Home grown nutrition

ID-100149608 (2)The 1,000 day Initiative and Scaling Up Nutrition movement, detailed in Chapter 2, brought to the political fore the serious impacts of child malnutrition, which affects 40% of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. Malnutrition early in life not only impacts learning, levels of schooling attained, future earning potential and national economic growth but is a condition which is often passed from mothers to children, persisting across generations.

In a new UK Parliamentary report, Home Grown Nutrition, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development, agricultural and other pathways to improving nutrition are discussed.

Agriculture and nutrition

Agriculture is a key industry for sub-Saharan Africa and investments in agricultural development are one of the most effective tools to ensure economic, social and political well-being. Smallholder farmers in Africa represent the largest economically productive business sector in the developing world, but they produce only a sixth of the output of farmers in Europe or North America. The potential to increase their productivity is enormous.

Investing in smallholder agriculture can address malnutrition directly through increased incomes and the diversification of food for household consumption. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, research has shown that the biggest limiting factor on food and nutrition security is income. And a diet that meets children’s energy, protein and micronutrient needs for optimal growth and development is four times more expensive than a diet with only adequate calories. Greater income, generated through agriculture, a sector that employs the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa, can be spent on healthcare, education and, crucially, food. [Read more…]

Taking action on malnutrition

ID-10031262 (2)A lack of sufficient nutrients in the diet is responsible for around 2.6 million deaths of children per year, the largest killer of children in the world. Those children that do survive will be stunted in their physical growth and mental development, which can not only cause health problems but will detrimentally impact their education and earning potential for the rest of their lives. This is a risk faced by some 165 million children across the world.

This year, high-level decision makers will come together on 8th June for a Hunger summit, hosted by David Cameron, ahead of this year’s G8, and nutrition will likely be on the agenda. But what action can leaders, donors and people on the ground take to tackle undernutrition?

The Montpellier Panel, in their 2011 briefing paper on Scaling Up Nutrition, outlined the urgent need for children to receive adequate nutrition in the first 1000 days of their lives (from conception to 2 years old). It also detailed the measures the United Nations Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement was taking globally to combat child undernutrition. The SUN movement works with partner countries (35 to date) to integrate nutrition into development plans across sectors such as health, education and agriculture.

In particular the SUN movement supports the following interventions and policies:

Specific Nutrition Interventions

  • Support for exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and continued breastfeeding, together with appropriate and nutritious food, up to 2 years of age;
  • Fortification of foods;
  • Micronutrient supplementation; and
  • Treatment of severe malnutrition.

Nutrition-Sensitive Approaches

  • Agriculture: Making nutritious food more accessible to everyone, and supporting small farms as a source of income for women and families;
  • Clean Water and Sanitation: Improving access to reduce infection and disease;
  • Education and Employment: Making sure children have the energy that they need to learn and earn sufficient income as adults;
  • Health Care: Improving access to services to ensure that women and children stay healthy;
  • Support for Resilience: Establishing a stronger, healthier population and sustained prosperity to better endure emergencies and conflicts; and
  • Women’s Empowerment: At the core of all efforts, women are empowered to be leaders in their families and communities, leading the way to a healthier and stronger world.

Recent interest has focused on the contribution of agriculture to ending hunger and malnutrition. Agriculture plays a crucial role in access to nutritious and diverse crops, affordable sources of foods and as an income source but the links between agriculture and nutrition are not always clear. Several recent reports have summarised how agricultural development can have positive outcomes for household nutrition. [Read more…]

FAO releases new (conservative) hunger numbers

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in their 2012 State of Food Insecurity report estimate the number of hungry in the world to be 868 million, 852 million of which are in developing countries. This is down from their past estimates of 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009.

The FAO, over the past year, has been in the process of improving its methodology for calculating chronic hunger and reviewing its data sources to reflect a more multidimensional view of food insecurity. Such revisions were called for by the Committee on World Food Security in 2011 and have resulted in this updated figure. Most notably FAO’s calculation of its undernourishment indicator has been adjusted and is thought to have declined more steeply up to 2007 than previous estimates while the actual impact of recent food price spikes on the number of hungry was less than originally thought.

There are reasons, however, why the 868 million should be considered conservative. For example, the calculation of food available for household consumption doesn’t take into account food wasted and while resource-poor households are unlikely to waste precious food, the FAO does recognise that “this effectively makes the FAO Prevalence of Undernutrition estimate a conservative indicator of food insecurity”. [Read more…]

Modelling Undernutrition

A new paper published in the Lancet in July 2012 aimed to redress the gaps in reporting child malnutrition across the world. Authors wanted to investigate the validity of a modelling approach to determining the status of child malnutrition at global, regional and national levels. Using data from a variety of sources, such as nutrition and household surveys and summary statistics from the WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, the authors calculated weight-for age Z scores. Using a Bayesian hierarchical mixture model to estimate Z score distributions, the authors investigated the validity of this model and its outcomes.

The overall findings were that globally in 2011, 314 million children under the age of five were mildly, moderately or severely stunted and 258 million were mildly, moderately or severely underweight. These results were also assessed with a view to exploring the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 1 (halving hunger and poverty by 2015). For all developing countries (141 in total), there is less than a 5% chance of meeting the MDG1 target but this chance is not evenly distributed with 61 of these countries reporting a 50-100% chance. Indeed while progress to meet MDG1 in Sub Saharan Africa would appear weak with only three countries on track, a further 13 are on track to halve poverty and 10 to halve hunger.