Food and Nutrition: Still an Unbalanced Equation

Food and Nutrition: Still an Unbalanced Equation


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Although the world currently produces a surplus of food, we have yet to achieve the right balance between the production of food on one hand and the production of good nutrition on the other. 

Speaking at a Bank workshop in March, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, 2001 World Food Prize Laureate and Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy, Entrepreneurship and Applied Economics at Cornell University, put it plainly: “One in seven people in the world do not get enough to eat, and one in three does not get enough of the nutrients they need to live a healthy and productive life. We have got a very serious malnutrition problem on our hands. Part of that problem can be resolved by understanding the causation including how does the food system affect nutrition, and how does it affect human health?”


These are some of the questions that underpin the development of the new Knowledge Platform,  SecureNutrition: Linking Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition.  Launching at the Bank on May 17th, SecureNutrition aims to foster collaboration both internally (within the World Bank) and externally with a range of Partners to generate a better understanding of the linkages between agriculture, food security, and nutrition. Such knowledge will help program staff better integrate nutrition-sensitive activities within non-nutrition programs, in regions and countries where better nutrition outcomes are a priority. 


Nutrition continues to remain something of a forgotten Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and despite global awareness of nutrition’s contribution to human capital development and economic growth, investment in nutrition remains low. But there is also increased awareness and momentum for nutrition, catalyzed in part by the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) global movement, to expand the potential for positive improvements in nutrition status through nutrition sensitive interventions delivered by related sectors such as agriculture.  Moreover, this year’s Global Monitoring Report (released April 2012) focused on the need to address food security and nutrition to achieve not only MDG 1, but several other goals that have strong links with nutrition, such as MDGs 4 and 5 (child and maternal mortality, respectively).


Clearly, producing enough food is not sufficient to deliver positive nutrition status, especially for the highly vulnerable population of children in their first 1000 days of life.  While there has been progress on the hunger indicator for Millennium Development Goal 1 (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) that measures the proportion of a population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption (essentially the availability of staple foods), the indicator for MDG1 that deals directly with nutrition (the prevalence of underweight among children under five years of age) has not necessarily declined in tandem.  Of the 18 countries that have already met the goal of halving the proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption, 10 show insufficient progress toward meeting the underweight goal, including one (Mali) which has shown no progress on underweight.


So how will SecureNutrition contribute to changing this scenario?  It will work collaboratively with external (Partners) and internal (World Bank) audiences to build consensus around the operational linkages between nutrition, agriculture and food security.  It will play a critical role as a consolidator and communicator of knowledge, sharing the results of ongoing research and programmatic efforts by multiple partner agencies and encouraging active dialogue and exchange.  It will challenge new partners in agriculture to undertake cross-sectoral innovation for improved nutrition outcomes, and it will help to stimulate risk-taking and experimentation.  It will encourage technical staff to share their experiences – both positive and negative – so that others can learn from their successes and their failures. And it will work to build consensus about the most effective ways to deliver good nutrition along with increased agricultural productivity and adequate global food supplies.


According to Per Pinstrup-Andersen, “There are win-wins, there are complementarities that can be captured if we fully understand how to do it. And that, I believe, is why it is so important that the World Bank and many other international organizations are prioritizing improved nutrition, improved food security, and making sure that the food system makes whatever contributions it can to achieving those goals.” 


The SecureNutrition Knowledge Platform plans to contribute to the potential win-wins for agriculture, food security and nutrition that can be achieved through a better understanding on how to improve linkages between the sectors.  Join the partnership and see what is new on the SecureNutrition Knowledge Platform website.  

Photo: Bart Verweij / World Bank

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