Civil society gears up for nutrition conference

CSOs embrace the fight against malnutrition

17 November, 2014, Rome - Civil-society organizations are key players in this week's global nutrition conference, as they are tasked with making sure political promises are kept, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said Monday.

"Your role includes giving voices to the hungry, pushing governments and other stakeholders forward and demanding results and accountability," Graziano da Silva said in an address to a host of representatives of non-governmental organizations from around the world gathered in Rome to participate in the Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Graziano da Silva noted that more than half the world's population negatively affected by some form of bad nutrition, and that the world already has the knowledge and expertise it needs to overcome the problem.

More than 90 ministers and hundreds of government officials will attend ICN2, which starts Wednesday and is scheduled to end Friday. The intergovernmental conference has been called to promote awareness of nutritional deficiencies - including the growing incidence of obesity in countries across the income spectrum - at the policy level.

Graziano da Silva praised the joint Civil Society Organization's "Vision Statement on Nutrition" for its broader contributions. He added that the Framework for Action's recommendations offered a "strong starting point" as they are the result of a consensus reached by more than 200 national governments with ample consultations with civil society organizations and the private sector. "With consensus we can move ahead faster," he said.

In a speech at Universita degli Studi Roma 3, the Director-General also noted that both the Framework and accompanying Rome Declaration acknowledge the core claims of the civil-society groups: the right to food; recognition that poverty and social exclusion negatively impact nutrition; that comprehensive policies including social protection and collective action are needed; the empowerment of consumers; the central role of family farmers, smallholders and especially women producers; and the importance of local food circuits.

FAO has emphasized the importance of food systems and the need to reshape them in a way geared to assuring adequate food, dietary diversity and environmental sustainability. "Economic growth, expanded food production and the globalization of food do not automatically result in better nutrition," Graziano da Silva said.

He urged that all parties to the policy debate "balance our different demands and our different timings" while avoiding intransigence. Drawing an analogy to a rubber band being pulled in different directions. "When the band snaps we all lose," he said. "We cannot let that happen."

Flavio Valente, head of the CSO Liaison Group, said that ICN2 promises to be a historic summit as civil society organizations have a seat at the discussion. FAO's views are "in line with what we think," he said.

Valente described a "vertical and hegemonic" global food system causing widespread human suffering and death as the result of choices and laws. The CSO's vision statement also calls for FAO and WHO to act as normative and regulatory fora.  

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
FAO's Jose Graziano da Silva and WHO's Francesco Branca (right) dialogue with civil-society organizations in Rome.