Scale Up Nutrition coordinates global action to root out under-nutrition.
This week in New Delhi, nearly 1,000 international officials, scientists, advocates and development specialists are coming together to discuss how agriculture can be leveraged to improve nutrition and health.
Nearly one-sixth of the people in our world are affected by chronic hunger. At any time, around a quarter of all children suffer from under-nutrition. Not only are they more likely to die, but also they do less well in school and, later in life, earn less than those who were well nourished. Proper feeding during the period from conception to a child's second birthday is critical.
Such evidence on the impact of under-nutrition on the long term prospects of children is compelling. This alone is reason to act. More importantly, we know we can make a difference when we do act. There is a widespread recognition that we have a series of well-tested and low-cost interventions to address under-nutrition.
We have a window of opportunity for action now. Countries want to act. They want their people to enjoy better health, education and productivity through improving levels of nutrition. In September, 2010, in New York, a movement to support national efforts to Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) was launched. World leaders — including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ministers from developing and industrialised countries, leaders of development organisations, European Commissioners — committed to action and results within 1,000 days — by July 2013. A room full of leaders saying that “Nutrition's time has come”.
Under SUN, each country will address the challenge differently. There is no single prescription or top-down control. But outside support, where offered, must be responsive to what countries need, and it must be properly coordinated.
On September 24, 2010, development partners committed to provide this coordinated support. They are now working with senior officials from developing countries to take this commitment forward — analysing how they will raise the profile of nutrition within their development programmes.
The SUN movement has gathered momentum. It is starting to support action in countries, coordinate regional and global support functions, and stimulate financial support. It helps bring different professional groups together with a single purpose. It will enable hundreds of stakeholders to work together for measurable results within 1,000 days. And results are what SUN is about: helping mothers and children access the nutrition they need for a productive life. And success breeds success. The more SUN practitioners can show that they are effectively tackling under-nutrition, the greater the political and financial support to extend this work.
Effective results require the SUN movement to get to the roots of the problem of under-nutrition. In many places, agriculture and food policies are not designed to enable all people to get the balance of nutrients that they need. Women and children from households with low incomes may only be able to access some nutrients for some months each year. Women need year-round access to nutritious food, the time to feed and care for themselves in pregnancy and their small children when they are young. They need better access to water, sanitation and basic healthcare so that disease rates are reduced. Then they will be able to reduce stunting and improve micronutrient levels in their newborns and children under two.
This is why the SUN movement focuses on nutrition-sensitive agriculture, food systems, safety nets and employment policies. The priority needs to be on women's working conditions and on their access to basic water, sanitation and health services.
This week's meeting in New Delhi marks an important moment for the SUN movement. Our aim is to focus on how best we can advance SUN so that it is a powerful force for practical change. Scientific research will be crucial to this: it must be robust and in a form that can readily be turned into pragmatic intervention.
With science, self-confidence and synergy the SUN movement should make a real contribution to the sort of agricultural transformation that is needed to tackle under-nutrition. This transformation will require political leadership, an openness to bring in expertise from a variety of areas, and a systematic approach to ensuring that real progress is being made and can be sustained. This will involve a wide range of actors: from farmers, civil society organisations to financiers, government and — most importantly — the very people who need support.
This week's groundbreaking event in New Delhi will add momentum to the SUN movement and help us all reach the elusive Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger and under-nutrition by 2015.
(The writer is United Nations Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition.)
Keywords: nutrition and health