Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition

What are your expectations for the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition and how could it make a significant difference in improving nutrition and food security of the people in your country within the next ten years?

Many of us who were present at the ICN2 saw how it was a true global effort to get the world’s nutrition leaders, technical experts, policy makers and practitioners together and pledge commitments in true solidarity.  In terms of commitments to action, countries are at different stages of progress. The ICN2 Framework for Action provided a broad set of policy and programme options that are relevant in addressing the multiple changes of malnutrition from a sustainable perspective.

Bangladesh has been an active adopter of the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Initiative and reaffirmed its commitment during the FAO/WHO Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome in 2014 by endorsing both the Rome Declaration and the Plan of Action for the next decade (until 2025) and its targets. Similarly, the Government of Bangladesh also endorsed the six global nutrition targets and their indicators by 2025 at the World Health Assembly in 2012.

In terms of expectations, countries often look to support and learning from lessons and successes elsewhere. This could include: evidence and research for translating policy processes across cross sectoral contexts and domains.  From nutrition sensitive policy perspective among other things, there is need to better characterize an enabling environment for agriculture to benefit nutrition, and how these environments can be shaped and sustained. Improving knowledge and perception of undernutrition and its links to agriculture, on the part of agricultural policymakers and programme managers is one of the priorities.

FAO in Bangladesh is providing the programme Meeting the Undernutrition Challenge –MUCH that aims to build a “strengthened enabling environment for eradicating food insecurity and malnutrition”. This will be achieved through five mutually reinforcing outputs focused on improving the Government and other stakeholders’ capacities through the provision of policy advice and technical support, including day-to-day mentoring and specialized training, to strengthen their technical capacities on food security and nutrition (FSN), develop national food security and nutrition policy frameworks, and formulate nutrition investment plans and programs. To this end, the FAO MUCH programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other government partners, WHO, UNICEF, WFP, World Bank and others is providing support in elaborating the country’s National Plan of Action on Nutrition with a balance of both nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive strategies.

What critical activities need to be included in the Work Programme for the implementation of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition to reach the 2025 global nutrition targets? Which activities would need to be accelerated in your country to reach these targets? How could these activities be funded?

Bangladesh has recently updated and prepared its food composition tables, proposed a desirable dietary pattern, and developed its dietary and complementary feeding guidelines and improved recipes for infant and young child feeding.  In partnership with academia and core nutrition relevant sectors, FAO has technical supported research for the development of these policy tools.  To this end, one of the critical activities to be included in the Work Programme for the implementation of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition to reach the 2025 global nutrition targets would be:  specific guidance on what constitutes a healthy and diversified diet.  Guidelines need to elaborate technical details on type of fat, meat, amount of sugar, type of processed foods, healthy cooking methods and related science base for this input.  Developing, disseminating and implementing food based dietary guidelines need to be taken up in a systematic way to influence supply and demand of healthy foods, and thereby, in part, impact the delivery on nutrition improvement outcomes.  Issues of environment and climate change also need attention in dietary guidelines. FAO MUCH is providing major technical support to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other partner ministries along with other UN agencies and development partners on developing the National Plan of Action on Nutrition (2016 -2025).

Since 2010, Bangladesh has been monitoring the National Food Policy Plan of Action (2008 -2015) and the Country Investment Plan for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition (2010-2015) through a set of common FSN outcome and output indicators engaging 13 partner ministries and also monitoring the financial delivery on programmes across agriculture, food security and nutrition. Using the time series record of agriculture, food security and nutrition and its progress between 2007 and 2015, the monitoring reports have been providing accumulated knowledge and analyses over different food security and nutrition dimensions. Financing and financial execution of projects and programmes by the government and development partners and the financial gaps to seek investments are some of the major analyses available in the reports.  It also makes recommendations for future commitments in line with the government five year plans and the sustainable development agenda. FAO has been providing technical support to this policy process with funding support from USAID and EU.

A revised Country Investment Plan on Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition (2016 -2025) is also being planned. FAO through its MUCH Programme will support monitoring the implementation of these policy action plans and investments the implementation of these  policies, plans of action and track the commitments towards reaching national nutrition targets in line with global indicators, notably SDG2 among others and WHA targets. 

Improved indicators and data for effective food system policies is another area that needs attention.  Use and application of the updated women dietary diversity indicator, dietary assessment tools are some important examples in this regard. Use of these indicators is critical to build evidence and quantify their effectiveness in the field.

Given that Bangladesh is a country vulnerable to climate change impacts, guidance and support in recovery and resilience from floods, water logging situations, soil changes, etc. of the most affected is an area of concern. Protecting, restoring and promoting livelihoods and nutrition of coastal households with specific focus on the needs of women, children and elderly is critical.  Adolescent diets and nutrition is another grossly neglected issue and joint and cross sectoral programming is critical. 

Joint funding support and implementation under the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition needs to be especially explored in this context.

What can be done to accelerate and improve the quality of commitments from the various actors? What role(s) should public and private actors play in monitoring their implementation?

An area where the private sector can and needs to play is a responsible role is in creating partnerships with small holder and mid level farmers for nutrition linked agricultural projects and market opportunities to scale these up. Guidance is needed in carefully designed and thought through projects and ventures along with support for implementation and monitoring. The private sector in collaboration with government can consider providing matching grants for investments in small-scale post-harvest infrastructure such as silos, small-scale processing, drying equipment, smokeless stoves, milk packaging and processing  ( as examples) and technical assistance and equipment and quality control inspectorate services.  Emphasis on processing nutrient dense foods needs to be considered.  These are some of the projects that are being explored in Bangladesh.

How can other relevant forums, such as the CFS and the UNSCN, contribute, and how can other movements (e.g. human rights, environment) be involved in the Decade?

Such forums should consider show casing best practices from successful programmes and share lessons learned across countries.  Evidence needs to be provided for informing policies from progress in countries.  As examples : FAO MUCH Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Food and others facilitated Bangladesh’s active engagement in the South Asian Dialogue on the Right to Food and creation of a Community of Practice in South Asia in November 2015; FAO MUCH in collaboration with Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council, IFPRI, HKI, World Fish and the CSO SUN organized a technical symposium on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture in April 2016.