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Re: The contribution of the private sector and civil society to improve nutrition


The contribution of the private sector and civil society to improve nutrition.

Group four (4) consists of a small number of students of the University of Guyana and form part of the graduating class of 2014 from the Economics Department.  The aim of this group is to contribute to discussions such as this in an effort to help develop policies that better the lives of the poor and society as whole such as tackling the problem of food insecurity and malnutrition worldwide.

Our first attempt in this post will be to effectively contribute to the discussion on the roles that the private sector and civil society can play in improving nutrition in the diets of the poor and less fortunate.

All posts hereon are a compilation of the views of each member in the group.

The FAO reported under its nutritional country profile, Guyana – “A significant proportion of children under five years of age suffer from malnutrition (survey data indicate that 14% were underweight for age; 11% had low height for age and 11% had a low weight for height. About 40% of adults are overweight, with the prevalence of obesity increasing with age. Significantly more women are obese compared to men.” 

As evident in the above statements the problem in Guyana is not one of hunger but rather the consumption of less nutritional foods at an early age.  Most malnutrition cases occur in the rural areas where there is an abundance of foods that contain a large amount of carbohydrates and starches and do not have much of a nutritional content. The reason for the consumption of such low nutritional diets can be premise on the lack of knowledge of the rural poor on the types of foods and combination of food that are required to promote a healthy diet. The other factor that restricts them from consuming a healthy diet also can be pinpointed to the fact that some lack the income to fund such diets while some are guilty of having the income to fund such diets but tend to mismanage it due to their cultural diets and habits: alcohol consumption and tobacco usage are just some.

Some may argue that the primary cause of the poor being malnourished can be linked to their low incomes. We beg to differ. Although this is one of the major causes, it is not the primary cause.  Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo best explained it in their book “Poor Economics; A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”  when they said “…Equally remarkable, even the money that people spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. When very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don’t put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.”[1]

It makes economic sense if you would think about it. When consuming one basic type of food for probably years you tend to suffer from a case of prolonged diminishing marginal utility, but without the income to change your diet you have no choice but to continue consuming these basic, not so nutritional foods if you want to survive. However, with the increase in income; given ones taste and preferences, the poor would tend to deviate from the regular years long diet and move toward a tastier, utility maximizing diet now that they feel somewhat ‘richer’. However, these tastier foods are more expensive and subtract a large fraction of their income but might not increase their caloric or nutritional intake as found in the “flight to quality” in  Abhijit V. Banerjee’s and Esther Duflo’s book, “Poor Economics; A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”.

Therefore, the role that the private sector and civil society can play in fostering the improvement of nutrition for the poor is to fund and be a part of workshops that aim at educating the poor on the cons of being malnourished, their required nutritional intake and the types of food that will contribute to their increased nutritional intake. Once educated on the benefits of eating the right types and amount of food only then will the increases in income of the poor (nominal or real)  by the private sector and civil society be effective in increasing the nutrition for the poor and malnourished as iterated by many.

[1]  Poor Economics; A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty