The United Nations is considering setting up a new body to address global malnutrition as early as next month, Devex has learned.
Tentatively called “U.N. Nutrition,” the new entity will be headed by UNICEF and the World Food Program, according to well-placed sources within civil society groups attending this week’s Committee on World Food Security, or CFS, in Rome. Over the weekend, the sources also participated in working groups ahead of the second International Conference on Nutrition — known as ICN2 — jointly led by FAO and the World Health Organization in November.
During the informal talks, the rumor circulated among attendees, Stefano Prato, managing director of the Society for International Development, told Devex in Rome.
“We had confirmation from U.N. insiders [and] also from delegates that there is a concrete plan,” he said.
Civil society groups believe the model for U.N. Nutrition could be Scaling Up Nutrition, a country-led global platform that seeks to unite governments, civil society, U.N. agencies, donors, businesses and researchers in a collective effort to improve nutrition through specific interventions — including support for breastfeeding and nutrition-sensitive approaches in areas such as agriculture or WASH.
“We are [also] quite sure that it will be based on PPPs, integrating governments and the private sector,” Prato added.
U.N. Nutrition could be launched a month from now in ICN2, and civil society organizations hope more details will emerge publicly this week so the plans are “disclosed with transparency” and CSOs are allowed to give feedback on whether “it’s the right answer to malnutrition, or if there are other [solutions].”
UN Nutrition vs. CFS
On Monday, the first session of the CFS was abuzz with gossip over the rumored new agency and how it will complement the current intergovernmental body and multistakeholder platform based in Rome.
For CSOs, the first question was which organization should take the lead in the fight against global malnutrition.
“Nutrition is not a problem of delivering, it is an issue of policies,” Prato said. “We believe the nutrition question has to be addressed through [shared] rules and regulations. That’s why we suggest a strong role for CFS.”
According to the SID official, the involvement of UNICEF and WFP says something about the direction the initiative is taking: “WFP and UNICEF are not organizations where there is a sovereign assembly, such as the FAO or WHO … programs [are] driven by donors and with also a quite restricted range of donors … It is not a context of democratic dialogue and those are not spaces for [defining] policy.”
Civil society, he insisted, wants malnutrition programs to be driven by policies rather than by donors or private sector interests.
“We don’t want this role bypassed by programs defined by donors without mechanisms of consultation and control,” Prato said. “What we fear is the establishment of mechanisms that are not legitimate and not accountable.”
In this scenario, a leading role for the private sector raise further concerns for CSOs, which believe strengthening local food systems based on the diversity of agricultural systems is the key to addressing malnutrition, instead of solutions based on delivery of products, fortification, dietary supplements or processed food.
“Clearly, big multinational corporations … are very much interested [in] that … approach,” Prato said. “What we fear is the participation of the private sector without clear rules of engagement and therefore [leading to] a conflict of interest.”
ICN2, a weak step forward?
The plans for a new U.N. body focused on nutrition is part a process that it is expected to reach its high watermark at the ICN2 in November, when FAO and WHO member states are expected to endorse Sunday’s consensus on a political declaration and framework for action to fight global malnutrition.
But according to Prato, the political declaration is “extremely weak,” as it doesn’t include tangible commitments or provide any timeframe for implementation. Moreover, the framework for action is nonbinding and there is “nothing new” in its concept.
“There is a dilution of the [centrality] of the right to food … the importance of local food systems is mentioned, but very poorly,” he said. “Above all, there are … no obligations … no control and accountability mechanisms … In short, it is fundamentally a big set of words.”
Prato would rather U.N. Nutrition stay within the framework of CFS. The SID official insisted CFS must comply with its mandate to properly address the problem of global malnutrition and argued its role should be strengthened ahead of ICN2.
Is a new U.N. body the solution to combat malnutrition? And how will it complement the current multistakeholder platform based in Rome? Please let us know your thoughts by sending an email to email@example.com or leaving a comment below.
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