“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ― Ann Wigmore
Nutrition is therefore very important for the well-being of the citizens of any nation. Both the Private Sector and Civil Society are a big portion of most economies and therefore can play a major role in influencing the nutritional standards of a country. In this comment we intend to tackle the ‘Policy Issues’ portion of this discussion, specifically the first question, in relation to our local economy (Guyana, South America) where possible.
· What role can the private sector and civil society play in designing and implementing policies that make agriculture and food systems more nutrition-enhancing?
Currently in Guyana, we are on track with the MDG Goal 1 – Eradicate Extreme Poverty and hunger. According to the United Nations Development Website, “Guyana has made good progress towards eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The country has met the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, and has improved its performance in reducing poverty and increasing employment.” Using this as an indicator on the nutritional well-being of the citizens of our country we appear to be doing well overall. Guyana being an agriculture based economy is fortunate to have access to many resources that would allow proper nutritional well-being. Combining our rich agricultural resources along with advances in agricultural technology we are able to produce more organic goods that have far higher nutritional content relative to other countries.
The private sector’s interest should be providing the goods and services that meet the demands of society. For an agricultural company, it will be essential for them to provide products and services for farmers to improve their yields as well as food quality. Private sector companies increase their profits, by helping farmers increase their income and also reduce food shortages.
The private sector’s role in designing and implementing policies is analyzing the society’s needs. Hiring professional Analysts to survey society’s preferences gives the private sector’s policy makers meaningful contributions to design policies. Funding research and development for nutritious products preferred by society.
Civil society work closely with the public (persons who will be benefiting from the policy) and can therefore influence the public to adapt to policy objectives. Civil society needs specific skills such as independent monitoring and promoting accountability to make contributions to the policy design. By gathering first hand information from the general public, they can provide vital information as to what is needed under a series of policy advocacy workshops. Civil society should increase the awareness of the importance of nutritional foods to the public via meetings, campaigns among others, as it empowers local communities to benefit from the outcomes of policies.
United Nations Development Programme. Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger. 2012. http://www.undp.org.gy/web/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=... (accessed September 12, 2013).
 (United Nations Development Programme 2012)
UGAgri Group7 is a small group of students of the University of Guyana who are compiling a comprehensive report on food security and nutrition, particularly the effects of malnutrition on economies and the factors which contribute to food insecurity and the ensuing consequences. While the group has not targeted any one geographic region, developing countries-particularly Latin America and the Caribbean- are natural areas of focus.
All posts made are via a collaborative effort by the members of the team.
Regarding the discussion, we feel that:
Civil society and the private sector both have the potential to, and play big roles in issues relating to food security and nutrition in society. Civil society- usually an abstract for a number of NGOs tackling social and health issues- is often the leader in calls to the wider population to address issues that need addressing, and this must first be acknowledged and respected. So, empowering civil society to engage in policymaking and to encourage leading partnerships with other key role players will improve the creation of more effective food security and agricultural policies. In Guyana, nutrition concerns are rightfully aimed at children and current actions include school feeding programmes. Issues of sanitation and access to potable water in schools are still major concerns and need to be addressed for economic, health and social reasons if any dent is to be made in remedying low levels of nutrition in the most vulnerable segment of the population.
The private sector in recent times across the region and globally has made concerted efforts to work with other actors in states to raise levels of nutrition, typically by making cheaper, nutritious goods available to large sectors of the population where they were previously unavailable and by opening lines of credit for small scale farmers. More can be done to help establish markets in rural areas where markets for necessary inputs for small farmers are missing or incomplete, so as to facilitate the creation of community markets that control their own production and so, food security. It must be recognised that businesses tend to engage civil society on these matters only when they stand to gain viz. their objective to maximize profit. Nevertheless, much can be done by the private sector- and through a joint effort by the private sector and civil society, and even more is encouraged.
A partnership between the elements of civil society and the private sector- where it is possible- should strive to create channels for agricultural policymaking and dialogue between all stakeholders in general, and small farm owners in particular. Simultaneously, they need to collaborate to facilitate, enable and drive agricultural research on nutrition and to push for meaningful policies and decisions to be derived from this body of research and information.
The private sector and civil society are numbed in the various phases of policy design and implementation process. In order to enhance its engagement and participation, it should increase its advocacy and lobby the policy-maker and play the role of policy changers. In other words, it should pass from a passive player to a more proactive and participating actors. It can use many pressure tools such as media campaigning, organizing purchasing groups and communities, boycott harmful agricultural practices and promote certain sustainable agricultural more nutritive food system. Nutrition-sensitivity and sensibility through the promotion of sound diet principles in the various societal layers, schools, universities, trade union…etc. It can sensitize communities on certain theme relevant themes normally ignore by the mainstream and conventional policy drivers. It should overcome the stereotypes widely diffused by certain elites that only them can lead, by gaining confidence and operate on evidence based approaches. Of course, nutrition-enhancing requires a multi-stakeholders platform to be appropriated accommodated in policies addressed collectively.
Around the world, there are many success stories, but that are not sufficiently highlighted by the mass media to be adapted and/or adopted, the same failure stories should be narrated to allow opportunities of avoidance by potential victims. There are a jam of programmes which render its examination and selection a huge and exhausting task. Specialized agencies, should assist in that not by spoon feeding, but by summarizing it and put it in suitable format to be useful to wide spectrum of users.
The governance as relational system should be subjected to regular check-ups to examine its effectiveness and efficiency. That should be done, preferable in participated democratic transparent and accountable patterns. The Agricultural and Food Chain can be checked vertically and horizontally in holistic lens make use of panels of experts and knowledge and experience holders.
Innovative multi-format partnerships, such as private public partnership (PPP), can involve the CSOs to strengthen agricultural and food and nutritional sustainable and resilient systems. Putting the humankind as core stakeholder, not only physically, but going by that.
This is merely theoritical reflection prior to go through the background materials provided due to time constraints.
YASSIN Mohamed S. M.
University of Udine
Deprt. of Civil Engineering & Architecture
Research Doctorate Candidate in Economics, Ecology, Landscape and Territory
Via delle Scienze, 208
I have finished writing my master thesis work entitled: Alternative strategies for vegetation implementation and integration within the urban context: the case of Bogotá. I will be presenting my work at the 5th AESOP Conference on Sustainable Food Planning. This conference would be held in Montpellier, France.
The strategies included on my work are based on all the highlighted questions in this discussion. Partnerships between the public and the private sector are necessary, not only for economic purposes but to enhance eco systemic services in the city and develop joint programs where both sectors are responsible for the inhabitants wellbeing in the city. In the other hand, government policies must be modified in order to drive the private sector towards responsive practices to community needs.
Attached to this message, I sent the abstract where the relation between Sustainable development, Architecture, Social interaction, Vegetation, and Urban networks are related to food system for a city like Bogotá.
Policy issues: As civil society organisations are more connected to communities than policymakers are, they can help design policies that are appropriate for the societal and cultural context. For instance, while conducting a baseline study in Karnataka we found that govt. programmes to distribute free iron tablets to pregnant women are often ineffective. This is because the women are taken by surprise when the side effects such as stomach irritation kick in and so they either stop taking the tablets or reduce their frequency of intake. They also have other beliefs about these tablets that stop them from taking them. Policies need to account for this, such as by procuring tablets that minimise side effects or educating women about the tablets. CSOs can help understand the why's behind the problem and this can help design better policies.
Programme issues: It's important that monitoring was mentioned here, because it's crucial in creating success stories. Without measuring outcomes, we don't know what we are doing wrong (or right). At Ashoka, we use an Android survey app that enables rural women to collect data. There are other such initiatives such as the University of Washington's Open Data Kit as well. In India, the latest national nutrition data is 7 years old. The govt. can work with civil society to create a real time data flow on nutrition.
The contribution of the private section and civil society to improve nutrition.
Based on my experience and knowledge from working with rural communities, there is a great and urgent need for collaboration among civil society, private sector and policy makers for success in improved nutrition:
Civil society being very much in touch with individuals and communities has the important task of sharing traditional and formal knowledge on food production and consumption of nutritious foods with rural households. The reason being that over time and with improvements in information and communication technologies, rural communities have access to all sorts of information including adverts on `good foods'. As a result, we have witnessed cases where mothers and other food providers harvest and sell nutritious traditional foods to purchase processed foods or snacks marketed as `good food'. I always refer to the case where mothers sell chicken, eggs and bananas to return home with bread and soda for their children. We need civil society and the private sector to collaborate in the marketing of nutritious foods.
The private sector has a social responsibility to maintain balance between business profits with achieving a health and wealth community: In cases where a large coorporation has made a discovery and markets their `good food' aggressively, they have a responsibility to boldly communicate the nutritional content and any side effect of the new food to consumers. That way, families will make their decisions and choices from an informed position. This is where civil society and government come with policies to regulate private sector.
The private sector can still make profits by identifying profitable markets for indigenous/local foods that are of high nutrtional value and encouraging local farmers to produce for consumption and extra for the market. Advise and encourage local producers to add value to their products, especially in packaging and marketing to meet the market needs: that way private sector is able to sell while households are able to produce nutritious foods for consumption and for the market - kill two birds with one stone.
Civil society and the private sector need to encourage Networks of food producers so that each community grows what they are best at in line with climatic conditions. Farmers willinging do this based on the knowledge that another farmer will producer the other crop that they will need. That way, the private sector will facilitate the marketing of the produce from different communities to meet the business and nutritional needs of all.
Civil society and policy makers to work with the private sector in the introduction of improved seed, etc to food producers. That way there will be enough monitoring in terms of affordability and nutritional value of new foods. In my opinion there is very little value and profit in introducing an improved seed to my grandparents when the seed requires a lot of inputs in terms of measuring the right amounts of seed to fertiliser, to water to sunshine to storage temperature; when they have spent decades perfecti The reason being that if they miss one stage, the whole crop is compromised; the easiest way to discourage adoption as once a crop of one adapter fails, rest assured that those within their network will listen to the word of mouth from the earlier adaptor.
Food security and nutrition is a complex cross-cutting issue, there is a need for joint efforts of government and development partners in achieving ultimate goals set in these policies and strategies. In South Africa there are efforts in scaling up nutrition through school feeding programmes and food gardens by National government Department s (Health, Education, and Social Development), private sector like Nestle and civil society. There is need for effective coordination across the sectors to define multi-sectorial and integrated approaches to improve nutrition among school children. This can be done by strengthening linkages between nutrition and agricultural, education, social protection, water and sanitation and addressing issues of food fortification and food safety.
I never understood why, when making the point that investment in early childhood nutrition (as the Bank does above) yields high returns, the data from the Copenhagen Consensus Challenge Paper by Hoddinott, Rosegrant & Torero, is not used. They clearly state on p.37 and in Table 3.19 that the return can be as high as $138 for every dollar. If one wishes to make an economic argument, why not make the strongest possible argument? We need governments, from the top to the district and village level, to see that nutrition investments are smart economically, socially and politically. Reference: http://ow.ly/oJyr6
In order to improve access to suitable and sufficient nutrition worldwide, the private sector and civil society must work alongside governments and research institutes. All four can and should bring contributions to food and nutrition security.
To promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture, the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) recently published a scientific review and a series of infographics on the role of agronomic biofortification to address malnutrition.
Key messages about how macro and micro nutrient fertilization can enhance food systems by increasing:
Another aspect of improving nutrition lies with empowering smallholders worldwide to become commercial farmers. Investment constitutes a powerful instrument towards good nutrition. Investment-driven measures can target specific groups, such as smallholders and women, and facilitate their access to agricultural finance, training, capacity building, knowledge transfer and innovative practices. PPPs play an important role in advancing nutrition securities and policy should create an enabling environment for businesses.
The Farming First coalition and the fertilizer industry support the Zero Hunger Challenge, which advocates access to food all year round, eliminating stunted growth in children through improving the nutrient quality of food, sustainability across all food systems, increase in smallholder productivity and income and zero food waste or loss.
We believe that solutions will differ by region and by landscape to address the diversity of nutritional deficiencies, as well as the different benchmarks for balanced diets.
Further info and resources can be found my accessing the links below:
FA infographics: http://www.fertilizer.org/ifa/HomePage/SUSTAINABILITY/Nutrition
Fertilizing Crops to Improve Human Health: A Scientific Review: http://www.fertilizer.org/ifacontent/download/90302/1324791/version/1/file/2012_ipni_ifa_fchh_final.pdf
Zero Hunger Challenge: http://www.un.org/en/zerohunger/challenge.shtml
Let me be one of the first to contribute to this forum. Allow me to do so by, as a devil’s advocate, zeroing in on what I do have strong different views than what is expressed in the background invitational write-up.
You say: We subscribe to the view outlined in the topic note that all sectors must work together for this common goal and look forward to your feedback on the issues raised. I would like to let readers know that as PHM, FIAN, IBFAN-GIFA and ICCO we wrote a letter to the moderators a week ago requesting that the consultation be split into two since we are of the opinion that the private sector has different motivations than civil society and should contribute to the consultation questions separately. (Readers may ask moderators to publish that letter). Yes, work on this topic all sectors must, but only sometimes together and sometimes in sharp opposition (e.g., big food).
You say: The role of social safety nets in protecting nutrition is also recognized as are direct measures targeted at reducing stunting and addressing acute malnutrition. On June 13, in this same forum I posted: “Let us now, once and for all, stop talking about safety nets! This is what leads to mere tinkering within the system. The ongoing casino capitalism with its global restructuring, creates the problems, and food and nutrition professionals are supposed to pick up the pieces? Just so that poor and marginalized people do not revolt? Who is cheating whom here? We need to stop victimizing poor people and then throwing them bread-crumbs. What about changing the system that makes safety nets for poor people necessary to begin with? So, is the role of social networks universally recognized?
You say: …our work needs to be founded on inclusive broad based development and sustainable economic growth. Do you mean sustainable redistributive economic growth?
You say: the World Bank reminds us that investing in nutrition makes sense from an economic point of view as every dollar invested generates a return of up to $US30. How often do we need to repeat, especially in this forum, that investing in nutrition makes sense, because it is a human right, NOT because it makes sense from an economic point of view!
You say: Smallholder farmers as private sector entrepreneurs…No problem here. But when you call the private sector to contribute to this debate with civil society it will be big private sector that will take the opportunity. Small farmers can incorporate as social movements and be on the civil society side of the debate.
You say: promote policies which will enable the private sector to continue to innovate and invest in the food and agriculture sector. What do we think with be the ratio bigbusiness:small entrepreneurs investing in food and agriculture? Look at land-grabbing, at junk food, at vertical integration of the agroindustry (Monsanto, Syngenta et al). The end balance will tilt towards malnutrition producing investments, don’t you think?
You say: All sectors must work together for this common goal. Nobody is as smart as all of us. Do I have to remind readers that big business consistently tries to outsmart us? Think about it: we mostly react, not proact…
You say: public-private partnerships (PPP) that combine the individual strengths of respective sectors can collectively help build food and nutrition security through socially responsible, market-led investments and growth. This, I probably found the most biased in the background write-up. Just look and the work IBFAN, PHM, FIAN and others (not forgetting Judith Richter) have done to decisively debunk this myth. Many of us have been vocally critical of the SUN initiative precisely because of this.
You say: Private companies, civil society, knowledge institutions and government (the golden quadrant). Can I respectfully ask where this quite deceiving appellation comes from?
You say: to reach the underserved consumer. Going back to what I say above, who reaches them most? Are we not losing a battle here? And finally,
You say: ensure the post-2015 MDG agenda includes nutrition security as an explicit part of food security. Readers should also know that many of us are now switching to much more accurate term ‘nutrition sovereignty’ which we are trying hard to introduce in post 2015 deliberations.
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Ming City
Links and resources:
Earlier FSN Forum ICN2 discussions: