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

Mr. Solomon Mkumbwa United Nations Human Settlements Programme, Kenya

Good nutrition is the balance of nutrients intake against body demands, where the imbalance leads to either 'undernutrition' or 'overnutrition' - both of which are public health concerns.

Private sector as the 'engine of economic growth' is key creating jobs that can afford the poor a living wage, specifically, food purchasing power, a necessary but not sufficient condition for good nutrition. In addition, the private sector engaged in food value chain renders direct services in food production, distribution, and retail - making food conveniently available to consumers - another important necessary but not sufficient condition for good nutrition.

While we recognize their (private sector actors) important contributions to nutrition, we should be cognizant that their primary objective is profit maximization. As such, the private sector will be inclined towards supplying food commodities being demanded on the market, regardless of food diversity concerns from nutrition standpoint. It is, therefore, important that consumers know the food nutrients, quality and safety standards they need and that their demand for the 'safe, nutritious and diversified foods' is reflected in the market supply. In this regard, a consumers’ rights protection civil society organization (CSO) is key in educating its members, and advocating for adherence to the food quality and safety standards as set by the appropriate national authorities.

Again, in pursuit of cutting down business costs, so that they can remain in business or indeed mere hunger for more profits, private sector actors may pay their workers below the living wage rates. With low wages, the poor families cannot afford a nutritious diet, even if they have adequate knowledge of good nutrition. This calls for workers’ rights protection civil society organization such as the trade unions to come into play.

Both consumers’ and workers’ rights protection CSOs can employ various strategies to achieve their goals – including lobbying for legislation of minimum wage, enactment of food labeling and standards checks. They may also directly facilitate dialogues between workers and employers to respond to short terms food market price inflationary activities. They may negotiate with government, to remove or reduce taxes on certain nutritious foods to promote their consumption. They may facilitate tripartite dialogues between the government, private sector and CSOs in finding lasting solutions to challenges facing their members (that it, workers or consumers).

On the other hand, CSOs in the form of international NGOs are best suited and play an important life-saving role in supporting consumption failure among victims of disasters, where local relief response capabilities are overwhelmed or inadequate. The INGOs may also offer capacity development support to local CSOs, without necessarily replacing their role. Local CSOs should be supported to develop and grow as they have appropriate legitimacy in addressing the structural causes of poor nutrition, through promotion of nutrition rights of their members. INGOs on the other hand should play a more indirect capacity development of local CSOs role, as they (INGOs) will not be there for all the time, that is, most INGO projects are donor funded short term in nature.