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Global Action on Nutrition

By ICRISAT Director General

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics. Read the full post on What ICRISAT Thinks: The Director General’s Blog.

The historic Nutrition for Growth high-level summit co-hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron last Saturday announced $4.15 billion dollars in commitments to reduce malnutrition over the next six years. This landmark event in London brought together 24 governments and 28 business and science organisations to sign a global nutrition-for-growth compact. They pledge to prevent at least 20 million children from being stunted and saving at least 1.7 million lives by 2020.

Nutrition matters. 

A set of Lancet reports published last week highlighted malnutrition as the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children per year, accounting for 45 percent of all deaths among children under the age of five. The effects of malnutrition have the greatest impact during the period from conception to a child’s second birthday, causing irreversible lifelong damage.

Pledging for nutrition-smart agriculture

Those who live in rural communities are often the most undernourished, and depend on agriculture both to feed themselves and to earn a meager income. This makes agricultural development especially strategic for reducing malnutrition. The international agricultural research-for-development organization CGIAR has committed to spend at least US$400 million on nutrition-relevant agricultural research for the next 3 years.

As a member of the CGIAR consortium of centers, we at ICRISAT are closely engaged in this global effort. On the day of the nutrition summit, the BBC published a photo story illustrating our work with partners and smallholder farmers to counter malnutrition.

I have always believed in the role of farming system diversity to help tackle malnutrition in Africa and Asia. We must ensure that farmers have the technologies, knowledge and incentives to grow a range of nutritious and resilient legumes, cereals, vegetables and livestock to provide a balanced diet.

Bill Gates, who recently visited ICRISAT headquarters in India and commended the institute’s work to help smallholder farmers, was among the world leaders at the London Summit. He announced that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be investing $862.7 million on nutrition between 2013 and 2020, out of which $370.7 million will be on nutrition sensitive agriculture programs. The foundation is supporting essential ICRISAT programs to ensure farming communities benefit from nutritious legumes and cereals.

Bill Gates praised Britain’s pledge of £655 million to fight malnutrition over the next 6 years. In his speech, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of the power of innovation to develop better seeds and more nutritious and productive crops including biofortification. ICRISAT is partnering with Harvest Plus to develop high-iron pearl millet in an effort to reduce hidden hunger arising from micronutrient deficiencies. These efforts need to be within a holistic context, complementary to other agricultural and health interventions.

An integrated approach with partners

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah endorsed the summit’s commitment and pinpointed the need to work together. “To proactively address the root causes of hunger and undernutrition and get the most out of every development dollar invested, we cannot treat nutrition, global health, and food security as isolated priorities. We must integrate our approach across sectors,” he said. Dr. Shah announced that the U.S. Government is providing more than $1 billion for nutrition-specific interventions and nearly $9 billion on nutrition-sensitive activities over fiscal years 2012-2014.

ICRISAT is working on an integrated USAID-funded project in Mali which is part of its Feed the Future initiative. Training is provided at community health centres to promote breastfeeding, hygiene, use of maternal and child health services, malaria prevention and nutritious diets. Women have been learning about dietary diversification, food processing methods for best nutrient retention (eg fermentation of wholegrain cereals increases nutrients available to the body), and infant food recipes using iron and zinc rich sorghum and millet mixed with traditional ingredients like groundnut, baobab and moringa.

The summit also applauded the involvement of the private sector to help tackle malnutrition.

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