Global Nutrition Summit sees new funding, political commitments

A member of the European Commission humanitarian aid department staff takes mid upper arm circumference measurement of a child in Khargone district, Madhya Pradesh, India. Photo by:  Arjun Claire / EU / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

SAN FRANCISCO — Advocates and officials at the Global Nutrition Summit this weekend urged policymakers to place nutrition at the center of anti-poverty and development efforts. Good nourishment can have a multiplier effect on the well-being of communities, they argued at the event, which saw $640 million in new pledged funding commitments.

Countries now face three primary nutrition challenges — childhood stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age, and obesity, according to the Global Nutrition Report, which launched at the summit.

“The global malnutrition crisis endangers the physical and mental well-being of present and future generations” Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations and chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, said at the summit. “We need further urgent investments so that people, communities, and nations can reach their full potential.”

The summit convened government representatives, foundations, business leaders, international agencies, and civil society organizations. They discussed the Global Nutrition Report, and how ending malnutrition in all its forms will contribute to all of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Donors announced $3.4 billion in funding, including $640 million in new commitments, to advance the global response to malnutrition.

Poor nutrition drives almost half of under 5 mortality, and affects not only the physical growth of children, but also their cognitive development, ability to fight diseases, and chances of success in school and work.

Assessing progress, and sounding the alarm

The Global Nutrition Report 2017 argues that nutrition must be at the forefront of efforts to end poverty, fight disease, improve education, and address climate change.

“We know that a well-nourished child is one-third more likely to escape poverty,” said Jessica Fanzo, bloomberg distinguished associate professor of global food and agriculture policy and ethics at Johns Hopkins University and co-chair of the report. “They will learn better in school, be healthier, and grow into productive contributors to their economies. Good nutrition provides the brainpower — the ‘grey matter infrastructure’ — to build the economies of the future.”

This year’s Global Nutrition Report focused on concerning levels of childhood stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age, and obesity, particularly among women, in all 140 countries studied. The report argued that almost every country in the world now faces a serious nutrition-related challenges.

Some 155 million children under 5 are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age due to lack of nutrients, and 52 million children around the world are wasted, meaning they do not weigh enough for their height.

Rates of undernutrition in children are decreasing, but global progress is not fast enough to meet targets, including the SDGs, which aim to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030, the report says.

“If you look at all the health statistics in the world, things are actually improving. Child mortality is going down, we’re getting a handle on malaria and HIV/AIDS, but the one thing that’s getting worse is malnutrition,” Fanzo told Devex. “These numbers aren’t decreasing fast enough on nutrition side, and on the obesity side we see every country going in the wrong direction.”

Poor nutrition has widespread implications for a host of other development challenges. Chapter 3 of the report discusses this connection across the SDGs. Five areas are critical for achieving nutrition outcomes, the report says, noting sustainable food production, systems infrastructure, health systems, equity and inclusion, and peace and stability.

“It’s not just about more money — although that is important. It’s also about breaking down silos and addressing malnutrition in a more joined-up way alongside all the other drivers of development,” Emorn Udomkesmalee, senior advisor at the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University in Thailand and another co-chair of the expert group, said in a press release. “There’s a powerful multiplier effect here that we have to harness.”  

Fanzo said the nutrition community needs to work across sectors to achieve their goals, for example linking the health and agriculture sectors. The most influential factors affecting nutrition — from gender inequality to remittances and income generation — are not the things nutritionists are trained in, she said.

The report identified the need for better data on nutrition, and Fanzo said she is concerned that if this data is not improved, the poorest will be left behind, just as they were with the Millennium Development Goals.

Making commitments

This year’s summit in Milan, Italy, saw $3.4 billion pledged to support nutrition, $640 million of which were new commitments.

The summit built on the first major global pledging event for nutrition, which took place in London in 2013, and resulted in commitments to expand the reach of nutrition interventions in the first 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. International NGOs and the World Bank extended and increased those 2013 commitments with pledges to spend $1.1 billion and $1.7 billion respectively on nutrition by 2020.

Several governments including El Salvador, Madagascar, and Côte d’Ivoire, host of the upcoming Scaling up Nutrition gathering, committed to reaching more citizens with nutrition programs. Ahead of the summit, Shawn Baker, director of the nutrition team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told Devex that while the U.S. remains the largest donor for nutrition and its support remains critical, it was important to bring in new voices.

“When nutrition is at the top of the agenda, countries can tap into their full potential,” Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates said at the event. “Today’s summit made it clear that the world understands this. These commitments bring us one step closer to a future in which every child not only survives, but thrives.”

The Gates Foundation is the fourth largest donor to global nutrition efforts, after the United States, European Union, and United Kingdom.

Also at the summit, the Eleanor Crook Foundation — a philanthropy focused on global nutrition started by the family behind the Texas grocery company H-E-B. — announced a $100 million commitment to fund research, capacity building, and advocacy for global nutrition.

The U.K. Department for International Development will provide $50 million in matched funding for nutrition as part of a strategic collaboration between the foundation, DFID, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The partners will report on their progress on approaches, including community-based treatment of severe acute malnutrition, mobile technology nutrition messaging, and gender-sensitive nutrition programming, at the 2020 Nutrition for Growth Summit.

Other commitments came from the Dangote Foundation, the philanthropic organization of the founder of the Nigerian Dangote Group; Tata Trusts, a public health Indian philanthropy; and the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation, a Swiss philanthropic organization dedicated to promoting breast-feeding.

“There are a growing number of private philanthropies that start out with no particular affiliation with nutrition, but looking at evidence for underserved causes, have identified nutrition as an area they want to invest in,” Baker said.

Scaling up

High burdens are increasing political and financial commitments to tackle nutrition challenges, Baker said. He attributes the new momentum in part to the Scaling Up Nutrition coalition that includes 59 countries working to end malnutrition by 2030.

He and other advocates hope to accelerate that trend. Beyond more money, nutrition needs a step change in response, he said, explaining that while food is essential for good nutrition, people need much more than just calories — an ongoing point of confusion in official development assistance.

“It’s interesting in this position having had the opportunity to speak to decision-makers in the U.S. Congress in both the House and Senate and people very dedicated to development issues will talk about nutrition and it will be, ‘Oh, then we need to send more food aid,’ or ‘Oh, then we need to grow more maize,’” Baker said.

The Gates Foundation has partnered with the World Bank on an investment framework to reach global nutrition targets. Baker mentioned breast-feeding, large-scale food fortification, and nutrition of pregnant women as key areas. Still, while there is growing awareness of what is needed to address malnutrition, there is a gap between this knowledge and the financial ability to carry it out, he said.

“What I see now more than ever in the last couple of years is finance ministers and heads of state stepping up and being worried about nutrition,” Baker said. “These are leaders who aspire to have emerging economies and they realize, ‘If half of my workforce is stunted during childhood, the idea of having an emerging economy in the future is pretty difficult to imagine.’”

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.