Tag: development aid

‘There’s a path towards death that people travel’: how hunger destroys lives and communities

hands, food, wheat

In the face of record malnutrition, Isabel Choat‘s article in The Guardian emphasises the urgent need for aid to prevent people from suffering and dying.

“Dr Neal Russell, a paediatric adviser with MSF, says: “There is a path towards death that people travel. Until they are at a late stage, deficiencies can be corrected by giving food, but beyond a certain point the body cannot regulate itself, even with treatment.” (…) Though malnutrition affects millions of people, especially children, there is still much that is unknown about it.”

“What is known is that most people suffering from malnutrition die from disease or infection rather than starvation itself. Lack of food affects the immune system, shrinking the lymph nodes so they produce fewer white blood cells. The existing white blood cells don’t have sufficient energy to do their job in fighting off bacteria or healing a wound. A person is much more vulnerable to diseases such as malaria or conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis.”

A dystopian crisis

““Zero hunger” by 2030 was one of 17 sustainable development goals set out by the UN in 2015. Today, the UN predicts that the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030. Far from the situation improving, millions are trapped in the worst hunger crisis in living memory. The World Food Programme says 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.”

““A few years ago, things were gradually getting better and now it is going in the other direction, rapidly. It’s extremely worrying when you think about the impact on real people. What shocks me is the lack of outrage – it’s horrifying,” Russell says.”

“A letter to UN member states as they gather for the 2022 UN general assembly this week was the latest call for immediate funding to prevent suffering now and in the future. “In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice,” reads the letter, which is signed by 238 NGOs. “The lack of political will and institutional failure to act quickly before the worst case hits means people are being left to lurch from crisis to crisis. People are not starving; they are being starved.””

“These are needless deaths that will be largely ignored by a world distracted by extreme weather, the cost of living crisis and political upheavals. Aid agencies have the knowledge and ability to address food insecurity, but not the funding, says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera, head of nutrition at Action Against Hunger UK. “We know how to [address food insecurity] better and better, but we are not given the means to implement all we know. Aid is not arriving fast enough and is not large enough to improve the situation. For the moment, it’s about trying to reduce the number of lives being lost.””

“Russell describes watching this crisis unfold before his eyes as “dystopian”. He feels a responsibility to communicate what hunger does to people, but struggles to find the right words. “I can go into my safe zone [using medical terminology], but I have never found the language to describe the horror and injustice of seeing a child dying from malnutrition.””

This article was first published by Isabel Choat in The Guardian.

Successful outcomes of the SweDev assembly

SweDev’s annual assembly, held in Uppsala, were attended by 60 people online and on-site. The Steering Committee was represented on-site by Fredrik Söderbaum or Uppsala University, Jesper Sundewall of Lund University, Linda Engström at SLU, Mats Björk of Uppsala University and Henning Melber of the Nordic Africa Institute.

Fredrik Söderbaum, Chair of SweDev’s Steering Committee and Jesper Sundewall led the SweDev Assembly held in Uppsala 24 August 2022.

SweDev members discussed their role in the network, how SweDev can initiate processes for problem-driven research and how to locate relevant policy makers. Members were also introduced to the networks working groups on education, PhD education and advocacy, and suggested SweDev to organize future workshops for research capacity building.

Interesting dialogues on the role of SweDev and how to increase development research collaboration encouraged the SweDev Secretariat – represented by Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and SEI Team Lead, Alice Tunfjord, SEI Research Associate, Ylva Rylander, SEI Communications Officer and Roksana Rotter.

Gambling on Development

Nairobi National park, Africa.

SweDev and SEI invited Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford, to highlight the outcomes from his latest book “Gambling on Development: Why some countries win and others lose”.

The topic of the SEI and SweDev dialogue was how countries are managing growth and sustainable development. Professor Dercon was introduced by George Marbuah, SEI Research Fellow.

“It was a pleasure to host Professor Dercon who delivered a great and interesting keynote about why some countries win and others lose in development. Drawing on his extensive academic research and policy experience, he provided new insights on why this may be the case. Professor Dercon provocatively argued that the answer lies not in specific policies per se in many developing countries, but rather in a ‘development bargain’, where the elite in a particular country is able to ‘shift from protecting their own positions to gambling on a growth-based future’.”

George Marbuah, SweDev member and SEI Research Fellow

Gambling on Development: Why some countries win and others lose

The book draws on Professor Dercon’s academic research and his policy experience across three decades and 40-odd countries, exploring why some countries have managed to settle on elite bargains favoring growth and development and others did not.

“Aid is a little bit like dancing the tango, it should be led by someone and I think it should be led by the country,” said Dercon during his presentation.

Professor Stefan Dercon

Watch the recording:

SEI and SweDev dialogues on development research. Video: SEI / SweDev.

Professor Stefan Dercon

Stefan Dercon is a Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford. Professor Dercon combines his academic career with work as a policy advisor, providing strategic economic and development advice, and promoting the use of evidence in decision making.

SEI and SweDev dialogues on development research

“We had an exciting dialogue with over 30 participants from the global south and Sweden, who posed questions to Professor Dercon. We invite development researchers around the world; both Swedish researchers, international researchers, and researchers from the global south, to give a short talk about their ongoing or finalized research.”

Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and SEI Development and Aid Policy Team Lead

The series of dialogues on development research, an initiative taken by the Development and Aid Policy Team at SEI Headquarters and the Swedish Development Researchers Network (SweDev), kicked off in the end of 2021. Our research-based community has raised the need for learning spaces and dialogue platforms for development research. This dialogue with Stefan Dercon was part of SEI’s and SweDev’s dialogue series on development research.

@SweDevNetwork @SEIresearch
#Agenda2030 #SustainableDevelopment #DevelopmentResearch #DevelopmentPolicy

Read about the dialogue with Professor Dercon

Read about the book

SweDev members appointed to the Sida Scientific Advisory Board   

World Economic Forum, annual meeting.

Appointed by the Government of Sweden in 2021, Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board provides recommendations to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) on strategic directions and research-related matters within the agency’s research cooperation areas.

Bridging science and policy is a guiding aim of SweDev. Therefore, SweDev is proud to see two of its members represented in Sida’s Advisory Board. In conversation with the SweDev secretariat, Assem Abu Hatab and Swati Parashar presented their research, contributing to Swedish development cooperation objectives and challenges.

Assem Abu Hatab is a Senior Researcher in Development Economics at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), and an Associate Professor in Economics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). He is an applied economist with broad empirical interests and focus on food systems. 

Assem Abu Hatab. Photo: North Africa Institute

Q: Can you briefly describe your own research area at NAI and at SLU?  

I joined NAI three months ago, carrying out research previously conducted at the Economics Department. The focus of my research is on food systems in low- and middle-income countries, how these can help countries to achieve the SDGs, and how sustainable management can enable countries to be more food secure. Being an applied economist, I use data and econometrics, to produce quantitative research. Besides working extensively on matters related to China and India at SLU, I will be now mainly focusing on African countries, especially the MENA region.

Q:  How will your expertise and research be valuable in your role at Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board?   

I will start with a few data. The management and economics of the agricultural sector represent ¼ of the African GDP and provide work for 60% of the active working population in Africa. Food systems are the fundamental driver of society but are impacted by phenomena such as urbanization, population growth, climate change, and resource constraints.  

These challenges will inevitably affect the ability of the food system to achieve economic growth. Given the importance of agriculture in the African economy, it depends on the ability of African actors to pursue more resilient food systems. All in all, this is the background I bring to Sida, and I do believe these can be relevant for development cooperation.

Q: What are the key challenges that you think you’ll face as a member of Sida’s Scientific Advisory Board? 

It is difficult to answer as I only started in March. We work in small groups of researchers in a very sharing environment. The board knows how to deal with any challenges that are always upcoming, externally, and internally. The mission and purpose of the institution are to absorb these and take them as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Two years ago, most of the focus was on Covid-19 and now new challenges: Sida should always be ready to adapt to ongoing changes. That it’s how they can create an impact. Climate change adaptation in Africa is one focus, while in the MENA region access to water is the priority. These agencies must tailor to the needs of specific regions. Therefore, Sida Advisory Board is and needs to be reactive and ready to respond to any challenge.

Q: Which recommendations do you want to include in Sida’s strategic directions? Do you believe there should be more room for including research-based knowledge in decision-making? 

A: I will bring my expertise in food systems, but it is too early to talk about recommendations. Economic growth and development in Africa will depend on agriculture: Africans are intrinsically linked to agriculture. I will never cease to emphasize this and not so much because it is the field of study, but because it is based on facts. There is room to include research and researchers. The value of researchers and practitioners in enhancing the use of data has always been emphasized with the purpose of creating usable knowledge. Research jointly produced is more likely to be used in practice. Use the supply and demand example to understand the ongoing scenario: the more effective the demand, the more research will be produced. These actions must work in synergy: practitioners are involved in a just implementation and researchers can tailor down to specific needs. 

Q: SweDev aims to strengthen collaboration between development researchers and practitioners. What is your view on the need for it?   

A: I have been a SweDev member for a year, and I love reading your informative newsletter. There was a need for SweDev, and I hope the community will enlarge. However, SweDev needs to come up with a unique agenda setting. The network needs to build trust and partnership with additional research institutions and universities. All in all, I appreciate your focus on persuasive communication pathways: the value of any research is affected by communication. This is a twofold process for SweDev: on the one hand, listening to researchers’ priorities, and on the other hand, listening to the research outcomes: this is how the network can grow and reach out to policymakers. 

Swati Parashar is a Professor in Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. She predominantly works in the field of critical security and war studies, feminist, and postcolonial international relations. 

Written by Alessandro Giacardi, Communication, and Research Intern at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for the Development and Aid Policy Team and SweDev. Edited by Alice Castensson, Associate at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for SweDev, and Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

SweDev researchers selected to the Swedish delegation

Group of young adults, representing the new generation and development.

The Government of Sweden have selected four associated SweDev researchers to join the Swedish delegation at the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development taking place 25th – 28th of April.

Jesper Sundewall at Lund University, George Marbuah, Research Fellow at SEI, Sana Rouis Skandrani, Researcher at Karlstad University and Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and Team Lead at SEI, will all be joining the Swedish delegation and contribute with their research expertise to the Forum on Financing for Development. 

“I am really happy that researchers representing academia were invited to the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development. This shows that the SweDev network can play a role in coordinating representation to these types of High-Level Conferences on Global Development and thus bridge science and policy.”

Janet Vähämäki

The opportunity was offered to SweDev members after a request from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to coordinate participation from researchers at the Forum. Future opportunities are offered only to SweDev members – sign up below to become a member.

Read more about the 2022 ECOSOC Forum

Become a SweDev member

News text written by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) for SweDev.

The war risks increasing world hunger

Crops are essential for our survival.

The war in Ukraine is sending shockwaves around the world, reports the Swedish magazine Syre. One of all the effects is sky-high wheat prices and extremely high prices for fertilizers.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, as is Russia, which is now subject to extensive sanctions. As a result of the war, the price of wheat in Chicago broke records even though the increase has now stalled. But, the world has not seen such high prices since the food crisis in 2008. At the same time, future harvests in Ukraine are threatened, when labor has to pull out of the army.

Sharply increased prices and more hunger

“There are great risks with this development, poor countries with large cities will notice sharply increased prices and we will see more hunger.”

Madeleine Fogde, Program Director of SIANI and Senior Project Manager at SEI.

Madeleine Fogde believes that it will be extra noticeable for poor countries with decades of strong urbanization behind them like Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Egypt. Countries that import large quantities of wheat from Ukraine at the same time as decades of heavy urbanization have made parts of the population particularly vulnerable, as they can no longer contribute to their own food supply.

Factors affecting food security worldwide

According to the news agency Reuters, Egypt is now investigating whether the country can change trading partners due to unsafe transport from Ukraine. The EU is one of the alternatives. But the war, sanctions, export bans and more expensive production due to higher diesel prices are not the only things that risk affecting food security worldwide.

Higher prices for fertilizer and smaller harvests

The price of fertilizer is now also rising. Russia, together with Belarus, is a giant in the global market for phosphorus and potassium – two important raw materials to produce fertilizers.

According to Madeleine Fogde, higher prices for fertilizer can be managed by Swedish farmers and consumers – although this can also lead to smaller harvests, higher food prices and that individuals are hit hard.

For this year’s growing season, most Swedish farmers have already bought fertilizer. But the Norwegian company Yara, which is one of the world’s global players in the fertilizer market, writes in a press release that there are no short-term solutions, and that one of the consequences could be that only “the privileged part of the world has access to enough food.”

Food security uncertainty is increasing worldwide

“We will see more hunger. Although many African countries cannot afford mineral fertilizers, it can be important for countries such as South Africa that produce food for the entire region.”

Madeleine Fogde, SIANI Program Director and SEI Senior Project Manager.

A similar message was given by the German Agriculture Minister Cem Oezdemir ahead of a special G7 meeting on the food situation in the world recently.

“The supply of food in Germany and the European Union is secure, but major shortages can be expected in some countries outside the EU, especially where shortages already exist due to problems such as drought,” he said in a statement.

Even before the war, UN’s ambition to eradicate hunger by 2030 was met with setbacks. Last year, the annual report from the Global Network Against Food Crisis (GNAFC) showed that food security uncertainty is increasing worldwide and that the number of people in need of emergency assistance was the highest in five years.

“The pandemic has contributed to increasing the number of hungry people,” Madeleine Fogde said.

Major UN meeting on agriculture and food security

In the long run, she hopes that the development can be turned for the better. Following a major UN meeting last year focusing on agriculture and food security, many countries have paved the way for them to be able to secure the supply of nutritious food. Plans Madeleine Fogde now hopes will become a reality, driven by the increasingly uncertain world situation.

“But the change will take time and it will be difficult,” she said. In Sweden, she hopes that the high prices of fertilizers can speed up the transition to a more circular agriculture, something that would both make agriculture less vulnerable and reduce environmental problems such as eutrophication. “I think it will drive development and innovation,” Madeleine Fogde concluded.

News article published by Syre 9 March 2022. English translation and editing by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute for SweDev.

How can the collaboration with researchers increase?

Mother and her child in the tropical forest of Sierra Leone.

Decision-makers in development policy view researchers as cumbersome and far from reality. And, when they use research results, it is usually to get a confirmation of the fact that already made decisions are correct. These are some of the conclusions drawn at a recent SweDev seminar on aid and development research, reports Global Bar Magazine.

The theme of the seminar attended by researchers, civil society, and decision-makers active in development aid included the following questions:  

  • How do we increase the use of research in Swedish development policy and practice?
  • What contributes to research being picked up in policy?
  • And what can be done to increase the relevance of research for practitioners?

“Our recent study shows that researchers would like increased collaboration with practitioners, but, until the establishment of SweDev, there has been no network in Sweden focusing on this topic.”

Anna Ioannou, former coordinator of the Swedish Development Network (SweDev).

How to increase the use of research in policymaking

The study that SweDev conducted on the contacts between research and various actors working with development, shows that decision-makers and practitioners see research as important and relevant, at the same time as they experience challenges finding relevant research. Research is often perceived as something remote with little connection to the practical reality, that often changes rapidly.

When organizations and authorities use research, it is often to back up and justify decisions that have already been made and to strengthen existing arguments. At the same time, only twelve percent in the study answered that their managers expect them to use research results to inform decision-making.

“It is evident that research that is more critical will not be used, while “mainstream research” often is used to confirm what is already being done.”

Janet Vähämäki, Programme Director of  SweDev.

Lack of time and communication is a challenge

According to the study, lack of time and budget are other factors that are limiting the use of research.

“72 percent say they do not have sufficient time to follow the most recent research. This means that if we would like to improve our collaboration, it must be encouraged, and time and resources need to be set aside,” Janet Vähämäki continued.

Another challenge is the lack of communication. While researchers primarily publish in scientific journals, practitioners and decision-makers rather use Google and seminars to gain new knowledge.

“It is true to a certain extent that research is used to confirm what is already known. My experience is that research results are used by local organizations to test different hypotheses and develop their own methodology,” said Gunnel Axelsson Nycander at Act Svenska kyrkan. “At present, organizations often use consultants because they are needed for rapid studies and evaluations, but not least the processes that are underway to decolonize development assistance should be interesting to collaborate with researchers on.”

At the same time, decision-makers often use international research rather than research produced in Sweden. One reason for this is to encourage research in the partner organizations’ own countries, but also that research networks, for example, in the United Kingdom might be more established and have a better reputation internationally than Swedish researchers. This, according to SweDev, entails a risk that Swedish research will get weakened in the long run.

Christina Hartler, Head of Sida’s unit for thematic support, pointed out that Swedish research is relatively small internationally, and that it is rather the case that we overestimated the importance of Swedish research than the other way around:

“Then I do not agree that lack of time would be a reason for the lack of contacts. Rather, it is a question of management, and that management does not prioritize collaboration with researchers,” said Christina Hartler at Sida.

Fast processes

Per Trulsson, Deputy Director at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Sweden, nevertheless said that time is an important issue for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that moves in contexts where things change very quickly, something that has been shown not least by the developments in Myanmar and Afghanistan.

“What our employees often need is a policy brief of 1-2 pages that is relevant to what they do. So, for the researchers to reach out, it is also required that they understand the processes that prevail at Sida and at the ministries.”

Per Trulsson, Deputy Director at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Magnus Walan, Senior Policy Officer at Diakonia, highlighted a different type of research than the one carried out by academic actors:

“We collaborate with local researchers and networks around the world, trying to connect them with Swedish decision-makers. We also support and encourage organizations such as Swedwatch and Fair Finance Guide who do extensive research, but experience challenges to obtaining funding, even though we know that the financial sector really needs to be examined.

Original article written by David Isaksson, Global Bar Magazine. English translation and editing by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute for SweDev.

SweDev: How to improve the collaboration between aid workers and researchers

The SweDev study Increasing the use of research in Swedish development policy and practice provides four recommendations to increase the use of research and cooperation:

  1. Bridge the communications gap between researchers and practitioners
  2. Co-create research and development initiatives
  3. Connect development researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in Sweden
  4. Change incentives and structures for funding to improve work towards the 2030 Agenda