Mastering the last mile to food security

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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IFPRI, Milo Mitchell

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for achieving food and nutrition security? According to Roberto Ridolfi, Director for Sustainable Growth and Development at the European Commission, there is not far left to go, but the journey still presents many obstacles to overcome. To him, the last mile is “the last inch between the fingers of the farmer and the seed in the soil.” On June 14th, the eve of the European Development Days, delegates congregated in Brussels at a workshop entitled Going the Last Mile: Accelerating Progress in Food Security and Nutrition. The evocative title conjured up different images for each speaker, which combine to create a path along this mile:

Step one: use the brain

For a long-distance runner, like Stineke Oenema from the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, “the last mile of a marathon can be the hardest to complete”. The last mile is when the brain must be engaged to mentally, as well as physically, push towards the finish line. Similarly, now is the time to engage the knowledge of scientists, engineers, and experts in order to overcome the final barriers, such as lack of access to a varied diet or improved seeds, which allow food insecurity and malnutrition to persist.

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Credit: Scott Wallace, World Bank

Indeed, in order to create sustainable agricultural growth research is desperately needed, for instance to generate improved varieties of crops. An excellent example of the impact that this can have was delivered by HarvestPlus Country Manager for Rwanda, Joseph Mulambu, who discussed their biofortified high-iron beans. Not only can a portion of the biofortified beans provide half of the daily requirement of iron, but the beans have been shown to be drought resistant, inferring an extra advantage to those who grow them. Using conventional breeding techniques, HarvestPlus scientists have contributed a crop that is nutritious and can reduce iron deficiency while at the same time improves farmer resilience to droughts, which are likely to become more severe and more frequent due to climate change. This is exactly the kind of innovation that helps the finish line come into view. [Read more…]

On this Africa Day, we need to talk about nutrition

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0. Originally posted by the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London

Photo Credit  Fintrac Inc - kenyan families feeding children nutritious foodAs we celebrate Africa Day 2016, it’s time to reflect on the state of nutrition in Africa and the weighty effect malnutrition has on the continent’s ability to prosper. Progress has been made over the past decades, for example through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to reduce extreme hunger and starvation. However, it is the quality of food that people consume and a lack of variety that is of increasing concern. A few weeks ago, Roger Thurow, a Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, released a new book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World. The book lays out that nutrition, or lack thereof, in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to the age of two – has a profound and lasting influence on a child’s ability to grow, learn, develop and work.

Stunting is a measurable impact of malnutrition, but the height of a child doesn’t tell the full story. The development of the child’s brain is also affected, so stunted children are more likely to fall behind in school, fail to achieve decent incomes, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty for the next generation. The cumulative effect of widespread malnutrition in a group of people can therefore directly impact, and limit, a society’s ability to develop and prosper. Thurow’s book highlights Uganda in particular, where half of women of childbearing age are anaemic and about 35% of children suffer stunting due to malnourishment. Indeed, a staggering 40% of all under-five deaths in Uganda are caused by malnutrition. Tragically, Uganda is not an isolated case in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40% of all children under the age of five are stunted. [Read more…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part one

ID-100334531Malnutrition, in its various forms, is thought to affect over 2 billion people in the world and, as such, has far reaching consequences for societies, economies and livelihoods. Tackling poor nutrition is both complex and opportunistic in that there are links between nutrition and a whole other range of factors. In other words by tackling nutrition directly we may positively contribute to other developmental problems but there are also multiple ways to address undernutrition indirectly. While there is broad consensus on the need to take direct nutrition interventions such as promoting exclusive breastfeeding or biofortification of crops with micronutrients such as vitamin A or zinc, there is also an urgent need to tackle the underlying and inter-related determinants of malnutrition. The Lancet, for example, suggests that direct nutrition interventions, even if implemented at 90% coverage in high-burden countries would only reduce global stunting by 20%.

So-called nutrition-sensitive approaches are gaining popularity and the importance of including nutrition in a wide variety of sectors and policies is becoming better understood. Here we discuss some of the alternative routes through which malnutrition is impacted and thus could be reduced.

  1. Agriculture

The contribution of agriculture to meeting the nutritional needs of the population cannot be overstated, and the nutrition component of agricultural policies and investment plans needs to be strengthened. In Africa, agricultural development has been primarily focused on boosting production and developing markets with little attention given to nutrition. But agriculture is at the heart of addressing malnutrition. Its products provide us with the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals our bodies need. And in many developing countries the majority of people who are malnourished live in rural areas and depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods. In fact, demographic and health survey (DHS) data shows that individuals living in rural areas are between 1.3 and 3.3 times more likely to be stunted than people in urban areas, which indicates that agriculture still has a long way to go in providing the global population with the right nutrition and adequate calories. It also indicates that by improving agricultural diversity and productivity in rural farming areas, malnutrition could be significantly reduced, although evidence on the impact agriculture can have on nutrition is currently limited in formal literature.

So how does agriculture need to change in order to better serve the world’s nutritional needs? The food system needs to provide access to enough nutritious foods, promote social norms that foster good nutrition practices and provide adequate income to purchase nutritious foods. Ensuring nutritious foods are affordable, accessible and available is essential and has typically been overlooked in the agricultural sector, rather being the domain of development and health. Home and school gardens, small livestock production, aquaculture and marketing policies which keep the prices of such foods at affordable levels are examples of food-based nutrition improvement initiatives. Some argue that the entire food chain needs to be put under a “nutrition lens” in order to identify areas for intervention such as “expanding and diversifying food production, improving food processing, preservation and preparation of foods, reducing losses and waste and assessing intervention impact on dietary consumption”.

The Soils, Food and Health and Communities (SFHC) project, used participatory research methods and awareness raising activities in Ekwendeni village in Northern Malawi to help smallholder famers select and test mixtures of diverse legume species for growing in combination with maize. Project results show that the intercropping of maize with legume mixes has led to improved nutrition for children in communities where the project is being implemented (over 9000 farmers have adopted this technology so far). [Read more…]

Making progress on nutrition

SUNA new report was launched last week in the Houses of Parliament which lays out progress made in tackling nutrition in several counties, as well as the challenges still ahead. “What works for nutrition? Stories of success from Vietnam, Uganda and Kenya”, a joint publication from RESULTS UK, Concern Worldwide and the University of Westminster, discusses these countries success in the context of global nutrition targets and concludes with key recommendations for government and civil society to build on this success and learn from their experiences.

Despite considerable progress in reducing hunger and the physical signs of malnutrition (the number of hungry people has been reduced by 200 million since 1990 and stunting in children under age five by 40%), malnutrition still places a heavy burden on survival and overall development. Some two billion people, for example, are estimated to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (about 27% of the global population), which can have wide ranging long-term and irreversible consequences for their health and livelihoods. Undernutrition can reduce GDP and an individual’s earnings by as much as 10%. Progress in tackling malnutrition has also been uneven and inequitable: children in rural areas, for example, as twice as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas. But global initiatives are improving awareness of global malnutrition, and in 2012, the World Health Association (WHA) endorsed six targets on nutrition to be achieved by 2025.

  1. Achieve a 40% reduction in the number of children under-5 who are stunted;
  2. Achieve a 50% reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age;
  3. Achieve a 30% reduction in low birth weight;
  4. Ensure that there is no increase in childhood overweight;
  5. Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%;
  6. Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5%.

Financing for nutrition has been growing recently, although evidence indicates donors need to quadruple their financial pledges and governments need to at least double the amount allocated to nutrition in order to meet the WHA target on stunting in 37 high burden countries. And nutrition is a good investment: every dollar invested in nutrition yields more than 16 in return. [Read more…]

4 ways to reduce malnutrition

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Image courtesy of [rakratchada torsap] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tackling undernutrition is, as the full extent of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies becomes apparent, critical for human wellbeing and development. In the past we have tended to focus, with limited success, on ensuring people have enough to eat, on making the world “food secure” and on fighting hunger but now we are beginning to understand that if we are to lead healthy, productive lives, it is also about having enough to eat of the right mix of nutrients. And unlike hunger, often viewed as a more common problem in developing countries, poor nutrition, whether through famine or feasting, can be universal.

In 2008, when The Lancet published their Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition, global policymakers began to take notice and the Scaling-Up Nutrition movement was born. Today this momentum is continuing and the new Sustainable Development Goals focus more on nutrition and non-communicable diseases than the Millennium Development Goals did. We are also learning more and more about what can be done to lessen the burden of malnutrition. Here we discuss four approaches, all of which will be needed for malnutrition to significantly decline: the scaling up of successful and cost-effective direct interventions; prioritisation of the first 1,000 day window in a child’s existence; the development of food systems that deliver enough healthy food and prioritise human health; and coordination and collaboration across government sectors to put nutrition at the heart of relevant policies and programmes.

Scale-up direct interventions where they work

Nutrition, while impacted by agricultural productivity, poverty and income, is unlikely to be improved through more general programmes aimed at bringing about economic and social development. Income growth alone will not reduce rates of malnutrition, and so we need direct interventions to tackle malnutrition. Things such as vitamin, mineral and micronutrient supplementation; delayed cord clamping after birth, kangaroo mother care, early initiation of breastfeeding, promotion of dietary diversity, fortifying staple foods, cash transfer programmes, community-based nutrition education, and school feeding programmes. [Read more…]

Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security

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By Katy Wilson

This Friday (30th October) marks the 6th annual Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security (ADFNS). This year the day will be commemorated in Kampala, Uganda, where, at the 15th Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit in 2010 it was first declared. Since then the day has been commemorated in Malawi, Ethiopia, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2014 at the 23rd session of the AU summit, African Heads of State committed to ending hunger by 2025 and reducing stunting to 10% in the same period. This commitment is one of seven forming the Malabo Declaration. ADFNS provides an opportunity to reaffirm this goal and report on progress that has been made in reaching this commitment, among other objectives. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World report asserts that, as projected for 2014-2016, the prevalence of undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 23.2%%, down from 23.8% between 2012-2014.

The main aim of ADFNS is to bring together a range of stakeholders to intensify pressure to tackle food and nutrition security challenges in Africa, motivate financial commitments and bring greater awareness to the progress being made on the continent and the barriers still being faced. Additionally the day serves as a platform to facilitate sharing of experiences and knowledge, support for learning and measurement of progress.

The key objectives of ADFNS are:

  • To increase awareness of the importance of investing in the value-chains for nutritious foods and agricultural commodities in Africa and the benefits of doing so for social and economic development;
  • To facilitate a discussion between a variety of high-level national stakeholders as well as other governmental, not-for-profit and private sector actors such as farmers’ organisations, private businesses and academic and research institutions. With the hopes that the diverse points of view and cooperation will help shape an action plan to end hunger and malnutrition;
  • To share new technologies and best practices for empowering women;
  • To build women farmers’ awareness of market opportunities for local and indigenous foods and their role in diversifying diets and boosting food and nutrition security;
  • To promote the production and consumption of high quality, nutritious foods such as those fortified with micronutrients, or diverse nutrient dense vegetables and fruits as well animal source foods.

This year, the 6th ADFNS is centring on the theme of women, following the announcement made at the 24th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit that 2015 is the Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063. As has long been known, women are key to ending hunger and malnutrition, contributing a significant proportion of farm labour and household care. [Read more…]

Climate Change, Nutrition and Food Security: How to keep the ship afloat – CFS 2015

By Alice Marks and Katrin Glatzel

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Last week, delegates from over 100 countries, civil society organizations and the private sector convened in Rome for the 42nd meeting of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). In light of the 2015 development agenda dominated by the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the international climate negotiations taking place in early December, this year’s CFS focused on the cross-cutting theme of food and nutrition security. In her keynote address, Mary Robinson used the sinking of the Titanic as a metaphor for the oncoming food crisis; when the ship sinks it will not only be those in steerage who drown. What she meant was that we should all show interest in nutrition and food security, because it will affect rich countries as much as it will affect poorer, developing ones. Over- and under-nutrition currently affects 1 in 4 people in Africa, a worrying statistic that has repercussions far beyond the shores of the continent.

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

A side event that we hosted in cooperation with the Global Panel, The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and John Kufuor Foundation looked specifically at Climate Change, Food Security and Nutrition. Tom Arnold, a member of both the Global Panel and the Montpellier Panel, expanded upon Mary Robinson’s warning using the example of the food price crisis of 2007/8. The crisis demonstrated that as people are no longer able to afford to buy food for themselves and their families – be it due to rising prices or lower incomes – they not only go to bed hungry, but the food they do eat is of a lower quality with less nutritional value. This is a big challenge and particularly problematic for pregnant women and young children. [Read more…]