I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to report back to the joint committee. A short perusal of the contents of the report will provide members with an understanding of the background. It essentially reports on how Ireland is doing against the recommendations of the earlier hunger task force report.
I propose to address some of the major findings I have made in recent years. I apologise to those who might have been at the meeting yesterday, as I will be trotting over a little bit of old ground essentially to set the overall context. Briefly, in terms of overall progress globally in tackling malnutrition, the picture is not very encouraging. While I acknowledge it has only been a short time since the report was produced, globally there has not been much progress. We still are very much off track in respect of the first millennium development goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. Nevertheless, it is important to focus on some of the positives and even the global context. There has been some progress. All commentators would point to an improvement in the investment that is now being made in agriculture. That is not simply being made by donors but in many developing countries, progress is being made to crank up their own budgets for agriculture. Although the figures for nutrition do not suggest much improvement - and I will revert to this subject later - we certainly can take some courage from the much increased focus that now is being placed globally on the issue of nutrition and responses to it.
This afternoon I will talk about what Ireland has done. The first point is that in my assessment we have responded strongly and positively to the recommendations of the hunger task force. That document contained quite a number of recommendations and we can look at progress on virtually all of them. Excellent work is being done in the field and I have had a chance to visit some of the programmes. I have been highly impressed with some of the work being done out there. Likewise, I have been greatly impressed when talking to colleagues here, in Irish Aid and among the NGOs, by how much of a commitment there now is to the hunger agenda. This certainly has been very striking in the couple of years since I have taken on this role. We now are beginning to see some definite progress and some definite achievements in respect of the quite difficult subject of influencing others. This is the subject of advocacy to which the hunger task force report refers and I will return to it in a minute.
Briefly, in respect of agriculture, members will recall that the hunger task force report stresses three broad themes of support for agriculture with reference to smallholder agriculture, particularly in Africa, and with a particular focus on women farmers. The usual estimate is that women comprise 80% of the producers in Africa in smallholder agriculture. Consequently, the emphasis is on smallholder agriculture and on women. As for the nutrition dimension, the hunger task force recommended a strong focus on nutrition and in particular on what is a particularly difficult nut to crack, namely, the issue of chronic malnutrition, which is the big one. We probably all are more familiar with the acute malnutrition that one can see from the visual images that sometimes cross television screens or appear in newspapers. However, I refer to malnutrition that sometimes is unseen. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, up to 50% of the children born there are stunted. This figure is staggering by any standard and it is that part of the malnutrition problem on which we have been particularly anxious to focus.
On reflection, when looking back on recent years, it is in the area of advocacy that Ireland has made its most significant contribution. We have done some great work in agriculture. We also have done some great work, and are doing even more, in respect of nutrition but it is in the area of advocacy that we are having a real impact. I was in New York last September to attend the launch of the 1,000 Days initiative, that is, the 1,000 Days nutrition programme that was co-hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, and the Secretary of State, Ms Clinton. In itself, it was a huge event that brought together the Secretary General, many highly influential people in the area of food security and nutrition, a number of political leaders and important figures from the NGO world and so on. While the meeting itself was a hugely significant event, the important point is that Ireland now is working closely with a major player, namely, the United States, which is actively and enthusiastically working with us on this initiative. Apart from the meeting, I refer to the progress that has been made even in the brief time since September. For example, the Secretary General's special representative, Dr. David Nabarro, visited Dublin yesterday. He came here to discuss how to take this initiative to the next stage with a representative from the office of the Secretary of State of the United States and with Ireland. Some work is being done in mapping out how this process can be taken forward to induce a number of countries with particular problems in tackling chronic malnutrition to plan definite actions on this hugely important initiative.
I am unsure whether I have mentioned the 1,000 Days initiative. I refer to the recognition that we need to make an impact during the first 1,000 days of a child's life, namely, from conception to two years of age, as otherwise, in many cases, we never will. We must tackle and address malnutrition at that early stage of childhood development covered by this critical 1,000 days, which sometimes is referred to as the period from minus nine to 24 months. The initiative taken in September to work with the United States, the United Nations and other partners was to prioritise this issue in particular. This is a concrete and tangible outcome of the hunger task force and all the work being done by people in Ireland. It is making a difference and it will make an even greater difference in the months and years ahead.
I could go on but I wished to flag that issue. Incidentally, I do not speak only of the work being done by the Irish bilateral programme. I certainly have seen, recognise and applaud the excellent work done by a range of non-governmental organisations, many of which are funded or partially-funded under the programme. They have stepped up to the mark and are very much focused on trying to tackle some of the hugely critical problems of agricultural under-development and of nutrition. It is making a difference and in the programmes I have witnessed in the four countries of Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Lesotho, we are making a difference and are saving lives. It is vitally important that we continue. We have the focus and the emphasis right. I am not suggesting that we radically change any of the major themes or priorities that were identified by the hunger task force. In my report I simply make some suggestions as to how we can strengthen some of this work in all three of the areas.
The message I would like to leave with the committee is that Ireland has responded positively. That response is being recognised internationally by other donors. I mentioned the US. It is also being recognised in EU deliberations. It is certainly being recognised among our multilateral UN agency partners. It behoves us to continue and strengthen that work and to make it even more effective. My message is that we have started very well and I sincerely hope that Ireland continues to keep this priority because it is vitally important.