Can the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index Measure the SDGs?

Can the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index Measure the SDGs?


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​​Dolf te Lintelo, a researcher with IDS, answers questions on his work with the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), with an eye towards the SDGs. 

Can you describe briefly for our readers how the HANCI works?

Over the last few years, the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), at the Institute of Development Studies, has devised new ways of assessing the political commitment of governments to tackle hunger and undernutrition.

Unlike other popular indices, HANCI looks at government efforts, rather than at achieved outcomes on the ground. We have developed a global index, an index for donor countries, and are close to completing an African index. Each of these indices ranks countries relative to other countries, and are based on their performance against a common set of indicators that span gender, agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation, social protection and health; and that capture public spending, laws and policies. These indices depend to a considerable extent on secondary, government-published data.

Does the HANCI draw on other data? And who is using the outputs?

We have developed new methods that draw on primary data, pioneered in selected countries. For instance, we have engaged with ‘communities’ to assess what they consider key aspects of government commitment to reduce incidence of nutrition insecurity. And we worked with in-country ‘experts’ to identify their perspectives on nine key elements of political commitment. As it turned out, ‘community’ perspectives did not hugely differ from ‘expert’ perspectives.

We also work very closely together with civil society and media partners in selected countries. We support them to explore (and where suitable use) HANCI evidence in policy and parliamentary advocacy programmes. Various HANCI findings have accordingly been used, for instance in Nepal, Tanzania and Zambia, in engagements with government officials and Members of Parliament.

The next phase of HANCI will seek to make further innovations in methodology and in partnership learning approaches to support evidence informed policy advocacy. We will, for instance, seek to strengthen existing and develop new collaborations with the CSO-SUN community, and where possible, with governments and international organisations.

Members of the global nutrition community are pointing to potential weaknesses in the SDGs as regards meaningful goals or metrics for this sector. From your perspective, are these concerns warranted?

SDG goal 2 states its aim to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Arguably, merely improving nutrition outcomes is not ambitious enough. A better goal would be to achieve food and nutrition security. The remarkably commonly held assumption that nutrition and hunger are the same must be actively challenged. If not, combating hunger will continue to be privileged to addressing nutrition. Our recent research has found that governments in Bangladesh, Nepal, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania rarely show the same political commitment to addressing inadequate nutrition as they do to tackling hunger.

Intriguingly, several targets already agreed upon internationally by the 2012 World Health Assembly do not feature in the SDG goals and targets. We will have to see what the SDG indicators look like in March 2016 to see whether the SDGs adequately address the triple burden of malnutrition: i.e. undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight/obesity.

How can HANCI support the ambitious aims of the SDGs?

Because the results of the SDGs will take time to materialise, data on government efforts, such as public policies, laws and spending that are needed to combat hunger and undernutrition, must be closely monitored to foster accountability. While HANCI chiefly engages the second goal of the SDGs, it provides an example of the value of, and a practical approach for systematically monitoring government efforts that seek to deliver on the goals across sectors.

Are there any particular countries that can serve as role models in terms of political commitment to reducing the 'triple burden' of malnutrition?

For such role models, one should arguably look at countries where the triple burden of malnutrition is low, and see what role political commitment played, as compared to other factors. Japan for instance is famous for having healthy diets and low obesity rates, however this may have little to do with current political commitment by its government and more with, for instance, cultural dietary traditions.

HANCI currently assesses 45 high-burden countries, and it only focuses on hunger, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. At the moment, we cannot identify suitable indicators of government commitment to address overweight/obesity from the available data, across 45 countries. Hopefully the SDG process will ensure that such data will become available soon.

Having said that, in our set of 45 countries, we find that Peru, Guatemala and Malawi are leading the way in political commitment. They are making real progress in terms of efforts, year upon year. This is particularly reflected in this year’s report, launched today. However, we must stress that even in these countries there remain important challenges, notably highly unequal hunger and nutrition outcomes for the poorest and most marginalised communities. And more so, in these countries also, there are areas that require greater attention to accelerate hunger and undernutrition reduction.

Any final words looking towards 2030?

We hope that come 2030 HANCI is no longer needed, as the triple burden of malnutrition is decisively defeated. We however fear that may very well not be the case.

Dr. Dolf te Lintelo is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. Dolf's research has focused on various aspects of food and nutrition, including agriculture; food safety and hygiene; informal food retail (street vending); nutrition and food security. 

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