding out a little bit about GAIN? What is the organization all about?
Lawrence Haddad: So the organization is a nonprofit, has offices in 14 different countries in the world. The headquarters is in Geneva, but we have five offices in Africa, four in Asia. And the organization is all about how we make nutritious food? That's food that is rich in proteins and micronutrients and antioxidants. How do we make that food available, affordable and desirable, actually, as well, too, especially to low income families. There's a stat that came out just about six months ago from the UN, showing that 3 billion people worldwide cannot afford a healthy diet. That's extraordinary. We developed our strategy and our mission before that stack came out. But it's a sort of a validation of what we're trying to do. We're trying to make fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, dairy. pulses, fortified grains, try to make those available to people at a lower income. At the moment, most of the people in Africa and South Asia, which is primarily where we work, they would have to spend 50% of their income to buy five fruits and vegetables a day. Fruits and vegetables a day as a regular recommendation for UK, the US, Europe, North America and everywhere actually in the world. But they would have to spend half their income just to do that for every person, buy fruits and vegetables, it's outrageous. So we work really hard to try and change that. We work with farmers, we work with the food wholesalers, the processors, the retailers, the transport people, the storage people, and with consumer groups, and with governments to change the policy environment. So we work on the demand side - how do we make people aware of these foods, their importance, their availability. How do we make them exciting and desirable and tasty. We work with the suppliers, the small and medium enterprises and the smallholder farmers who are the backbone of the food systems in low income countries. How do we get them the support they need? Then we work with governments to say, look, your policy environment, you have lots of choices. You can develop a positive incentive for this and a negative incentive for that. Very often your policies are inadvertently penalizing businesses that are trying to do good things for nutrition. So that's what we do. We do programs, we have about 250 staff around the world, we have 1000s of partners all over the world, and we work to develop and deliver programs that help people and small businesses. We do a lot of policy work to shape the policy environment to make sure that the powerful governments and the powerful donors and the powerful businesses are paying more attention to nutrition, and we work with communities to help them hold the powerful to account.
Alberto Lidji: Yeah, fascinating. By the way, you mentioned 50% of someone's income having to be deployed in order to have healthy food, but even here in London in the UK, if you want to eat a healthy diet, you want to have some salads and fruit and vegetables. It's actually not that straightforward. It can be quite pricey.
Lawrence Haddad: You are quite right. You can buy healthy food that is affordable in Europe and North America, but you have to work pretty hard. It's not very convenient. You have to look hard for it, you have to spend a lot of time preparing it, you have to make it tasty and desirable.
Alberto Lidji: What's going on today, in terms of our global population? Does anybody… if we really put our minds to it, and if we're looking at the scarcity of resources, or what resources are available, what sort of land is available and food production… does anybody really need to go hungry on this planet, today?
Lawrence Haddad: Absolutely not. I mean, we grow enough food for everybody to avoid hunger. But the main problem is that people don't have enough income to buy the food, they don't have the income, or maybe the food is not available in the markets that they work in. Either they shop in or buy. There are a number of myths out there that I'd really love to just dispel with the listeners. The first one is that Africa… Africa is where most hunger is, the basic numbers is 690 million people are hungry. 70-80% of that is in Africa. The myth is that Africa doesn't produce its own food, it does, it produces 90% of its food. It only imports 10% of its food. But the main problem is that agriculture is not productive enough. Agriculture is about producing food, but it's also about producing income. It's not producing enough food and it's not producing enough income. When farmers generate surplus income, when they produce enough food to meet their own family's needs and they can sell the surplus in the market, they generate income, that income can then be used to buy non foods from rural enterprises in their own neighborhoods and communities. And that then stimulates the rural enterprises to grow and buy more food from the farmers. So you set up this really powerful synergy between the two, and then that releases labor, which can then go into the urban areas, and they can set up businesses. That's how you generate this engine of growth. But that's not happening in Africa. Now, you asked me about how much it would cost to change that dynamic. A report just came out six months ago, it's called The Ceres2030 Report. It said, what do we need to do to get the hunger numbers from 690, down to less than 200 million in 2030, that's the SDG target.
Alberto Lidji: 690 million?
Lawrence Haddad: 690 million to 200 million. Now 200 million is still 2.5% of the population, but it's a lot different to 690. If we keep going the same course, we're going on now. The estimates are we'll get to 814 million by 2030. So the numbers are actually going up, for the first time in a very long time. So we need to stop going up, and then we need to get them down. Now, how much would that cost? The estimates are that it would cost an extra $33 billion per year until 2030. An extra $33 billion per year until 2030. Now, that's a lot of money. But look at the amounts of money that are being put into relief packages to deal with COVID right now. I'm not saying $33 billion is not is not a lot of money. But think about this… business profits are $5 trillion a year. So, one of the things I'm doing, Alberto, is I'm the chair of the action track for the UN Food Systems Summit that's coming up in 2021 in September of this year. That has five action tracks, one on climate, one on biodiversity, one on livelihoods, and one on resilience, and the one I'm leading is the one on nutritious food. We're trying to set up a 2030 Fund, which is 0.2030% of business profits which generate $10 billion a year. So as part of that summit, we're trying to get business leaders to say ”Look, follow the example of Amazon Smile.” I don't know if your listeners have heard of Amazon Smile, but it's a charity matching donation that Amazon puts in… matches a certain small percentage of a purchase that customers make on Amazon Smile. I kind of thought this was a bit of a gimmick actually, when I first heard about it a couple of years ago. But I checked the numbers recently, and they've generated £180 million (pounds), which is kind of $220 million in revenue for charities. So we're now thinking, well, if we can get 20 or 30, or 40 companies to do something similar, we're a third of the way to meeting that target of $33 billion a year, we can get governments to kick in 15, donors to kick in 10 billion, and businesses to kick in 10 billion. Wow, we can look back in 2030. And say, “we were part of an effort that got hunger numbers down to less than 200 million by 2030.” That's not quite zero hunger, but it's getting close. 200 million out of 8 or 9 billion, that's getting close. So that's just an example of, you know… we talk about political will. We talk about how we can grow enough food a week, but we can end hunger. I'm totally convinced that we can end hunger in our lifetimes. We know what to do. We know how much it's going to cost. We just have to build the commitment. That means citizens putting pressure, people like you and me and others, people from everyday walks of life, putting pressure on Members of Parliament, Congress, Congress people, via the media. Putting pressure on our local administrators, our school administrators, you name it, anyone is in a position of power or influence, even at the most basic community level, they can make a difference. So that's a rather long winded answer to your question, Alberto. But I'm hoping I'm getting across the optimism I have. I'm hoping I'm getting across the idea that it's based in a reality of we know what to do, we know how much it costs. It's eminently fundable to raise that money.
Alberto Lidji: It's great to see the optimism. The numbers are sobering. 2030 is really around the corner. So it's not that far away. You're mentioning a little bit about the policymakers, members of parliament, and so forth. And earlier, you touched on corporate profits and profitability and all of this, let me ask you, because I remember listening to Paul Polman, who used to head up Unilever, and he spoke so passionately about the Sustainable Development Goals and what we as a planet need to do. And business is front and center. So philanthropy. Fine. Policy. Fine. But actually, if we don't somehow get the corporate side of things, right, it's just not going to happen. That's ultimately how we might be able to have something that is sustainable for the long term, if we get the corporate side, just right. Tell me a little bit about your engagement with the corporate world. How are things playing out? How do you see stakeholders positioning themselves? And what's your take on the whole thing?
Lawrence Haddad: I should say, first of all, GAIN doesn't take any money from corporates, except for Unilever. We work with Unilever, and they help fund a workforce program for nutrition. So their workers and workers work within value chains in Africa and Asia… We develop a program for people who work with them and for them to improve their nutrition. But that's the only corporate funding we accept, we've got a pretty strict rule about that. Because we don't want to be seen to be having a conflict of interest. We don't want to have a conflict of interest. We want to be able to speak truth to power. Now, I spent a lot of time talking to big corporations and small and medium enterprises. But the big corporations, there are… first of all, I spent a lot of time countering the idea that after graduation from university, all the good people went into public sector and all the bad people went to the private sector. That's not the case. I then spend a lot of time talking to businesses saying, “Come on, guys. You're doing this, but it's not really helping. It's just making you look good.” There are some organizations that really have embraced purposefulness, whether it's environment, sustainability, health or equity issues they have. Unilever is a prime example of that. The number of others I can talk about is a short, is a very short list. So I spent a lot of time with them saying, Let's convert all the energy that you put into making the world think you're doing a great job on these environmental and health issues into actually doing something that is really going to have a big impact. And I spend time convincing them… you have to convince them on the economic merits. So there are three ways in which I tried to do that. One, I say look, you'll get a massive halo effect from doing something that's meaningful. Amazon, it has generated a lot of goodwill for Amazon. This thing, this program. Zoom, Netflix and Amazon have been the three big beneficiaries of the COVID-19 lock downs, I think, in the corporate world. So I'm reaching out to Zoom — and I haven't had a response yet zoom colleagues — to say, “Why don't use zoom… why don't you set up a zoom end hunger campaign where you emulate what Amazon is doing and contribute a very small portion of your revenue or profits to ending hunger, you could do it.” So that's a halo effect. The second thing is that companies that have a purpose and a stated purpose, a social purpose, the empirical evidence is very strong. They attract employees that are more motivated, more loyal, more productive, and are willing to work for lower wages, actually. So there's a very strong business case for business. And this is especially the case for young employees and employees in North America and Europe, especially. And the third element of the business case, is if you run some kind of corporate social responsibility, the empirical evidence from S&P 500 companies is that - yes, this will eat into your profits in the first two or three years. That's the empirical evidence. But in year four, you begin to turn the corner and in year five, you're turning a net profit from having a corporate social responsibility. This is in your bottom line. Your returns on assets, hard numbers, you're improving, and that there's very sophisticated econometric analyses of S&P 500 experiences over the last six years showing you begin to turn a net profit after five years. So if you're going to do this, do it for the medium term, you're not going to get short term benefits, in terms of your bottom line. You might get some short term Halo benefits, and you will get some short term employee benefits. But that will take time to translate through to the bottom line. But the other thing I keep telling businesses is this genie, you can't put it back in the bottle. More and more people are going to be saying,”Where does my food come from? How is it produced? Did it add to the livelihoods of the people that produced it? Was it fair? Is it safe? And is it healthy…” This is not going away. Incomes are going up and as incomes go up, all over the world, the demand for this will go up. So you know smart businesses are at the forefront of this. They're the pioneers, the laggards are the ones I think that are going to lose out.
Alberto Lidji: The connection between food, food production, food security and climate, climate change, climate crisis, these things are deeply interconnected…
Lawrence Haddad: Deeply. One of the beauties of this food system summit is that it brings together these five different communities that have so much in common. Food systems unlock the key to these five areas… healthy food, climate emissions… food systems are responsible for 30% of climate emissions worldwide. Food Systems are very vital to land use, biodiversity, water use, energy use, and they're critical for jobs. They generate hundreds of millions of jobs. Not enough jobs, but hundreds of millions of jobs. What can we do to make sure those jobs are decent jobs with living wages? And of course, we have to make sure that the food systems we operate are not just exploiting the present but they're enabling us to leave something for the next generation that is at least as valuable, if not more valuable in terms of natural capital and natural assets. So food systems are absolutely vital for climate emissions. But too often you'll see Alberto, you'll see the climate discussions descend into a binary discussion. Should we eat meat or not eat meat? That's really an unhelpful binary discussion. It depends on where you live in the world. It depends on your context. If you're a high income consumer, living in a rich country, you're probably eating too much animal source food, you should probably decrease it for your own health. It will help the climate but the animal source food production systems in rich countries are very efficient. In a low income setting, in a low income country, you're probably going to want to eat more animal source foods. You're probably eating three, if you're lucky, three meals a day that are essentially porridge. Just rice maybe with a little bit of fish sauce… if you're lucky… and vegetables. You need to eat more animal source foods especially if you're a young person, very young child, or an adolescent who have very high growth requirements. Per kilogram, their nutrient needs are dozens of times more than you or me. So they need animal source foods, because they're great sources of protein, but also bioavailable vitamins and minerals. But if you're producing animal source foods in a low income setting, your production systems are hopelessly inefficient. Your herd size is probably 10 times what it is in North America, producing the same number of foods for your population. So different parts of the world can do different things to improve health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Alberto Lidji: Fascinating. You mentioned if you're lucky, you're having three bowls of porridge or rice. I think, worth pointing out for listeners who are really keen on making an impact with their giving, or their engagement is that addressing the issue of malnutrition isn't just about alleviating somebody's hunger. But if you're looking at malnutrition, leading to stunting in early childhood development, and those individuals who are stunted, those children were stunted today, will not achieve their full intellectual potential as adults. They will develop in a suboptimal intellectual capacity later on. You're essentially building in and baking in suboptimal economic performance for a country over the long term. And so I think, that's just worth highlighting.
Lawrence Haddad: I mean, Alberto, I'm an economist, I started out as an economist. I spent a lot of my early career estimating those estimates. What is the economic cost of stunting for the individual, the family and the nation? And those numbers, they're astonishingly big numbers. I don't like to think of it but one helpful way of thinking about it is, you know, if any of your listeners are gardeners, when you see a young sapling, or young shoots come up out of the ground, and there's a frost, and that just kills it off, right there. That's what malnutrition is like. It's like a frost that's killing off this burgeoning cognitive system, this brain development, this immune system, these muscles and bones. It is literally disfiguring children, and literally changing the shape of their brains and their neural connections. It's terribly damaging. You're exactly right. It's not just about calories. It's about vitamins, and minerals and proteins. It's actually not just about food, it's also about healthy, good sanitation, good water and good health care. So that one in three number that you mentioned at the beginning, Alberto is about… its malnutrition right, mal means bad nutrition, poor nutrition. It's about kids not getting enough food to eat. Kids and adults not getting enough food to eat, that's hunger. Not getting enough of the right foods to eat, that's as micronutrient malnutrition we call hidden hunger. Bellies are full, but it's not doing it for brain development and immune system development. The third type is people eating too much of the wrong types of food, too much highly processed foods, rich and trans fats, salts, sugars, that's causing a massive obesity, diabetes, hypertension problem. That's when you scrunch all those different types of malnutrition together, that's when you get the one in three number. We used to think of… before we had the SDGs, which is Sustainable Development Goals, we had the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the Millennium Development Goals was… we've got all the solutions in the rich countries, and you've got all the problems in the poor countries, we can help you. Now the Sustainable Development Goal era is… everyone's got problems. And the solutions can come from everywhere. We have to work together to make them. So, every country in the world is plagued with malnutrition. In the US. It's the obesity rates that are 30% and it's extraordinary. In the UK it’s the same… this is going to take an enormous toll on our health systems. Our food systems are killing our health systems, and they're killing our environmental systems. So you know, everything's connected.
Alberto Lidji: Now, tell me GAIN was founded in 2002. So you're coming up to your 20th anniversary. Founded at the UN and how do you engage with governments? You alluded to it a little bit earlier. Let's put the corporate angle aside and tell me a little bit about engaging with governments, whether that's global north, global south, whatever platforms.
Lawrence Haddad: We take the word Alliance and our title very seriously. We are always trying to connect governments and businesses, governments, civil society and businesses, governments, civil society, businesses and researchers. We're trying to form alliances, because individually, none of us can really make change happen individually, there are things we can do that make a difference, but powerful when we do it together. We're always trying to figure out how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. So in the nine countries that we have programs operating in, and I can run through them, it's Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania, in Africa. And in Asia, it's the big ones, it's Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia. In those countries, we have offices, and we have a very close relationship with the government. If you don't have a close relationship with government, you can't get anything done. It's the right thing to do. It's respectful. It's reflecting, in most cases, the will of the people. But it's also the smart thing to do, because you can't get anything done without governments. But governments very often need a lot of support, they've got a lot of issues they're trying to deal with, they're usually underfunded and under resourced and they need support. So we try to connect them with the UN agencies, with businesses. For example, in Indonesia, we developed a …working with a number of civil society organizations… we developed a new way of animating communities around nutrition. Most of the activities to try to get mothers excited and motivated to do more for their kids and inform… We don't have to motivate them, but we have to inform them and mobilize them collectively and centered around… You should do this because it's good for your child. Working with a number of partners in Indonesia, we said, “Look, you've got to get more emotion into this. This is too… your thinking is too the left brain; it’s too logical; it’s too sequential; it’s too evidence based. Yes, we need to be evidence based, but you also need to tap into aspirations and emotions and imagery.” And so we set up… we develop something called emo-demo, emotional demonstrations. We will have things like we will dissolve some junk food that was easily available in a rural community in Indonesia, in Java, would dissolve the junk food and water and pass the cup around. You could see this awful smell and this horrible oily patch. That would regenerate revulsion actually around that. And that's very powerful. We did that with the blessing of the government and the leadership of the government. Now the government really liked this model. They're rolling it out across the whole of Java. So again, you have to work with government, because governments set the standards, they can scale very quickly, if they like something they can make it… you know, again, in India, we work very closely with the Indian government on fortifying edible oil, everyone cooks with edible oil in India, but it's not fortified with vitamin D and vitamin A. So we've been working with the government and lots of other industry partners to get legislation passed to fortify edible oil and it's now passed… November, December of last year. That's hundreds of millions of people getting access to nutritious food. We also work with governments in Europe and North America who are essentially the donor governments. We work with them to help them shape their offerings and their investment to make sure that their investment is having the biggest impact that possibly could. So we tried to bring all of those groups together. We started out as a fortification organization 20 years ago, but now, fortification is maybe a fifth of what we do. The rest of it is, how do we get whole nutritious food to people on low incomes at affordable prices.
Alberto Lidji: Are you feeling optimistic about everything going forward? You mentioned a little bit of optimism. But if we're looking at 2030, just 10 years from now, 9 years from now?
Lawrence Haddad: Until COVID, the numbers for stunting were going down steadily, going down with two or three million kids a year. That's enormous. It's not as fast as I wanted it to be. But it's enormous, 2 or 3 million a year. Now we've done some work… working with IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) and Johns Hopkins University and a bunch of other researchers at the World Bank to show that if we don't act, COVID is going to set that back quite significantly. Not the infection itself, but the disruption caused by the mitigation effects. So, that's a dark cloud. On the other hand, I think the last year has shown us that what was the unthinkable has become the thinkable, what was the undoable has become the doable. Trillions of dollars have been moved quickly, to support families, and vulnerable individuals. The World Bank tells us that the number of people covered by social protection programs worldwide, these are cash transfer programs, or food transfer programs. It was 600 million before COVID, it's 2 billion now, covered. We've got vaccines that normally take eight to ten years to be developed in eight to ten months. Necessity really is the mother of invention. I think, all sorts of opportunities have been generated, that we in the Food and Nutrition community have to be imaginative enough and brave enough to seize. So 2 billion people are now covered by social protection programs. What are they doing for nutritious food production and consumption? Not much. They could be doing a lot. So that's just an example. I get very tired, really, if the pessimists in the Food and Nutrition community who say, “Oh, great, now all the resources are going to be sucked up by COVID-19.” My response is “No. Make food and nutrition a default part of the package for COVID-19, then you begin to tap in”. The evidence suggests that it should be… you know until everybody gets the vaccine, Alberto. I think good nutrition is their next best solution.
Alberto Lidji: When you're saying these words, and I'm nodding in agreement, but when you’re saying these words, and when the person on the other end of the table is a policymaker or a government official, are they nodding in agreement as well? Or are they nodding as sort of “um, I'm not quite sure”.
Lawrence Haddad: Change takes time. We don't have a lot of time. So, we’re working on the evidence front, the left brain, we're working on the right brain front. Well, we're just relentless. You have to be relentless, if you want to get anything changed in this world. So yes, you find the champions. You find the policy champions, and you use them to leverage more change and more change and more change. You find the Paul Polamns of this world, in the business sector, and you find them in the government sector and you just relentlessly steam on ahead, all the time, backed by the evidence that will support you.
Alberto Lidji: Speaking of evidence, where can we go to access your research or the best research that you recommend for anybody who's interested in exploring this particular thematic area in more depth?
Lawrence Haddad: Well, you know, the GAIN website, I would say this wouldn't I, but the GAIN website has a number of really fantastic discussion papers and working papers on it. I spent a lot of time… I used to work at an organization called IFPRI, International Food Policy Research Institute. We are publishing a whole series of things on our website… there’s a great website called Nutrition Connect, which has a lot of fantastic resources. Watch out for the standing together for Nutrition Coalition who are publishing… We published something in The Lancet, which is the one of the top medical journal in July of this year. We're publishing something in Nature Food, hopefully in March of this year.
Alberto Lidji: What's your website address?
Lawrence Haddad: www.gainhealth.org and nutritionconnect.org is also a very good website.
Alberto Lidji: Before we wrap up, I always like to ask my guests for one key takeaway that they'd love for our listeners to keep in mind after the end of the podcast episode. What would that be from you?
Lawrence Haddad: I'm a big believer in taking action. So don't think too hard, if we do something. Individuals can act to change the food system, just by the choices you make in the supermarket or in the corner store. Or whether to go to a supermarket or go to a corner store. Whether to recycle, whether to eat that onion that's lurking at the back of the refrigerator, or throw it away. So individuals can make differences. If you're in a school board, you can pressure your school into serving healthier school meals. If you're working in a hospital, you can put pressure on your administration. If you know your local MP (Member of Parliament), or even if you don't know your local MP, sign a petition. Individuals can make a big difference. You don't have to be an expert to make a difference. But the biggest difference, I think, comes when people act together in concert. So, join a club, join a movement, support a movement, support organizations like GAIN, put pressure on people. Change only comes if you put pressure on people, the people you're putting pressure on are not bad people. They're just incredibly distracted by 50 people like you, clamoring for their attention. You've got to make the best case. You've got to make an evidence-based case. You've got to have a constructive solution that you can put in front of them and make it easy for them to make the decision. That's what you've got to do. So I'm a big believer in the power of one and the power of many. So don't despair, don't give up hope. You can make a difference. The first thing is to make a difference at an individual level.
Alberto Lidji: Wonderful message indeed. You've been listening to Lawrence Haddad, the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Lawrence, it really has been an absolute pleasure having you on The Do One Better! Podcast today. And to our listeners, thank you as ever for listening, for tuning in, for subscribing and for your support. Thank you, Lawrence — really great.
Lawrence Haddad: Thank you Alberto, for doing this and you know, it's podcasts like yours that help make a difference and help amplify, share and analyze the issue so very much appreciate what you're doing. Thank you.