Nutrition is crucial for meeting the Millennium Development Goal 1 (fighting extreme poverty and hunger), and most of the other MDGs. Undernutrition increases morbidity and mortality, impairs cognitive development in children and work productivity in adults, and negatively impacts household and national economies. However, it is subject to multi-sector influences and suffers from a chronic lack of funding, which has resulted in nutrition being ‘everyone’s problem but no one’s responsibility.’
A recent rise in food prices and resulting famine in many parts of the world have turned global attention to nutrition, and important new initiatives have come into being, such as the Scaling Up Nutrition roadmap and the 1,000 Days partnership.
As part of growing interest in nutrition, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) was commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to conduct a mapping exercise of European organisations with existing or potential involvement in addressing undernutrition in low and middle income countries. The research was carried out from October 2010 to April 2011 and has resulted in the ‘Nutrition Advocacy Landscape in Europe’ report.
The report’s findings and recommendations are as follows:
Multilateral organisations are making nutrition a strategic priority.
Many agencies are increasing their financial commitments and integrating nutrition in other types of interventions, such as rural development and agriculture.
Nutrition is becoming a more prominent focus of European bilateral donors.
Bilateral donors are integrating nutrition across programmes and placing high priority on results-based frameworks. France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom lead the way in Europe.
NGOs are developing increased capacity for nutrition advocacy.
Private sector is increasingly interested in its role in addressing undernutrition.
Private sector engagement usually happens through core business and expanded market presence, and through public-private partnerships. The sector contributes a diversified functional and technical expertise and an entrepreneurial approach. Private sector involvement brings best results if there is a sustainable business model in place, which is often difficult given variable return on investment metrics. This being said, there remains a level of distrust between public and private sectors and a perception that the latter is often not seen as part of the response to undernutrition.
Among the key recommendations for the way forward, the report advocates for increased public-private sector dialogue. It also suggests a need for more evidence – more research on how large scale investments in agriculture best translate into improved nutrition.
It is these two recommendations that led us to the Building Effective Partnerships for Improved Nutrition Meeting on 14 March 2012, attended by representatives from a number of private sector companies in food manufacturing and retail as well as multilateral and bilateral donors. Firstly, the meeting aimed to build trust among the public and private sectors; and secondly, organised and facilitated by two academic institutions, LIDC and LSHTM, it aimed to introduce a knowledge and evidence base into existing and potential nutrition partnerships.
Today we have a unique opportunity to drive the coordination and scale-up of efforts across the nutrition community to ensure that tackling the problem of undernutrition becomes ‘everyone’s responsibility’. If donors, funders, civil society and research bodies work together towards one goal, we can certainly get there.
Contributed by Dr. Alan Dangour, Senior Lecturer, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine