The political outcome document of the ICN2 should refer explicitly to a few priority streams of work that should be guiding country efforts and those of the international community.
Evidence from countries that have been successful in reducing under-nutrition shows that insufficient calorie intake can be ended and under-five child and maternal under-nutrition greatly reduced within 10 to 15 years through strong, specific and immediate efforts. This requires a pragmatic combination of strategies built around at least two of the three following major streams of work: i) social protection for the poor; ii) raising net incomes from small scale agriculture; and iii) addressing under-five child and maternal nutritional deficiencies through specific interventions.
First, social protection, including cash transfers on a conditional or unconditional basis and school feeding programmes. When such programmes are well articulated with rural/agricultural development policies and nutrition initiatives, synergies produce strong multiplier effects.
Second, raising net incomes in the rural and agriculture sector, especially through support to small-scale agriculture. Boosting small-scale farm productivity and diversification, while promoting more sustainable practices, can play a significant role in reducing rural hunger and malnutrition by improving the local availability and nutritional quality of food and by creating employment opportunities. This requires strong government investments in public goods including infrastructure. Actions supporting productivity enhancements by small producers “protect” them socially, economically and nutritionally, particularly when such support improves access to land, finance, productive assets, technology, and input and output markets.
Third, prioritizing under-five child and motherhood nutrition deficiencies. Action required to tackle stunting improved sanitation and hygiene, nutrition information and education, access to health care, and appropriate specific nutrition enhancing interventions and programmes, some of which are – or can be - linked to small producer support or to social protection programmes.
These three streams of work offer strong potential for synergies. For example: i) School feeding programmes may provide balanced diets and nutritious foods of local origin, hence contributing to enhanced income for local farmers while tackling macro- and micro nutrient deficiencies; ii) Additional purchasing power created by social protection mechanisms, such as food distribution schemes, rural employment programs, cash transfer programmes and school feeding, stimulate rural markets and can boost the solvable demand for food – hence multiplying the effects of small-holder support agricultural policies, and complementing specific nutrition interventions; iii) Agricultural policies providing support to family farming increase rural incomes and hence household members access to food, and when properly articulated with agricultural extension, nutritional education and social protection programmes, they may induce more balanced diets and nutritious foods of local origin - hence contributing to tackling micro- and macro-nutrient deficiencies, and to improving health and labour productivity; iv) Additional purchasing power created by social protection mechanisms, such as food distribution schemes, rural employment programs or cash transfer programmes, stimulate rural markets and can boost the solvable demand for food – hence multiplying the effects of small-holder support agricultural policies, and complementing specific nutrition interventions, etc.
What is needed is an “All-of Government” approach to nutrition. There is not, at country level, a “single ministry” addressing issues as diverse as income re-distribution measures, nutritional supplements, nutritional education, change of dietary habits, food preferences, misleading advertizing and rural poverty. Heads of government have to ensure themselves effective cross-ministerial coordination The three above streams of work require initiatives, rapid up-scaling and coordination at the highest levels of government. This must be backed by strong political will and adequate budgetary support. Programmes supporting these priorities have to be kept as simple as possible in order to permit: i)the indispensible rapid scaling-up at the national level of these efforts; and ii) to contain costs.. Other crucial initiatives, such as recognition of the Right to Food in the national constitution, can help to mobilize and sustain broad national commitment.
There is a need to prioritize hunger eradication as an essential driver of national development strategy. Ending hunger and malnutrition requires a large-scale, comprehensive approach, linking macro-economic, social, health, sanitation, environmental and agricultural policies. It is crucial that hunger eradication is placed at the centre of a country’s overall development strategy. A variety of macro-economic and sectoral policy instruments must be deployed, with the entire machinery driven by major public investments and structural policy reforms. The scale of such investments is typically quite large—a social protection floor alone can reach 2 percent of GDP—but is essential to achieving hunger-fighting objectives and triggering developmental dynamics.
There is also a need for full social participation. In successful efforts to fight malnutrition, society as a whole becomes engaged. Broad participation sustains local and national efforts—even through changes of government and severe economic and climatic shocks. It also enhances accountability, and distributes the burden of implementation. Institutional mechanisms, such as a national council for food and nutrition, with representatives from civil society and the private sector who make recommendations directly to the highest authorities, can and should be key supports. Similar mechanisms can operate at provincial and local levels. In political society, the hungry are virtually synonymous with the voiceless. The hungry themselves must be empowered to exercise political clout.
The political document of ICN2 should make clear and concrete statements proposing a synthetic and pragmatic vision of the road map proposed above, based on these three streams of work. These should constitute the backbone of the Action plan.