Which governments are doing best/worst in the fight against hunger and undernutrition?

July 3, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) 2013 measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries. It uses HANCI-logotwo types of data. Primary data comes from Expert Perception Survey’s (EPS) and provides an in-depth view of six countries in the larger dataset (Bangladesh, Malawi, Zambia, Nepal, Tanzania and India). The secondary data analyses 45 countries across 22 indicators analysing political commitment to tackle hunger and undernutrition in terms of policies, laws and spending (see diagram for how the index is constructed).

HANCI index construction

Main findings?

Economic growth has not necessarily led to increased action by governments. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are global hotspots of hunger and undernutrition, even though many countries within these regions have achieved sustained economic growth over the last decade. For example, Zambia has had a decade of rapid economic growth, yet hunger is highly prevalent and nearly half the population were undernourished during the period 2010-2012, and according to HANCI the Government’s efforts to address these are actually weakening.

Nutrition does not get as much political traction as hunger. Hunger is about empty stomachs; undernutrition is about having the wrong things in your stomach – a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets – and/or a weakened immune system. Expert perception surveys show that hunger spending is strongly sensitive to electoral cycles, in contrast to nutrition.

For instance politicians in Tanzania anticipate that people vote on the basis of having their stomach filled, so those in power prioritise action to reduce hunger, such as investing in maize production, over efforts to address chronic undernutrition, e.g. by focussing on dietary diversity and clean water. Limited awareness by political leaders and the general public of the dire consequences of undernutrition means that it is harder to get undernutrition onto political agendas.

Perhaps because of these different political dynamics, as Lawrence Haddad points out on his blog, there is very little correlation between government action on hunger, and on nutrition.

This is the second year of the index, and once again, Guatemala is ranked number one. However competition for the top spot is heating up with Peru and Malawi making significant improvements on their political commitments.

last hunger seasonSome low ranked countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Myanmar, are showing clear improvements. E.g. Burundi increased agriculture spending by 5.9 per cent; enhanced people’s security of tenure over agriculture land; enhanced coverage rates of Vitamin A supplementation; increased access to water and sanitation; initiated a national nutrition policy/strategy; and strengthened safety nets.

But some countries which are already at the bottom of the HANCI ranking, including Guinea Bissau, the Yemen and Sudan are demonstrating a decline in relative commitment. These countries are increasingly getting left behind.

To view the full HANCI data and download the report visit the new HANCI website, which allows you to explore the index data in depth to analyse and compare how each country has performed.

And here’s the country rankings

HANCI rankings 2013


One minor, nerdy beef: I wish we could standardize the year people put on their annual reports. When publishing something in 2014, some (I’m looking at you, World Development Report) slap a ‘2015’ on it, presumably to enhance its shelf life; others more sensibly say 2014; but modest/bashful/honest ones like HANCI, go with 2013 – I spent ages (well, a couple of minutes) trying to find the 2014 version. Maybe my brain was still recovering from a week’s bird-watching……..


July 3, 2014
Duncan Green