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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition

Andrew MacMillan
Andrew MacMillanFormerly FAOItaly

Dear Friends,

Almost 2 years have elapsed since ICN 2 produced its Framework for Action. There are just 14 years left to achieve the nutritional goals set by ICN2 and reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030. And here we are still discussing what to do rather than getting on with implementing the agreed Framework.

We seem to be doing well in building political commitment to do more about all aspects of malnutrition but, as so often seems to happen, we are not getting much closer to improving people’s lives on a significant scale.

The danger is that we shall spend the Decade endlessly, as in this Forum, discussing what to do and have nothing more than a pretty website to show at the end of it. Many people will have died prematurely because of our repeated failures to translate good intent into practical actions.

I often look to Brazil’s example what can be achieved when commitments are translated into determined action and are given the highest political backing. On his first day in office in January 2003, Lula swung into immediate action. He made getting rid of hunger his government’s highest priority; launched a multi-component programme; put new institutional arrangements in place (bringing together government, civil society and the private sector) and made the necessary budgetary allocations to get the programme started and sustained. At the heart of the Zero Hunger programme was the recognition that hunger was a consequence of poverty and that direct targeted moves to increase the incomes of the poor by regular and predictable cash transfers would be the main instrument for empowering them to eat better. The Zero Hunger strategy evolved steadily in the coming years, learning continuously from its experience. It has been subject to lots of criticism , but, in a very short period, it made a huge difference to the lives of the poor in Brazil and narrowed the gap between rich and poor.

The UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge was intended to get other countries to follow Brazil’s example, with leaders translating their commitments into genuine action. Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) was launched with similar intent, and the UK government used the London Olympics to launch Nutrition for Growth (N4G) as yet another attempt to build political commitment. But, after much fanfare, each of these well intended initiatives runs out of steam and money. There is a real danger that the Decade of Action will not be endowed with a secretariat and the resources needed to achieve the expected results and will have to compete with the remnants of earlier fading initiatives.

It is good that FAO and WHO have been tasked with leading the implementation of the Decade by the UN GA, but, if they are to really make a difference, the Secretariat must be endowed by its two god-parent Organizations with a clear mandate and targets, a high measure of autonomy, dynamic leadership, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals (hopefully drawing in those who have worked well in the earlier initiatives), the backing of a strong technical committee and access to  substantial financial resources to “prime” promising activities in committed countries.  It is possible that this is what is envisaged but this is not clear. The Proclamation of the Decade for Action legitimises a huge high-profile effort which will not be possible if the work is embedded deeply in the hierarchies of the two Organization, tucked away in a corner of their bureaucracies.

ICN2 was rightly proclaimed as a success, but its legacy will be small unless the governments that approved the Framework for Action and the launch of the Decade provide FAO and WHO with the authority, resources and staff to orchestrate effective implementation, building on  and drawing together – rather than competing with – the various well-intended but under-resourced initiatives set up in recent years with similar goals.