FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Improving nutrition on the agenda at UN’s Asia-Pacific Food and Agriculture Organization Conference

07/03/2016 Putrajaya, Malaysia

 

Countries across Asia and the Pacific are considering ways to tackle nutrition problems through national multi-sectoral and sustainable approaches, with an emphasis on improving diets and eradicating the scourge of child stunting, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.  

FAO is recommending that governments in the Asia and Pacific region work across relevant ministries to systematically integrate food safety and nutrition into their agriculture and food policies.  The recommendation was also a key outcome of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), convened by FAO and WHO, in Rome in 2014.

This week’s discussions on nutrition are in relation to a paper prepared for FAO’s 33rd Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC33). The APRC has brought together Government Ministers and senior officials from some 46 FAO member countries to discuss a number of issues important to the region’s future food security.  The Conference is being held in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Challenges and constraints

As a whole, the Asia–Pacific region achieved the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1C. Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of hunger in the Asia-Pacific region was reduced by 12 percent from the initial 24 percent. The region also made substantial progress in reducing the absolute number of people suffering from chronic hunger. During roughly the same period, the region achieved the largest reduction in the number of undernourished people from 726.2 million to 490 million.

But, despite this remarkable achievement, Asia and the Pacific still accounts for 62 percent of the world's undernourished people. A chronic lack of nutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, can lead to physical and mental underdevelopment and stunted growth in children.

“Stunting of children in this region remains a serious problem, and it’s something that must be addressed,” said Shashi Sareen, the paper’s author and FAO’s Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer for the region. “In South and Southeast Asia the prevalence of stunting ranges from 20 to 40 percent in many countries. The social, physical and economic consequences of food insecurity and malnutrition are too significant to be ignored.” Indeed, reducing stunting is one of the indicators for the new Sustainable Development Goals (goal #2).

Co-existing with substantial undernutrition is increasing childhood obesity, with some18 million overweight children below five years of age. The incidence of food-borne diseases and new and emerging food-borne hazards are also on the rise. Integrating nutrition in food and agriculture policies

FAO is recommending that countries incorporate explicit nutrition goals, objectives, components, targets and measurable indicators into the design of agricultural, trade and food security policies, programmes and investment. The paper says this should include measuring and tracking progress towards a commonly agreed set of nutrition targets, goals and objectives, using monitoring and evaluation systems comprised of nutrition surveillance and a relevant set of nutrition indicators such as dietary diversity scores.

According to the paper, sectoral policies that are related to food and agriculture such as food safety policies, food price policies, environmental and social protection policies need to focus on nutrition if true food security is to be achieved.

Improving multi-sectoral collaboration is extremely important and addresses joint strategies and approaches across Ministries for achieving nutritional outcomes.

Ultimately, countries in the Asia–Pacific region are advised to implement nutrition awareness and education programmes for farmers, traders and food and agriculture policy-makers, planners and those who implement initiatives that may have an impact on nutrition outcomes.  The paper also calls for the integration of nutrition education into agriculture extension services, including behaviour change communications initiatives that can change people’s dietary habits for the better. 

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