One year on from the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aid and International Development Forum (AIDF) looks at Goal number 2: Zero Hunger. This ambitious goal aims to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030’. Can we really end world hunger in 14 years?
It is worth taking stock of what has already been achieved. By 2015, Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1c (to halve the percentage of hungry people) had almost been reached. Indeed, 72 of 129 countries monitored successfully reached the goal. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that two billion people have been freed from a likely state of hunger since 1990-92. But with nearly 800 million people still living with hunger, what are the challenges in eliminating hunger entirely by 2030?
The stark message is that if we continue on the same path, 650 million people worldwide will remain hungry by 2030 and malnutrition will continue to be a huge burden on the poorest countries.
AIDF spoke to leading nutrition experts and asked what needs to be done to change our trajectory so that the SDG is achieved by 2030. While he acknowledges that significant progress was made towards reducing hunger under the MDGs, Bruno Kistner of Food Industry Asia (FIA) believes that underlying malnutrition issues such as stunting remain a big problem. Echoing other experts, he told us:
“If dietary diversity is too expensive, the cheapest and most effective way to bring required vitamins and minerals to a human being is food fortification”
“Nature provided B-vitamins in the hull of wheat and rice. If lost during milling, we need to add these nutrients back. B-vitamins are essential for proper messaging in the human body.”
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has been supporting the role of food fortification in addressing micronutrient deficiencies, what is often called “hidden hunger”, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), micronutrient deficiencies may affect up to two billion people globally, leading to 10% of global disease. Furthermore:
“…preventable deficiencies of critical vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, D, iron, iodine, folic acid and zinc contribute to up to three million child deaths annually.”
A solid evidence base is needed to fuel the commitment required from governments and donors to deliver food fortification programmes at scale. There have been successful studies, for example in Indonesia, where fortification of oil with vitamin A helped reduce deficiency from 6.5% to 0.6%. In Costa Rica, an evaluation of the impact of iron fortification revealed that anaemia was reduced from 19% to 4% in children and from 18% to 10% in women. However, according to GAIN:
“…the evidence of impact, while growing rapidly, is still relatively scarce.”
While experts and NGOs press for the adoption of food fortification programmes in LMIC, there are also great possibilities for mobile technology for nutrition (mNutrition), particularly in education and changing behaviours. This is an area that reports since 2015 have often only touched on briefly.
Mobile education tools can be particularly useful in improving nutrition for young women and mothers, something Mr Kistner firmly believes in:
“For Asia it is of utmost importance to focus on improving the nutritional status of adolescent girls. This to prepare healthy pregnancies but also to correct possible damages from malnutrition occurred in the first thousand days of life.”
Since 2013, GAIN has invested in mNutrition programmes in partnership with development agencies, the mobile industry and governments. Its two major engagements are designed to reach women of reproductive age.
StartSmart ran from 2013-15 in South Africa and focused on maternal, infant and young child nutrition as well as healthcare based interventions from conception to five years.
Excitingly, as part of GSMA’s Global Content Partners (GCP) consortium, GAIN leads the development on content for the mNutrition Initiative in Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania. This programme draws together stakeholders to develop mobile nutrition services in 12 countries across Africa and Asia. GAIN’s involvement started in 2014 and will run through to 2017. The programme offers nutrition advice for a child’s first thousand days including the period just prior to pregnancy. GAIN puts high quality, evidence-based content at the heart of its efforts, ensuring that messaging is appropriately targeted and reflects the barriers, motivations and aspirations of users.
A whole host of information as well as the nutrition messages developed by the GCP consortium is accessible free of charge for download and use via the open access nutrition knowledge bank run by CABI. The assessment of the mNutrition service in Ghana and Tanzania will be completed in 2017, adding much-needed evidence for the potential of this channel as a highly cost-effective way to deliver nutrition behaviour education. As with food fortification, more evidence is needed to demonstrate mNutrition’s potential. As Janneke Blomberg of GAIN told us:
“…there is currently only limited evidence on the impact of mobile nutrition services since these have not been implemented or evaluated to the same extent as either mAgri or mHealth services.”
This year, the Global Nutrition Report (GNR) built on the FAO’s 2015 message that the SDG can be achieved with the right funding. The report identifies a need for a tripling of annual financial commitments to nutrition from governments and donors, with interventions currently stagnating at $1billion. However, the report’s authors stand by their research which shows that:
“Scaling up nutrition investments is still a high-impact, high-return proposition, with a benefit-cost ratio of 16:1 and a compound rate of return of more than 10 percent.”
The difficulty in finding extra government funding for projects in LMIC is well documented, but the report identifies significant opportunities for including nutrition targets in plans for agriculture, education, social protection and health work. In other words, governments can achieve more impact by acknowledging malnutrition as a route cause of disease and deprivation as a whole.
Something the GNR and FAO reports having in common is a real sense of determination and optimism. While the challenges are clearly formidable, the message from leading experts and NGOs is that the SDG is achievable. In short, if the evidence base for action is improved, if investment from governments and donors is ramped up and if underlying malnutrition issues are prioritised, SDG 2 is indeed within our reach by 2030.
By Daniel Knag for AIDF
IMAGE SOURCE: the United Nations