BRICS countries share strategies against malnutrition

“Hidden hunger” featured prominently at a BRICS- (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) led public discussion on nutrition held at FAO, ahead of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) scheduled to take place in November 2014.

Speakers from the BRICS countries emphasized that food insecurity and malnutrition can only be resolved with strong political commitment and adequate resourcing, ensuring that ministries and non-state actors work closely together in a coordinated manner.

The BRICS Dialogue on Nutrition, designed to raise awareness and stimulate debate around key nutrition issues, follows a few days after an agreement was reached by member states of FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), on a Declaration and a Voluntary Framework for Action including 60 policy recommendations aimed at ensuring that people around the world have access to healthier diets. ICN2 is expected to endorse the framework in November.

In his opening remarks, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General and Coordinator for Economic and Social Development, described “the three faces of malnutrition,” the persistent challenge of hunger, or inadequate dietary energy, “hidden hunger” or micronutrient (mineral and vitamin) deficiencies — and diet-related non-communicable diseases often associated with obesity.

Jomo stressed the need for political commitment at the highest level and “integrated, comprehensive approaches,” but to do so within a framework which is flexible enough to recognize different national priorities. ICN2 will emphasize the centrality of food systems, especially sustainable food production and consumption in ensuring access to healthy, balanced and diversified diets for all.

While there has been a substantial drop in the number of people suffering from hunger since 1992, it is estimated that at least two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies of one form or another. Another half a billion are obese. Malnutrition not only impairs people from reaching their full human potential, but reduces global economic welfare by around five percent, according to estimates.

Speaking about the Brazilian Experience, Pedro Braga Arcuri, Liaison Officer for Multilateral, Regional & National Entities of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), and Edurdo Nilson, Technical Advisor for Nutrition at Brazil’s Ministry of Health, outlined the strategies at the heart of the country’s Zero Hunger project and its efforts to establish health and nutrition as a human right.

“The interdisciplinary approach has always been crucial to us,” said Nilson, who stressed the importance of combining a variety of policies across different sectors and building diverse partnerships to tackle hunger and malnutrition. “[Fome Zero] has gotten the attention of the world to look at these problems from an early age.”

Like Nilson, Oleg Kobiakov, Alternate Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Rome-based UN Agencies, underlined that “social protection is an important element in achieving better nutrition for all.” Russia is implementing this through targeted domestic food aid programs, including to mothers and vulnerable populations, modeled on the successful interventions of other countries, he said.

Breaking silos

Speaking candidly about his country’s efforts to combat child malnutrition, Vimlendra Sharan, Indian Alternate Permanent Representative to the Rome-based UN Agencies, said that while he was proud of many of India’s recent economic and technological successes – including this year’s Mars mission – it contrasts with the sadness of having one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world.

To successfully combat malnutrition, he underlined the importance of government programmes that break through silos and create horizontal, multisectoral linkages.

“Ideally the world will not need an ICN3, but if we do, I hope it is only to celebrate the eradication of hunger and malnutrition,” he added.

Xia Jingyuan, Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the Rome-based UN Agencies, underlined China’s goal of remaining self-reliant in the production of staple foods, while reaffirming the country’s commitment to sharing technologies with developing countries. “Food for all is a basic human right,” he said, “and it is the basis for all human rights.”

Lynn Moeng-Mahlangu, Chief Director of Health Promotion, Nutrition and Oral Health at the South African Department of Health, outlined the country’s current challenges in fighting increased stunting and obesity, and stressed the importance of creating systems and policies that galvanize support from all government departments, including agriculture and health. “If we don’t put systems in place, we cannot address these issues,” said Moeng-Mahlangu.

The ICN2 Declaration and Framework for Action acknowledge that malnutrition in all its forms, including under nourishment, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity, not only affects people’s health and wellbeing, but also poses a burden in the form of negative social and economic consequences for individuals, families, communities and States.

The final ICN2 Dialogue will be led by the group of G77 countries on 30 October. The first Dialogue was led by Nancy Stetson, U.S. Special Representative for Global Food Security.

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