The war in Ukraine is having a significant impact on food security around the world. The conflict has driven up the price of grains and fertilisers, contributing to food insecurity and forced migration. This is especially true in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where millions of people already face high levels of hunger and malnutrition.
Some 1.5 billion people currently live in fragile and conflict-affected settings, most of whom also face high levels of hunger and malnutrition. In 2022, 80% of the more than 100 million people who were forcibly displaced globally suffered acute food insecurity. With sanctions, blockades, and conflict holding up the export of synthetic fertilisers and staple cereals again this year, food supplies will suffer, prices will continue to fluctuate, and more will join the 349 million people who are acutely food insecure.
CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agri-food research network, has developed a number of tools to help developing countries reduce their dependence on major exporters like Ukraine and Russia. These include new crop varieties, improved agronomic practices, and a range of fertilisers. However, these innovations are not reaching enough of the world’s smallholder farmers to be effective. More collaborative efforts are needed to accelerate the process of rolling out these innovations and delivering more diversified, resilient food systems.
Another clear strategy for reducing both fragility and food insecurity is to increase investment in the development of rural economies, particularly through agriculture. For almost all of the countries considered fragile and conflict-affected, agriculture is among the most important economic sectors. Stabilising individual and community livelihoods through innovative social protections, food system development, and climate adaptation programs has the potential to increase food, nutrition, and economic security as well as social cohesion, resilience, and equality.
Finally, humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding efforts need to more consistently factor in climate and food security. The newly launched Climate Security Observatory goes some way towards filling the data gap to allow different agencies to better understand the impact of climate change on food, land, and water systems and the role this has in conflict. But policymakers around the world should also be including both climate and food security in all of their overseas assistance. The job of delivering global food security and reinforcing national security is not done. In the face of the poly-crisis, the world once again needs leadership, compassion, and generosity.
Humanitarian aid groups and policymakers met in Geneva in June 2023 to discuss ways to improve the global humanitarian system. The meetings focused on issues such as funding, local leadership, and climate change. The meetings focused on three main areas:
- Anticipatory action: Humanitarian groups are calling for donors to invest more in anticipatory action, which is the use of early warning data to prevent crises before they happen. This is seen as a more cost-effective way to address humanitarian needs than simply responding to crises after they have already occurred.
- Pooled funds: Humanitarian groups are also calling for more pooled funds, which are pots of humanitarian cash with less restrictive funding rules. Pooled funds can be used to get aid to people in need more quickly and efficiently than traditional funding mechanisms.
- Local leadership: Humanitarian groups are calling for more local leadership in the humanitarian system. This is seen as a way to ensure that aid is more responsive to the needs of the people it is intended to help. Donors are increasingly recognizing the importance of working with local groups, and some are making changes to their funding rules to make it easier to do so.
The meetings in Geneva were seen as a positive step forward for the humanitarian system. Donor governments are showing up in more meaningful ways at recent high-level aid meetings. They are now sharing the table with local humanitarians and outlining plans to encourage direct funding and more equal partnerships. Finally, the meetings saw a renewed emphasis on the need to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Humanitarian groups are urging donors to invest in early warning systems and other measures to help communities cope with the effects of climate change.
The UNDP Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) has developed a powerful AI tool – AIDA – which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help development practitioners make sense of vast quantities of information. AIDA was presented at this year’s UN World Data Forum in Hangzhou, China, and drew considerable interest from development practitioners, data scientists, and private sector companies.
AIDA is able to extract evidence from unstructured data, such as PDFs, which is a valuable tool for development practitioners who are often struggling to manipulate large data sets. AIDA is also the only AI application on the market that can dive into qualitative data archives. The IEO is considering augmenting AIDA with some of the skills of a generative AI model, such as ChatGPT. However, the IEO is taking a cautious approach to this, as there are ethical considerations to be made. The IEO’s sandbox ensures that AIDA only searches for information that has been verified and triangulated and that it does not generate language that could be harmful or misleading. The IEO is committed to using AI in a responsible and ethical way, and AIDA’s sandbox is an important part of this commitment. The sandbox ensures that AIDA is only able to access and process information that has been vetted and that it does not generate language that could be harmful or misleading.
The IEO is also committed to using AI to help development practitioners make better decisions. AIDA’s ability to extract evidence from unstructured data and understand the nuances of UN language is a valuable tool for development practitioners, and the IEO is committed to continuing to develop and improve AIDA.
The World Bank has increased its support for domestic revenue mobilisation (DRM) in recent years. However, tax yields have been on a declining trend. The increase in attention to DRM has been most evident in World Bank budget support operations, which tend to focus on reforms to tax policy. Evaluation findings showed that targets for a significant majority of DRM-related results indicators in Development Policy Operations (DPOs) were achieved during the evaluation period. However, indicators used to measure impact were often too high level or did not adequately capture either the impact of prior actions or progress toward objectives. This undermined their value as measures of impact, reducing opportunities for course correction and learning from experience. Case studies suggest that results from DRM policy reforms supported by DPOs were often not sustained. Even for operations that recorded significant achievements at closing, progress was frequently reversed over time because of policy reversals.
The ease with which some World Bank–supported tax policy reforms can be reversed points to potential tension between the successive provision of budget support to clients that fail to make concrete and sustained progress on DRM. Specifically, the provision of budget financing can reduce how urgently clients approach DRM and the priority they assign to sustaining progress. This suggests that a failure to make and sustain progress on DRM should be considered more explicitly in deciding on the size and frequency of subsequent budget support, at least outside the context of countercyclical support during a crisis.
The IEG evaluation on DRM makes four recommendations for enhancing the impact of support for DRM:
- Regularly take stock of the findings of the broad range of tax diagnostics tools and instruments to identify knowledge gaps and inform priority settings for country-level policy dialogue, capacity building, and operations to improve DRM.
- Regularly assess the effectiveness and efficiency of tax exemptions in achieving country-specific policy objectives, with an eye to more actively supporting the sustainable reduction of regressive tax exemptions through policy advice and conditionality in DPOs.
- Strengthen incentives to sustain reforms and make reversal more challenging, such as by emphasising reforms to contain the proliferation of new tax exemptions and prioritising measures that strengthen the governance framework for granting exemptions.
- Provide more concrete guidance on good practice in defining indicators for tracking the impact of World Bank DRM interventions.
These recommendations are aimed at helping the World Bank to better support its client countries in raising more domestic revenue, which is essential for financing development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.