Scaling up nutrition for economic growth, national development

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29 May 2018, Harare – The national Food and Nutrition Council convened over 300 hundred stakeholders in the nutrition sector today in the capital Harare, to review the multi-sectoral community based model for addressing food and nutrition insecurity with focus on reducing stunting in Zimbabwe.

Addressing participants at the review meeting, Mr. Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident Coordinator said, “The costs of inaction in addressing malnutrition as measured by increased child mortality, compromised life chances and reduced economic productivity are high. The stakes are, therefore, high and so are the returns. There couldn’t be a better time to review progress in ending stunting in Zimbabwe.”

Calling for a step change in the level of commitment to high-impact actions for improving nutrition, Mr Parajuli said, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals represent an unprecedented opportunities to make commitments to nutrition. The ambition to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’ is captured in SDG 2. In addition, at least 12 of the 17 Goals contain indicators that are highly relevant to nutrition.”

Noting with concern that in Zimbabwe 1 in 4 children under the age of five years are exposed to long episodes of poor nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, from conception up to 2 years, the UN Resident Coordinator said, “the UN appreciates the Government of Zimbabwe’s recognition of the serious challenge of malnutrition and commends the ongoing efforts of multi-sectoral approach to address the scourge at all administrative levels, especially in the most vulnerable districts, targeting children, female and child- headed households.”

According to latest available surveys in Zimbabwe, prevalence of stunting in children less than five years of age is at 27.6 per cent in 2017 which points to an improvement from 35 per cent 8 years ago. It is also encouraging to note that Zimbabwe is one of the 60 countries that are leading a global movement to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2025. The global movement is called Scaling Up Nutrition Movement initiated by the UN Secretary General.

The Scale-Up Nutrition latest report published in 2017 shows Zimbabwe’s progress towards scaling-up nutrition stands at 70%. This includes: Bringing people together (86%), Coherent policy and legal framework (66%), aligning programs around a Common Results Framework (75%), financial tracking and resource mobilization (52%).

In line with the SDGs and the national food and nutrition strategy, the United Nations in Zimbabwe has supported the implementation of proven high-impact interventions. The support includes resilience and community asset building on and off farm, providing targeted food and nutrition assistance, and promoting the adoption of small grains and fortification of staple food to enable households and communities to ensure food and nutrition security for maternal, infant and young children as well as people living with HIV. 

Empirical evidence has shown that diet is now the number -one risk factor for the global burden of disease. “The United Nations in Zimbabwe will continue to support national efforts to find solutions to make food systems work harder for nutrition while enhancing sustainability including scaling up the ongoing diversification of food and crop by adopting small grains and fortification of maize – the staple food in Zimbabwe.”

Mr Parajuli called for integrating gender indicators in all nutrition and non-nutrition intervention as women’s status constitutes a particularly important driver of malnutrition. The Resident Coordinator alluded that women who become mothers at age 18 or under are more likely to have stunted children and children are less likely to be stunted if their mother has secondary education.

Noting the critical importance of finance for successful and sustainable implementation of nutrition programmes, Mr. Parajuli said, “Government and implementing partners should strive to make existing resources work harder for nutrition and allocate extra resources—from national budget, private sector, donors and the United Nation—to scale up already high-impact interventions.”  Research has shown that investing in ending malnutrition is one of the most cost-effective steps that countries like Zimbabwe can take: every $1 invested in proven nutrition programs offers benefits worth $16.

To enhance advocacy, measure deliberate progress and speed up action, the national Food and Nutrition Council could consider costed plans and common national results frameworks that can serve to align the actions of all stakeholders towards achieving nutrition objectives at scale.

Appealing for Government, civil society organizations, donors and private sector do more to ensure that budgets in various sectors—agriculture, education, food systems, health systems, social protection, and water—allocate more resources to ending malnutrition, Mr Parajuli underlined, “And there is need to start seeing nutrition investments as a means to economic growth rather than seeing better nutrition because of economic growth.”