Sheeran calls Washington’s attention to another type of “cliff” at the 22nd Annual Martin J. Forman Memorial Lecture

Sheeran calls Washington’s attention to another type of “cliff” at the 22nd Annual Martin J. Forman Memorial Lecture

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​The Martin J. Forman Annual Memorial Lecture commemorates the impact and contributions of Martin J. Forman, who headed the Office of Nutrition at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for over twenty years. Each year, the Forman Lecture is hosted at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who invites a lecturer to present his or her views on nutrition issues. This year’s lecturer was Josette Sheeran, who served as the World Food Programme’s Executive Director from 2006 to 2012; she is now Vice Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Recognizing Washington’s current preoccupation with the fiscal cliff, Josette Sheeran opened her presentation urging for a shift of focus to a different type of cliff: The Food Cliff, which she describes as the rising challenge of feeding billions of people with healthy and nutritious food in the context of a rapidly growing population and a scarce and deteriorating natural environment.  Sheeran also reminded us of the severe consequences of continuing down a road where the issue of hunger and malnutrition is not addressed: a dramatic impact on the physical and cognitive development of children that translates into significant losses in National GDP and hinders the economic future of countries around the world.


The Game Changers


In her presentation, Sheeran provided concrete examples of critical actions that she says will be “game changers”, such as making breastfeeding “cool” again, creating partnerships to help poor and vulnerable populations rebuild their lives and invest in their futures, promoting and scaling up more sustainable and circular food economies that create win-wins for all of those involved and affected along the food value chain, and a continued push for high-level advocacy to inspire leaders to act towards a common nutrition goal.


Through these broad game changers, Sheeran highlighted high-level best practices such as the partnerships formed for Grow Africa and the SUN movement, bringing us all the way down to the village level with examples of community-led projects that have secured a stable food source through food warehousing, among others. All of her examples showed practical and feasible ways through which nutrition can and should be addressed in the future, to save us from falling off the cliff.


Sheeran’s Ten “Things that may change things”


In line with her game changers, Sheeran concluded her presentation by giving the audience a concrete list of top ten “things that may change things”. Despite their wide range, many of these activities are based on hard evidence and known to improve food and nutrition security. And for those few that don’t have such hard evidence, her game changers showed us the wide span and flexibility in the types of activities and pathways through which nutrition can be addressed. Sheeran’s Ten “Things that may change things” are the following:

  1. Prioritize urgent nutrition to pregnant women and young children. We know this is when we should intervene to prevent the life-long consequences of malnutrition.
  2. Change our view of hunger, as a chance to create win-win opportunities. We need to create a food economy where everyone along the value chain benefits.
  3. Update our policies and investments; the ones we use are outdated and inappropriate for our time. We need a better idea of the food economy that we need in the 21st century and how it should be created, rather than depending on the ideas that were created half a century ago.
  4. Urgently address policy gaps in the developing world and land investment. We need to step up our investments and focus on policy gaps.
  5. Scale up what works. We know what works and we need to spend our money there.
  6. Promote diverse solutions. We need to end the war between large-scale and small-scale agriculture, because each of them plays a critical role and can contribute to ending hunger and malnutrition.
  7. Reduce waste from farm to fork. We produce enough food to feed the world but we are not feeding the world due to waste and distribution inequalities.
  8. Deploy innovative technologies. Many of these technologies already exist but we are not widely using them or tailoring them to the needs of those who need them most.
  9. Continue building leadership. We can’t let food drop from the G8 and G20 agendas! We are not out of the woods and we need to continue prioritizing food and nutrition security at a high leadership level.
  10. Force a paradigm shift in our thinking. What does a food economy in the 21st century look like and how do we increase sustainability and implement a circular food economy at the global level? We need a paradigm shift in our thinking.

For Sheeran’s original perspective and delivery, please view her full presentation from the IFPRI event website.

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