Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

There’s More to Policy Than You Think: the Three Legs of the Policy Stool

What do you think of when you hear “food security policy?”

  1. Government policies that regulate things like land tenure, input subsidies and agricultural trade, shaping both the demand for and supply of food among poor households.

  2. The institutions that develop and implement policies that affect food security, such as ministries of agriculture and local governments and how they relate to each other, and the process whereby governments hold themselves accountable for commitments they’ve made.

  3. Both 1 and 2.

As defined by Feed the Future, the right answer is 3. In fact, Feed the Future defines policy broadly to capture three inter-related policy elements:

  1. The discrete laws or regulations that make up a country’s policy agenda. Yes, those land tenure laws and food safety regulations are the essence of what we mean by food security policy, as are rules and regulations shaping how households and firms participate in and benefit from agricultural markets and trade; seed and fertilizer policy; policies that give smallholders recourse when faced with natural and man-made disasters; policies enabling firm and household investment in agricultural and food systems; policies that enable people to access water, sanitation and other assets that affect the nutrition of families and the workforce; as well as the laws and regulations that govern the process of policy formulation and implementation.

  2. The institutions that define and implement those policies, or what we often refer to as institutional architecture. The focus on institutional architecture — as opposed to the performance of individual institutions — stresses the importance of the relationships across different institutions and acknowledges the multiplicity of capacities and institutional arrangements that can lead to improved policy outcomes. We strive to support the strengthening of institutions to undertake and implement policies, including through improved budget and implementation procedures and inter-ministerial coordination units and non-state institutions. Given the importance of public sector policies for agricultural transformation, we inclusively and sustainably help actors in countries strengthen their own institutions and processes to promote the development of agriculture. We also address institutions in the sense of social constructs, such as that around gender, which in some societies shapes women's ability to feed themselves and their children.

  3. The process through which countries define and implement those policies (also known as mutual accountability) and establish and strengthen inclusive strategy, policy and mutual accountability processes. Mutual accountability in this context refers to the process to improve alignment, contribution and accountability of all stakeholders to accelerate inclusive growth — it is about governments, the private sector and citizens holding each other accountable to make and follow through on their food security commitments. It has four components: a) a country-owned sector plan, b) voluntary stakeholder commitments, c) verifiable self-reporting on the responsible execution of individual commitments, and d) joint responsibility to ensure progress. Without mutual accountability, investment, policy and other commitments may never translate into policy and systems change that contributes to ending extreme poverty and hunger.

As a three-legged stool, policy therefore relies on having an evidence-based policy agenda, an effective institutional architecture that actually plans and implements policies, and mutual accountability that ensures governments and other stakeholders follow through on their commitments.