The international community has struggled to deliver when it comes to nutrition, but the issue is gaining unprecedented traction, and aid donors are looking for ways to take advantage of that new momentum.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s new “multi-sectoral nutrition strategy” will allow the agency to combine resources from a variety of initiatives and program areas to tackle malnutrition and childhood “stunting” like never before, said Richard Greene, senior deputy assistant to the USAID administrator.
USAID’s strategy is one step in a broader U.S. government movement to mobilize around nutrition targets. Ten U.S. agencies are currently coordinating to produce a nutrition coordination plan by the end of this year, which will seek to advance “key activities” that can drive progress on a once “intractable” problem, Greene told Devex.
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Put this new strategy in context. Where have nutrition projects resided in the past, and why is it important to have a new strategy?
In development, there’ve been a lot of major successes. … People may have heard about progress achieved during the Millennium Development Goals, which are now ending. …Given all that progress in terms of things like greatly increasing … vaccination coverage rates, expanding access to water and sanitation and now, tremendous progress addressing malaria, there’s one area which, in the past, has not had as much success, and that is nutrition. Despite dramatic reductions in under-five mortality and maternal mortality, nutrition has remained almost an intractable problem.
Even in a country like Bangladesh, where I was mission director, that has achieved tremendous economic growth, … there is a very high child stunting [and] chronic malnutrition problem. … Despite tremendous progress in other areas…nutrition has lagged.
So what is different now? Why is this the time for USAID to act on nutrition?
Things have now evolved. We have a lot of new evidence, based on the 2013 Lancet Series on nutrition. …This is a real compendium of new data, which we want to take advantage of. In addition to looking at nutrition as a health intervention, there’s growing evidence that nutrition needs to be looked at in terms of a multi-sectoral approach … not only health, but also food security, water, hygiene, sanitation, women’s empowerment — all of these relate and should be addressed in terms of a comprehensive nutrition strategy and there’s data to back that up.
There’s also growing unprecedented global interest in addressing nutrition, epitomized by the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and the 2013 Nutrition for Growth Summit. … This is a movement that will try to engender high-level political engagement and commitment to address child stunting and other nutrition conditions. … All of those together — the new evidence, the unprecedented global interest in nutrition, the evidence that multisectoral approaches work – have made this the perfect time to come up with a nutrition strategy.
Are the goals this strategy outlines achievable given USAID’s current funding commitments? Will funding from other initiatives be redirected to support implementation of this strategy?
Wherever we work we want to contribute with other partners to a 20 percent reduction in stunting, which is a major reduction, but within the Feed the Future zones of influence, particularly, and where we also have in many cases Food for Peace title ii development programs, we commit to reducing the number of stunted children by 2 million over five years in these areas. In humanitarian crises [we commit] to maintain … the global acute malnutrition rate below the 15 percent threshold, which is an important threshold for humanitarian crises. … This is a strategy that not only addresses the nutrition related to food security and health but also in humanitarian situations.
Does that mean then that the stunting reduction will draw on Feed the Future funding, and the malnutrition work will draw on humanitarian assistance funding?
We want to integrate these programs. So the fact that we have separate funding streams doesn’t mean we have uncoordinated or separate programs. We have “zones of influence” in our 19 focus countries for Feed the Future, and these zones of influence total about 130 million of the most vulnerable people in the world.
In many of these countries — like where I was mission director in Bangladesh – our title ii Food for Peace program was in that area too. So we want to … work together these different streams of funding and these different programs to mount a coordinated and very evidence-based approach to reducing stunting — and also reducing wasting as well — but stunting will be our major indicator.