Gordon Conway and Laura Kelly

Better data on how and where aid is spent is needed to make real progress on tackling hunger, argue Gordon Conway and Laura Kelly.

Holding global leaders to account has never been easy. But when they come together in the Muskoka region of Canada 25-26 June, G8 leaders claim they will report on their own progress on tackling global hunger.

During the Italian G8 Presidency in 2009 the G8 announced the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, pledging more than $20B of aid over three years to agriculture and food security. Leaders agreed core principles to tackle global hunger and said they were “determined to translate these principles into action and take all the necessary measures to achieve global food security”.

Now, and as then, we welcome these commitments and like many others we are keen to see what progress has been made. Nevertheless, while we look forward to G8 leaders’ own assessments on progress, we think it important that we, and other independent researchers, are given access to timely and detailed information to allow us to do our own analysis.

We believe that access to better aid data is vital on this issue. After 30 years of underinvestment in agricultural development, we now have the political and financial momentum to make real progress on tackling hunger. But if governments do not deliver these new investments in a strategic and coordinated way, we risk dissipating efforts and missing a unique opportunity to deliver impacts on the ground for the one billion undernourished people that governments are seeking to help.

When engaging in the complex, interdisciplinary world of agricultural development, we need a better detailed understanding of what works. By investing time and money in better aid data now, governments will be able to work with their advisers, researchers and recipient country partners to understand how their investments correlate with real progress for those that need it most. This will enable more effective and coherent partnerships in the future.

Our own work with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) DAC database (OECD-DAC), which provides comprehensive data on the volume, origin and types of aid and other resource flows, has shown that at present the measurement and analysis of agricultural development assistance is fraught with challenges. Different governments classify and measure their agricultural assistance in different ways. For instance, some bilateral assistance is given through budget support, making it difficult to measure what if any support goes to agriculture.

Support to multilateral agencies is also hard to attribute to specific sector activity. And OECD-DAC is very slow to release data – detailed data for 2008 was released in March 2010 – so timely independent analysis is very difficult.

The OECD-DAC database is an important resource, and we believe that it should remain the primary channel for governments to report their development assistance spending. But it needs to be further improved: non-OECD government actions should be included, as should several additional multilateral organisations. Furthermore, we are not always able to measure what we want – amounts of assistance to smallholders, or large versus small irrigation investments for example.

We look forward to hearing how global leaders meeting in Muskoka have performed on tackling hunger over the last year. But if they want their agriculture investments to have a lasting impact, they should also commit to urgent action to get the data systems in place to measure and monitor how and where their agricultural development assistance has been spent so we can all see if it is successful.


This blog post is based on an article originally published on the Global Food for Thought blog, the official blog of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative.

About Sir Gordon Conway

Sir Gordon Conway is Professor of International Development at Imperial College London. For more information about his work please go to: www.imperial.ac.uk/africanagriculturaldevelopment

About Laura Kelly

Laura Kelly is Director, Policy of ONE Europe: http://one.org/international

On 10th May 2010, Imperial College and ONE hosted a joint workshop to discuss the challenges of measuring agricultural development assistance. For more information about this work please go to: www.imperial.ac.uk/africanagriculturaldevelopment/resources/monitoring

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