Cutting Hunger in Real Time

Mother and daughter harvest coriander in Bangladesh. © 2011 Md. Zahidul Hassan/DATA

The people who generate information on how to combat hunger and poverty—by collecting data and conducting research—are typically far removed from the people who can put that evidence into action. In Bangladesh, however, where 36 million people are chronically hungry and 50 million live in extreme poverty, IFPRI is working alongside the government to narrow that gap.

The Policy Research and Strategy Support Program (PRSSP) based in Dhaka evolved from a highly successful May 2010 conference on investing in Bangladesh’s food and nutrition security. To facilitate evidence-based policymaking, the PRSSP conducts research in collaboration with national institutions and feeds results straight to policymakers using direct advisory services. According to Akhter Ahmed, IFPRI senior research fellow and chief of party in Dhaka, the work is driven by demand, which means “the challenges IFPRI is facing here are the challenges the government and the country are facing. And that gives us the opportunity to work on emerging issues and create a real impact.”

For example, based on a specific government request, IFPRI conducted a nationwide field-based study of the country’s largest safety net—the Employment Generation Programme for the Poorest—and found it highly successful with an impressively low level (2.8 percent) of fund leakage. In response, the government plans to continue the program but more effectively target it to women, who currently constitute less than the intended 30 percent of participants, according to the IFPRI assessment. This study was discussed, among others, at an October policy workshop that evaluated the PRSSP’s progress in its first year.

A similar government request for timely policy analysis has led PRSSP researchers to begin developing an on-site “situation room” in the Ministry of Agriculture. “Estimates on the likely size of the next rice crop,” says Ahmed, “usually come in long after the crop is harvested. For policy, that information is too late.” By speeding up the spread of information, IFPRI and the Government of Bangladesh aim to slow down the spread of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.