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Preparing for the Second International Conference on Nutrition: What Does Civil Society Say?

This blog was written by Manaan Mumma (@ManaanMumma), Nutrition Advocacy Manager for the the Kenya AIDS NGOS Consortium (KANCO), ACTION's partner in Kenya.

“Civil society organizations, particularly social movements, have deep knowledge about all the nutrition problems their communities are facing. This is a fact. Their participation in the process is what WHO and FAO Member States need to ensure that the ICN2 Political Declaration and Framework for Action do reflect the realities in countries and people’s needs, including the underlying and basic causes of malnutrition. Opening up the space for effective civil society participation is no doubt time consuming, and more complex than closed-doors decision making. But this is what democracy is about!” – Manaan Mumma

On June 20, private sector and civil society representatives gathered in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters to discuss preparations for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) with FAO member state representatives. ICN2 will be held from November 19-21, and will build on the first ICN held 22 years ago.

The gathering came at a key time – it’s been a year and a half since the Nutrition for Growth summit. Many countries are now poised to work together more effectively to address malnutrition, and also to track country progress against their nutrition commitments.

At the meeting, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said, “Nutrition must be addressed in a holistic approach by all stakeholders as it remains an urgent challenge. Over 840 million people in the world still suffer from undernourishment, while at the same time, obesity rates are raising rapidly…Only a multi-sectorial approach will allow making progress towards these goals and will pave the way for the eradication of hunger and malnutrition within our lifetime.”

He emphasized that “the price tag of malnutrition is too high” and that ending it “needs to be a collective effort involving the international communities and non-state actors.” 

Both civil society and the private sector presented suggestions for political and implementation outcome documents – both of which should strengthen institutional policy coherence and coordination, mobilize resources, and enhance international cooperation to improve the nutritional status of millions of malnourished people, especially in developing countries.

I represented Kenya, the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium, and the Kenya SUN Civil Society Association at the meeting. I was joined by two other civil society delegates: Xaviera Cabada, El Poder del Consumidor, Mexico; and Stineke Oenema, ICCO, The Netherlands.

Specific points from our interventions included:

  • Recognize the importance of the first 1,000 days in preventing malnutrition in all its forms and breastfeeding as the most cost-effective nutrition intervention to address child malnutrition.
  • Work towards a political document that is explicitly and firmly grounded on human rights, including the right to adequate, nutritious and sufficient food and the right to health.
  • Recognize that people are at the heart of food systems and that the majority of the world’s poor are also small-scale food producers.
  • Re-orient policies to decisively support sustainable, bio diverse, climate-resilient agriculture and food systems that integrate gender, participatory and nutritional dimensions.
  • Enable food diversity through food support schemes and public policies, since dietary diversity is at the heart of better nutrition.
  • Fully respect, protect and fulfill women’s rights and design and revise laws to ensure that women are accorded full and equal land rights; give women access to credit, capital, appropriate technologies, markets, and information.
  • Commit to the protection of the best interests of the child and ensure the implementation of WHO Recommendations on the Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children.
  • Commit to integrating the objectives of the Framework for Action into the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Advance the development of data systems and metrics to monitor progress and drive commitment and accountability for addressing malnutrition in all its forms, and put in place effective mechanisms for multi-actor and multi-sector monitoring.
  • Identify effective solutions originating both in the health and food systems for better nutrition and health to ensure a life-cycle approach to tackle malnutrition and to interrupt the cycle of poverty.
  • Regulate food corporations producing and marketing of breast milk substitutes, ultra-processed foods and beverages that promote and foster overweight, inadequate diets, and non-communicable diseases.

While civil society representation in this forum was a good step forward, the burden has clearly been placed on civil society to find its way to representation in meetings to influence the process and outcomes of ICN2, including the framework that countries will agree to and the ways in which it will be implemented.

Civil society must be involved at every step if accountability is our goal, with sufficient notice and follow through. Please reach out to civil society early and often, and you can trust that we will deliver.

*Photo Credit: Food and Agriculture Organization/Flickr