Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor – Tearfund's Policy Blog

January 3, 2013 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

Happy New Year!  Enough time off – now back to work.  To mark the start of 2013 we’ve made some changes to Just Policy, so that it’s easier for you to follow the items you’re interested in.

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  • Aid
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For the most part, our regular authors are also on twitter.  If you’re interested in following us, our twitter handles are as follows:

1LauraTaylor,  (cross-cutting)

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And myself, at 1SarahHulme (food security)

You’ll also find mini profiles of each author to the right (click on the photo squares), which will tell you a bit more about who we are.  At the top of each blog post you will find who posted that blog, and what their speciality is.

We’re trialling this, so please do comment below with any bugs/kinks you find – and of course any other suggestions you’ve got!

October 19, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

If only all UN Summits were this exciting…

You may have realised that I’ve been at an annual Food Summit, known as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in Rome [previous post here].  It’s been a rollercoaster of a week – reaching the highs has taken some definite lows along the way – but overall it’s been great.

No one expected us to come up with a solution to world hunger in a week.  But we have made progress with agreements on several important and often controversial issues.  Over 100 governments, UN agencies, business and civil society, that make up the CFS (get used to the acronym!) have come together on these issues.  There has been a lot of talking, and talking can only ever be the first stage – it must be followed by action, and the CFS must implement what it has agreed.

A really wide range of civil society attendees have been here, from Latin America to Japan and they’ve brought sobering, moving stories of exactly why we’re here – of the impact these issues have on the lives of those living in poverty.  For example I heard a representative of indigenous peoples speak movingly about his friends in Colombia who died to protect their land, whilst land Voluntary Guidelines (see below) were written.

Investing in agriculture responsibly 

We have agreed a way forward to develop principles for responsible investment in agriculture by sovereign countries, investor funds and individuals.  These are not to be confused with World Bank principles of a very similar name, but of a much more damaging nature…  There was a lot of fear amongst civil society that the World Bank principles would be taken as a starting point to develop the principles for the CFS.  However, the intense negotiations before this annual meeting meant that everyone agreed on a consultation to develop separate principles over the next 2 years.  We’re really hopeful that these principles will truly help to guide responsible agricultural investment; investment which represents wild meadow opportunities.

Land tenure for farmers and herders 

Another piece of good news.  Earlier this year, the CFS finally agreed on Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.  Civil society hopes that this will give smallholder farmers and herders more rights and prevent land grabbing.  They are only voluntary, so I was encouraged to hear that UN member states have committed funding to help national governments implement the guidelines, and practical guides will show exactly what this might look like.

For me, the real icing on the cake was at a side event, hearing a minister from Sierra Leone talk about how his government used the guidelines when signing contracts for land with foreign investors.  This meant really practical steps forward, like the contracts stating that the investors must pay for the water they use to irrigate crops, and that the government needed to monitor water table levels, which the local communities depend upon.  This is a very exciting first step – and reassures me that the Summit is more than a talking shop.  It’s resulting in change on the ground.  More of this please!

Climate change 

Now one final outstanding issue – the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers.  This has been one of the most embittered battles, with negotiations running until 1am some nights.  Civil society has had to give some ground, giving up support for organic and sustainable farming practices (agro-ecology) to avoid climate-smart agriculture being included.  Large agri-businesses have taken a hard stance on the issue of intellectual property rights of seeds and were supported in this by other countries.  No agreement has yet been reached on this – I’ll post an update next week.

As I head home there will be much to think about, and much for civil society to take forwards.  I really was encouraged by the comments from the Sierra Leone Minister.  His remarks gave me confidence (and joy!) that something agreed by the CFS – and only in May this year – can actually be put into practice, and have an impact on food security on the ground.  Provided the principles for responsible agriculture investment go the same way, then I think the CFS will prove beyond doubt it’s not a talking shop and we are well on our way to step up our efforts to reduce hunger together!

October 15, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

At the age of 17, I met a woman who was to become one of my best friends.  A Kenyan, from Western Province, she was running an educational NGO in the slums surrounding Nairobi.  Her name is Catherine, and she’s still running this educational NGO over a decade later, though it’s now based in Western Province.  Why am I telling you this?  I’ve found myself thinking of Catherine as I attend a UN food summit in Rome this week [in the photo I’m the out of focus white woman in black!].  When Catherine left Western Province 15 years ago her family – like many others – grew food for the household on their small plot of land.

FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

When Catherine returned to Western Province in 2008 she planned to grow food once more.  But as we chatted she said “Hey!  You know the rains are really not working anymore.  They’re not enough, or they’re at the wrong time – we can’t grow anything!”.  Poor harvests meant that later that year, Catherine and many of the children supported by the NGO found themselves eating only one meal a day, primarily of ‘porridge’.  That was the point when the reality of climate change hit me like a brick in the face.

Here in Rome, governments, businesses and civil society, speaking up for people like Catherine, will discuss the links between climate change and people’s ability to eat, amongst other topics.  We heard last week that 1 in 8 people in the world go hungry.  It’s not something we like to think about in the UK, but the reality is that my friends in Kenya – and many others around the world – are finding it harder and harder to grow enough food and climate change is to blame.

My Kenyan friends are currently adapting.  They’re trying out new crops, they’re trying different ways of using the soil and rearing a variety of animals.  But all of this costs money – for Catherine, and for everyone else who needs help to adapt to a changing climate.  In Britain, we dislike talking about money perhaps more than we dislike thinking about climate change!  But we’re not asking for extra money from governments, or individuals.  We think the money to help farmers adapt to climate change could come from shipping.

Lost?  Bear with me.  Every time you fly on a plane, your ticket price includes a small climate change ‘levy’ in recognition of the carbon emissions it produces.  Ships also produce carbon emissions.  So wouldn’t it make sense for them to pay a levy too? We could raise at least $10 billion if they did.  $10 billion which could then be used to help Catherine, and others like her, adapt to a changing climate.

We’ve got a video animation that explains this idea a lot better than I can here:

And if you’re really keen, you can read my colleague’s briefing paper ‘Hope on the horizon’

October 11, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

Is it too late in the year to tenuously link blog posts to the Olympics?  Probably, but I’m shamelessly going to do it anyway!

Did you see the ‘Olympic gold meadows’?  10 football pitches worth of traditional British meadows, planted in the heart of the Olympic site.  Those meadows were planted on what was previously a contaminated wasteland.  When the site was opened, I found it incredible that the land had been transformed like this in just a few years.  Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without carefully planned investment – a mix of public and private money.

I’ve been thinking a lot about investment recently – and especially about investment in land and farming.  All businesses need access to capital, loan facilities and other forms of investment to expand, and farmers are no exception.  In fact, farming is perhaps more dependent on this than some other businesses as farming is done at the mercy of the weather and 1000 other factors which are beyond control.  I grew up in Devon, and I well remember the devastation of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak.  Farms, livelihoods and businesses were utterly destroyed and many farmers would have been unable to recover without subsequent investment.

Farmers in developing countries are no different.  They need to be able to access investment which helps grow their businesses in the good times, and sees them through the bad times.  Unfortunately, that’s not always been the kind of investment they’ve been able to get.  Some investment has actually taken land away from farmers, or prevented them from accessing the seeds they need, or locked them into a type of farming which is heavily dependent on expensive fertilisers.  Sometimes this has happened because of ignorance, but sometimes it has happened because investors have looked for a quick profit rather than a ‘wild-meadow opportunity’.

On Friday I’ll be heading to a UN Summit on Food – or, the “39th Session of the Committee on World Food Security”.  Quite.  Governments, investors, farmers, NGOs and UN agencies will come together to discuss Responsible Agricultural Investment, amongst other things.  Tearfund wants to see a few things included in the discussions.  We want to see investment that focuses on smallholder farmers, who need it most.  Investment that opens up farmers’ choices and power – instead of closing them down.  And investment that helps farmers adapt to the impact of climate change – so that they’re at the mercy of the changing elements just a little bit less.

Here’s hoping for progress towards these things at the Summit – I’ll report back afterwards…

May 18, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

A new rom-com about pregnancy, birth and babies is about to hit our cinema screens: What To Expect When You’re Expecting. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it looks to do well in the chick-flick charts.

The film focuses on the journey of five American couples. The same journey of pregnancy and birth that is followed by millions of women around the world each year. I say ‘same’. Actually, the reality is that what expectant mothers can expect in pregnancy, birth and motherhood differs enormously depending on where in the world they themselves happen to have been born.

My daughter, Lydia, was born almost 18 months ago in a London hospital. During the pregnancy, I remember feeling extremely privileged at the number of routine antenatal appointments and scans I had. In my work with Tearfund, I’d met many women in developing countries who were pregnant or had young children. I knew most of them had experienced no such care.

In our antenatal classes my husband and I were encouraged to write a ‘birth plan’ outlining our wishes for the birth. Looking back, it’s interesting to reflect on what our birth plan did not include. There was no mention of things such as ‘clean water and soap for hand washing’, ‘hygienic and skilled care’ or ‘access to a toilet’. These were basic expectations – ones that giving birth in the UK, we took for granted. Most mothers in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa give birth without skilled care and many are denied the basics of water, sanitation and hygiene, often with tragic consequences. Approximately 99% of all maternal deaths (about 1000 a day) occur in developing countries, and most are preventable. As many as 15% of them are caused by infections in the six weeks after childbirth, mainly due to unhygienic practices and poor infection control during labour and delivery (according to Tearfund’s Joining the Dots report).

Mari with her new baby Lydia in 2010

I won’t go into detail, but Lydia’s birth wasn’t straightforward. The ‘birth plan’ went out of the window and the whole process required a fair bit of medical intervention. After the birth, I was severely dehydrated. But I was placed on a drip and had unlimited access to clean drinking water. Lydia was moved to an incubator on a ‘High Dependency Baby Unit’ with suspected pneumonia. She was put on antibiotics, monitored and cared for in clean and hygienic surroundings. Thankfully, Lydia only stayed on the Unit for 36 hours and we were both out of hospital within a week. 17 months on, Lydia is thriving. Had she been born in a place without such care, it could have been a very different story.

And what about the differences in expectations for childhood around the globe? The statistic that stays in my head the most from my time at Tearfund is this: every day, 4000 children under the age of 5 die because of lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation. 4000 children, children like Lydia, every single day. That is outrageous.

Mari and Lydia happy and healthy in March this year

I want Lydia to grow up in a world where no woman dies due to preventable causes in pregnancy or childbirth and no child dies because they lack clean water or decent sanitation. There are 3 years left for governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals related to water and sanitation, maternal health and child health are some of the most off-track. Governments must recognise the links between these Goals, and act with unprecedented financial and political will to achieve them.

Is that too much to expect?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting comes out in UK cinemas next Friday, 23rd May.

Mari Williams worked in Tearfund’s policy and campaigns teams for 7 years. She now spends her time looking after her daughter Lydia and working as a freelance researcher and writer. 

May 9, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

Hands up if you watched the film “The King’s Speech” last year?  Even the most hardened anti-monarchist couldn’t fail to be moved by Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George VI overcoming a debilitating stutter in order to speak to the nation at the outbreak of WW2.  His (George’s, not Colin’s…) daughter, our current Queen, has today given her own speech to open a new session in parliament.

Unlike King George, the Queen didn’t write this speech – it’s written by the government to announce what bills they plan to turn into laws over the next year.  In today’s speech, the government reiterated their commitment to Britain’s aid budget but there was absolutely no mention of the promised legislation.

Let’s be clear about one thing – it is absolutely fantastic that this government are sticking to their commitment to the aid budget, even in difficult economic times.  As my colleague Laura blogged recently, “UK aid will put 15.9 million children in school, protect 5.8 million mothers during childbirth, provide safe drinking water to 17 million people and help over 9 million people overcome malnutrition in the next four years.”  If they’re going to meet the target, then why does legislation matter?

Lessons from the Australians

I think the King’s Speech was such a hit because of the relationship which developed between King George and his Antipodean speech therapist Lionel Logue.  For those who missed it, it was Logue who taught the King how to combat his stammer.  Forgive me for stretching the link here, but some news from Australia last night reminds us why legislation is so important.  We heard that the Australian government is breaking the promises they made on aid.

We’ve fought long and hard for the aid budget in the UK and that has resulted in life-changing results for the world’s poorest.  Unfortunately, our Australian friends show just how easily government promises can be broken.  Legislation cannot be brushed aside so easily, and that’s why it’s so important.  Today’s speech was a missed opportunity to protect the aid budget now and in the future.  Let’s hope that next year’s speech keeps the promise.

February 7, 2012 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

India: rich or poor? Photo from:

UPDATE: As we know, the UK Government is winding down aid to India.  We filmed Kennedy, from our Indian partner EFICOR, explaining why he thinks the UK should give aid to India.  Check out the 2 minute video clip here:

1. Is the Indian government responsible for its own people?

Yes.  All governments are ultimately responsible for their own people.  Aid money to India has helped their government reduce poverty levels from 60% in 1981 to 42% in 2005.[1]  However, there are still more poor people in India than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.  The UK is tapering down its support over the next three years and will stop giving aid to India in 2015.  If the UK abruptly stopped giving money without this tapering process, it would run the risk of undoing the poverty reduction progress which has been achieved. UK money is being refocused, especially on to job creation which will help the poorest people stand on their own feet.

2. Does aid to India work?

In one Indian district, the Indian government launched a Sick Newborn Care Unit with the support of UK aid in 2003.  Since then, the region has seen a steady decline in newborn deaths, with baby deaths at the unit cut by 30 per cent between 2007-2009 alone.[2]  There’s always room for improvement in all project management and UK aid is monitored by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to make sure its programmes are as effective as possible.  The International Development Select Committee – who scrutinise UK aid spend – found that UK aid to India was sufficiently effective to continue it until 2015, when they agreed with the decision to cease the programmes.[3]

3. Should we give money to a country with its own space programme?

In the UK we expect to hold our government to account for their spending – that’s why we’re having all these debates about the government’s aid budget.  Indian citizens also need to hold their government to account to check they’re spending money on the really important things.  However, if you have never been to school, don’t have access to a radio or TV and don’t have good physical health, it is rather more difficult to hold your government to account.  The UK funds projects which improve people’s education and health, but also give them the tools to make sure they can monitor their government’s spending choices – for example helping poor people to gain access to safe water and sanitation in Madhya Pradesh.[4]

4. Should aid result in better military contracts for the UK?

We all probably quite favour the approach of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.  On that basis, if we give aid to India we might expect them to buy military equipment from Britain out of gratitude if nothing else.  However, if the UK says on the one hand that we want India to fight corruption, we can’t on the other hand say they should award big military contracts on the basis of a back-room hand shake, instead of a transparent tendering process.  If we don’t give aid on the basis of need and poverty reduction, then we shouldn’t give it at all.

October 28, 2011 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only squabbling discussions currently  happening at European HQ in Brussels are over how to respond to the Eurozone crisis.

If you think we’re joking about squabbling, take a look at Italian MPs this week…

Don’t get us wrong, this crisis really is critical – after all, the economic fortunes of the Eurozone will be felt worldwide.  Europe is the foremost trading partner of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, in addition to being the biggest aid donor. As this blog outlines, a protracted Eurozone crisis is bad news for the world’s poorest.

However, dealing with the crisis is stealing time and energy from leaders who need to also be talking about the next EU budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework – or MFF to its friends.  Now we’ll admit that headlines which have to include the phrase “Multiannual Financial Framework” have somewhat less of a ring than doomsday predictions about the end of the EU.  But indulge us for a moment as we explain why this process is absolutely critical for the poorest of the poor.

The MFF will be the EU’s budget for seven years, from 2014-2020.  The extensive negotiation process started early though – June this year in fact.  This is because the MFF will decide how much money the EU will spend for those seven years and what they will spend it on.  This covers absolutely everything – once the budget is agreed, there’s not much space for bolting on extras.

Although aid spend is only about 6% of this total EU budget, the EU is still the world’s biggest donor and these negotiations are therefore incredibly important for development and humanitarian work.  If aid isn’t in there from the start, then wave goodbye to the EU spending anything on it.  That’s why we’re lobbying to see important issues like Disaster Risk Reduction, missed out in the initial drafts, included.

Negotiations around the budget are not driven simply by accountants and bureaucrats.  The budget setting process is a deeply political one.  That’s why it took Britain only 3 hours to look over the proposed budget in June and flatly reject it.  However, not only do political shenanigans affect how much money is available, they determine the details of how the money will be spent.

For example, it has been proposed that Middle Income Countries (MICs) like India and Brazil should not receive direct development funding from the EU.  The argument is that their booming economies should fund the majority of work to eradicate poverty in their own countries.  Of course this could also be seen as a political decision by countries who wish to expand their own trading areas and diminish their aid bills.

If NGOs wish to change this decision, loud protestation that 75% of poor people live in MICs will not help without being aware of the following political context: and this is where our two Brussels collide.  The EU is currently going cap-in-hand to China and others for bailouts; can they turn round in the next minute and decide to give those same governments aid?  The EU’s top-dog on development Andris Piebalgs thinks not – as he outlines in the video below (jump to 17m 56s for the question).  NGOs seem divided on this particular issue, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing the hard thinking necessary to get involved in this and other discussions.

Debates over details in the budget like this will continue over the next year – even if a crisis in the Eurozone is averted, the political context will remain one of austerity, a deeper public feeling that ‘charity begins at home’ and growing antagonism over aid.  It will be interesting to see how this wider picture begins to further impact the nitty-gritty of the budget setting process.

As Tearfund, we’ve been joining members of BOND and the EU-CORD network in lobbying to ensure that amidst all the political wrangling, the poorest don’t get forgotten.  While at the moment only a few people are following this debate, over time this should increasingly be on all our agendas.  Watch this space!

July 21, 2011 by Sarah Hulme – Food Security Policy Advisor

I’ve been going to lots of meetings and events recently thinking about what comes after 2015.  From the way some are talking, 2015 practically represents the end of the (development) world as we know it.  For those of you still waiting for the morning caffeine to kick in, a reminder that 2015 is the target year for the world to achieve the MDGs and halve poverty in the process.  2015+ matters because even if we do hit the target (and that’s looking pretty impossible), there’s still the other half of those stuck in poverty to think about.  Greater minds than me have been blogging on this; see the likes of Duncan Green, ODI and various Guardian authors.  So what comes next?  Should anything come next at all?

It would be really easy to focus on all the Bad Stuff that the MDGs have done.  We know that they’ve led people to ignore some things (like jobs) and focus on others (like primary education); that they don’t very accurately show the real progress made by countries starting with low baselines.  Even worse, since the MDGs were agreed we’re now also dealing with a climate, economic and food/land/water resources meltdown.

Rather than joining in with MDG-bashing and doom-and-gloom, I’d rather focus on dreaming big.  What kind of a world do we want our kids to grow up in?  What are we aiming for?  Then we can ask what global agreements help us reach that point.

The popularity of the concept of “wellbeing” has rapidly increased in answer to these questions.  Global Dashboard and others have been thinking about what it means for people to be truly well.  Not just by having enough food, but by having choice in their lives, or by being able to be part of their own solutions.  Even the UK Government is trying to measure just how happy we Brits really are.

We’ve been thinking about the idea of increasing wellbeing here at Tearfund.  We like the idea that the end goal of development should be people flourishing and thriving in a way that is meaningful to them.  We’ve even produced a report about it (in conjunction with CAFOD and Theos) – “Wholly Living”.

I’m excited at the idea of seeing people as more than the sum of what they own or have the power to acquire, instead asking what they have the potential to create or to contribute towards.

Which is why I like the stance of a group called Beyond 2015.  It’s an organic group of people from nearly 50 countries who all want to be part of answering the question, what comes next?  At the moment they’re arguing that the world shouldn’t be focussing on the content of a post 2015 agreement, but the process by which it is decided.  Let’s face it; it’s a heck of a lot harder to get the views of a remote community in the middle of nowhere than it is to hear from all the donors and NGOs based in London, New York or Brussels.  This is a group trying really hard to include those without Skype, the internet, or even (gasp) electric.  If you haven’t thought about this topic much, I’d really encourage you to check out their website and get involved.  Have your say!  Do you agree/disagree?  Who should be included – and who shouldn’t?  Who should hold the reigns of post 2015 agreements – the UN or something else?  What’s the best ways the world can agree to end poverty after 2015?

Excited?  I am.

A part of it?  You should be.