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Improving Nutrition through Agriculture: policy pathways and challenges discussed in Rome (Part One)
By Ann Steensland, GHI Senior Associate
In November 2014, high-level government leaders will gather in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). ICN2 will focus on policy recommendations that reduce undernutrition and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, while stimulating agricultural development and productivity throughout the food value chain. In preparation for the ICN2, the FAO, WHO, and the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition brought together government officials, experts in agriculture, nutrition, and health, and representatives from the private sector, NGOs and civil society to develop the agenda for ICN2. The meeting was held in Rome on November 16-18 and Ann Steensland, Senior Associate, represented GHI at the meetings. Many low-income and low-middle income countries face a dual challenge: they must stimulate agricultural development while reducing their rates of undernutrition. Nepal, for example, recently updated its plan to reduce malnutrition (46 percent of children in Nepal are stunted) and a plan for agricultural development will be completed soon. Unfortunately, the government has limited resources to implement these plans. The government of Nepal faces an additional challenge – a lack of capacity and technical knowledge. Globally, as a rule, agriculture officials and extension workers are not informed about the physiological and social best-practices for good nutrition and health officials are not instructed in the science and economics of agriculture. Is there a way for Nepal to overcome its limitations of knowledge and capacity to create a policy framework that is win-win for agriculture and nutrition? This is the question that ICN2 seeks to address.
Malawi offers one promising model for addressing the agriculture-nutrition conundrum. Edith Mkawa, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, described the effort in Malawi to develop coherent policies that take into consideration agricultural development, nutrition, climate change, gender issues, and education. Malawi is one of the few countries with a Ministry for Nutrition whose job it is to facilitate collaboration among government agencies, as well as between government, academia, civil society, local chiefs, and the private sector. Malawi recently began a cross-disciplinary training program for its public sector employees in agriculture and health to ensure effective implementation of its carefully coordinated policies and programs.
The vital need for policy collaboration and coherence, at a national, regional, and global level was a theme throughout the meetings in Rome. But the pathways for improving nutrition through agriculture are still being developed. Part two of “Improving Nutrition through Agriculture” looks at the current status of these “pathways” and the prospects for developing policy recommendations that are a win-win for agriculture and nutrition in ICN2.