FAO emergencies and resilience

Researchers, led by FAO and Tufts University, call for a new way to address acute malnutrition among children

In academic peer-reviewed journal, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB), thirty international researchers present evidence and analysis to improve the way child acute malnutrition is understood and prevented in Africa’s drylands

Mary, a refugee from South Sudan, and her children eat the nutritious food she prepared in Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement, Turkana County, Kenya.

©FAO/Vincent Tremeau


An estimated 50 million children are affected by acute malnutrition globally. Despite ongoing efforts to reduce it, high levels of acute malnutrition persist across the Sahel and Horn of Africa, typically dryland regions. 

In October 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University; and the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs (USAID/BHA) launched a supplement titled “Acute Malnutrition in Africa’s Drylands” in the academic journal, the FNB.

Left: Kaltumo Ali, an agropastoralist, gives her grandchildren water at her home in Garasow Bore, Dolow, Somalia. ©FAO/Arete/Moustapha Negueye; Right: Mary prepares food for her children in Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement, Turkana County, Kenya. ©FAO/Vincent Tremeau

Building the foundation

The Supplement, made possible thanks to the financial contribution of USAID/BHA, builds upon an adapted conceptual framework for analysing and addressing acute malnutrition in drylands. The framework was developed and refined as part of a series of collaborative meetings involving UN agencies, resource partners, and a network of researchers and practitioners. The adapted framework highlights the importance of analysing the basic drivers of acute malnutrition, how it links to livelihoods and the environment, and the systemic and institutional factors that either drive it or can potentially mitigate it.

A paradigm shift

In the newly published FNB Supplement, researchers call for a paradigm shift in conventional understanding of and approaches to tackling acute child malnutrition. They emphasize the interplay of various systemic factors and advocate for multisystem approaches that are sensitive to specific contexts.

The nine research articles and two short communications that make up the Supplement encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from multicountry studies focusing on systems and institutions to location-specific primary research delving into the drivers of malnutrition. The body of work underscores the necessity of mixed methods to understand and address the basic drivers of malnutrition and their interactions with livelihood systems, institutions and the environment. 


  A group of women crack and prepare local fruits and nuts in Tsogal village, Zinder Region, the Niger. ©FAO/Luis Tato

Analysing these basic drivers can significantly enhance the design, timing and effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing acute malnutrition. Simultaneously, it can shape systemic changes to mitigate the drivers. Policies or programmes designed to address acute malnutrition must, therefore, extend beyond a core package of nutrition-specific interventions and promote a more balanced approach that encompasses treatment, prevention, longer-term systems strengthening and institutional change. 

Ultimately, the Supplement underlines the demand to employ more effective research methods to build evidence around child acute malnutrition and the institutions and systems that contribute to it. A strong spotlight must remain on the needs of children and the opportunities there are to address those needs.

To read the FNB Supplement: https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/fnba/44/2_suppl