A new report released today by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank shares the news that the number of children around the world who grow up stunted has decreased by 35% since 1990, from an estimated 253 million to 165 million in 2011. Although the news of the reduction is positive, the number remains one of tragic proportion. One hundred and sixty-five million children around the world will still grow up stunted and will not reach their full potential in life. Maternal and early childhood nutrition and education are the best investments we can make to help children thrive, learn, and grow up to lead healthy, productive lives.
But as the global community is moving closer to the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), it is becoming clear that achieving the nutrition target continues to remain elusive. We know how critical nutrition is for human development and economic growth, yet investment in nutrition remains low. In addition to the unacceptably high levels of child stunting, more than 2 billion people in the world today are estimated to be deficient in key vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A, iodine, iron, and zinc.
In the last years, and particularly in the context of rising food prices, a number of global initiatives have increased public awareness and created momentum for nutrition including the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and the recent UK led Global Hunger Event. They have also highlighted the need to expand beyond the traditional delivery channels for nutrition and explore how nutrition sensitive interventions can be implemented by other sectors, including agriculture.
Agriculture affects health and nutrition in tangible ways. It is a source of energy and nutrients and increased agricultural productivity leads to household income, increasing the potential to provide nutritious, diverse diets for infants, young children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. And nutritional status also affects agriculture – agricultural workers who are malnourished are less able to work, which decreases productivity and household income.[i]
But policies and programs in nutrition and agriculture are not always closely coordinated. Without the explicit consideration of nutrition objectives and indicators from the outset, investments in agriculture are less likely to achieve nutrition impact. We need to promote agricultural activities that explicitly set out to impact nutrition, such as dietary diversity promotion, biofortification, food fortification (through processing), and home economics extension. The SecureNutrition Knowledge Platform is one approach aimed at linking nutrition and agriculture.
SecureNutrition was launched by the nutrition, agriculture, and poverty reduction teams of the World Bank in September of 2011. The aim of SecureNutrition is to address critical operational knowledge gaps regarding how to improve the nutrition of vulnerable populations using nutrition sensitive investments in agriculture, and how to measure the impacts of agriculture and food security interventions on nutrition.
SecureNutrition is a community of members from the nutrition, agriculture and food security metrics communities, working with 14 partner organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAIN, Save the Children, USAID and the WFP. SecureNutrition and its partners aim to bridge these operational gaps by:
· Engaging with stakeholders to address knowledge gaps
· Promoting the exchange and sharing of experiences
· Enabling easy access to new information through its website
· Supporting the co-generation of knowledge
· Supporting and participate in the testing of innovative approaches to improve nutrition outcomes through agriculture and food security policy
[i] IFPRI, 2010. Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health, concept note for international policy consultation.