Blogs, Health

How government can work with partners to improve nutrition outcomes

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition worldwide. This is one reason why, together with the FAO, the WHO has launched the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition. In July 2016, the Global Alliance was asked to speak at a High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to explore how government can work with partners to improve nutrition outcomes. If it is the role of government to serve its peoples, especially the most vulnerable, then what is the path to creating policies that are more sustainable for the planet, for dietary diversity, and health and well-being for all? The Global Alliance proposes several pathways.

1) We must take a systems-view and holistic approach to achieving good food for all.

Quite simply, food systems are not producing health. We have narrowly defined indicators, focused exclusively, for example, on disease or mortality rates, and this limits our ability to understand the relationship between decisions affecting the food system and our health and well-being. A child suffering from obesity in Mexico or a child suffering from stunting in Sub-Saharan Africa is not suffering simply because of the excess or lack of inputs, but because of what we grow, how we grow it, where we grow it, how we process it, how we market it, and how we provide access to it or not.

2) Let’s start talking not just about food security but also about nutritional diversity.

This seemingly small shift has a number of profound implications. For instance, the Global Alliance is launching a report in September 2016 entitled “Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience” which shines a spotlight on the importance of agricultural biodiversity and dietary diversity, with an emphasis on community-based seeds systems and the role of women and indigenous peoples. Without community-based and farmer-managed seed systems that are resilient to global changes, we might get food security, but we will not achieve dietary diversity so critical to reaping the benefits of the Decade of Action on Nutrition.

3) Putting a value on social, health and environmental costs embedded in our food systems is imperative.

The Global Alliance believes we must harness the economics of the food system and use true cost accounting to lead us to regulatory, policy, market and other voluntary instruments that help us move away from systems that reinforce negative externalities toward those that embody positive benefits. For this reason, we are funding two important studies on the economics of food systems, to value the full range of externalities and impacts across the value chain: TEEBAgriFood out of UNEP; and a paper on health externalities with IPES-Food, the high level International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food. No longer can governments and corporations ignore the social, health and environmental risks borne by their citizens and customers.

4) We must find ways to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are few, if any, global metrics of the SDGs, and there are few, if any, successful attempts to monitor and evaluate the SDGs together. Johan Rockström and Pavan Sukhdev recently presented a new, more integrated view of the SDGs at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum. Their “wedding cake” SDG concept is a giant step forward, with its layers of goals – a resilient biosphere, a society with equity, an efficient economy. And we need to take it further. Twelve of the 17 SDGs contain indicators vital for nutrition, but how do we get to a place that considers all 17 SDGs and how they intersect and influence one another both positively and negatively? What solutions will have multiple and reinforcing benefits for all?

For the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, fostering healthy, equitable, renewable, resilient, culturally diverse, and sustainable food and agriculture systems requires an integrated approach that takes a systems view. What we need is the formulation of health and nutrition policies within a comprehensive food systems-centered approach. Only then will we see food systems as a core part of the health agenda, and health as a core part of the food systems agenda. And when that happens, we may just be on the road to improving nutritional outcomes.