Kaltoum Adam Imam collects millet in Saluma Area, near al-Fashir in northern Darfur. In areas where food is scarce, like this one in Sudan, nutrition programs can be as desperately needed as they are hard to implement. Photo by: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

When we talk about building pathways toward progress, feeding and nourishing those who are most vulnerable must take center stage. Poor nutrition is entirely preventable, yet continues to cause 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of 5. Nutrition is not only central to feeding development, but is also central to life.

Our experience base to tackle malnutrition is vast. We have a global focus to end hunger and malnutrition through efforts such as Scaling Up Nutrition, 1,000 Days and the U.N. Zero Hunger Challenge, among others. We have research and data that validate what should be implemented. We have examples of how nutrition initiatives can be integrated into broader development programs. So why is the world still hungry and malnourished? And how can we get our nutrition goods demanded and delivered at scale?

Having spent a significant part of my life living and working alongside communities affected by hunger and malnutrition, the following are some insights to consider when building demand for and scaling food and nutrition efforts:

Talk to mom

Mothers are a force to be reckoned with. When given the right knowledge and tools, mothers will not only do right by their families, but also by their communities. We have spent so much time and many resources on policymakers who come and go, whose agendas shift and who will never go to bed hungry. And while there are many truly committed policymakers who have made fighting malnutrition a priority, policymakers are not nutrition’s ultimate target audience. Mothers are.

What if we created a global nutrition movement that is led by the mothers of the world? We need to go beyond a “show and tell” of the benefits of a whole host of nutrition efforts from breastfeeding to dietary diversity to sanitation and hygiene, and give mothers the kind of information that is going to empower them to demand a hunger and malnutrition-free reality for their sisters, their babies and themselves. Would you dare to say “no” to one mom, much less millions of them? I didn’t think so.

Make it compelling, aspirational and ‘shareable’

There is a terrific book written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath titled “Made to Stick,” and in it they note: “Mark Twain once observed, ‘A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.’ His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas — business people, teachers, politicians, journalists and others — struggle to make their ideas ‘stick.’”

To get nutrition to “stick,” we have to think about how to make the nutrition storyline inspiring, aspirational and motivating to the audiences we want to influence. We must go beyond broad calls to action, data and report dissemination and collateral materials featuring the tired breastfeeding mother. We need to go a step further and get the nutrition community's data, asks and ideas to be swiftly embraced, shared and acted upon by multiple audiences. Multinational food companies, for example, don’t just sell snacks, they sell lifestyles, fun and love. We in nutrition need to stop selling micronutrients. We need to sell lifestyles, prosperity and intelligent, happy kids in a manner that resonates.

Curate what works and scale it

We are lucky to have tremendous knowledge, innovations and insights that can effectively bring an end to malnutrition. This fact is what fuels U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message that we can and must end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime. In response to the secretary-general's call to action, a global initiative called the Community for Zero Hunger is working with in-country practitioners and taking stock of the most stubborn challenges that stand in the way of a hunger- and malnutrition-free world. The Community will then be curating and leveraging the most innovative, impactful experiences and insights from across sectors that address those challenges.

From HarvestPlus’ biofortified, nutritient-rich crop varieties that have helped to reduce micronutrient deficiencies in women and children to Compatible Technology International’s innovations in developing tools that help farmers harvest and process crops more efficiently to companies like Abbott Nutrition, PepsiCo, Land O’Lakes and Cargill, which are among the best at building effective and resilient food and nutrition supply chains and consumer demand for goods, these are tools and insights that the world needs. These efforts can dramatically change the state of hunger and malnutrition, so our next task is to deliberately scale them.

Engage the world’s farmers

The traditional focus on farmers has been around agriculture production and crop delivery. There is recognition that we should more actively integrate nutrition into our agricultural efforts. As we look to feed 9 billion people by 2050, our approach needs to go beyond meeting food demands and focus on meeting nutrition needs as well. By promoting and incentivizing the cultivation of nutrient-rich foods, sharing knowledge about nutrition with farmers and demonstrating the demand for nutrient-rich, diverse agricultural products, among other actions, we can create an environment where farmers grow our food and also deliver great nutrition. If we do not prioritize a nutrition-driven agricultural approach now, we will see devastating consequences in the future on child survival, human health and overall productivity.

Ending malnutrition requires all hands on deck. We need to engage the right audiences, leverage the most relevant experiences, elevate our nutrition calls to action so that they are understood and can be acted upon and bring each sector's absolute best to bear. The need is dire, but we have made progress. There is unprecedented attention and commitment to getting nutrition right in our lifetime. Our time is now to be bold and unapologetic in taking transformative actions that will save lives and allow nutrition to feed a future that every man, woman and child deserves.

Want to learn more? Check out Feeding Development's campaign site and tweet us using #FeedingDev.

Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Nabeeha Kazi, MIA, MPH

    Nabeeha M. Kazi is President and CEO of Humanitas Global and serves as Chair of the Community for Zero Hunger. Nabeeha Kazi has lead food and nutrition, infectious disease, maternal and child health and human rights initiatives around the world. She specializes in behavior change, policy advocacy, community mobilization, public-private partnership development and sustainability planning.