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Second International Conference on Nutrition: What happens next is more important than what’s happened here

I’ve spent the last three days at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), listening to Member States make statements on their efforts to address malnutrition and commit to “address the multiple challenges of malnutrition in all forms and identify opportunities for tackling them in the next decade”.

The breakthrough

By signing ICN2’s political outcome documents, our governments are admitting that “recent decades have seen modest and uneven progress in reducing malnutrition”, with a significant prevalence of malnutrition seen throughout the world.

They’re committing to a voluntary Framework for Action with 60 progressive policy options, including ideas to:

  • strengthen local food production
  • protect smallholder farmers
  • promote crop diversification
  • reduce food waste
  • improve livelihoods and nutrition sensitive social protection
  • fix the food system to provide everyone with access to affordable, diversified, safe and healthy diets
  • protect and promote breastfeeding
  • inform consumers to make healthy food choices
  • protect children from marketing of unhealthy foods
  • ensure trade policies support good nutrition.

While the Framework for Action contains many positive recommended actions, member states didn’t make specific commitments at ICN2 – something Save the Children has been advocating for.

To ensure member states deliver on their ICN2 pledges, we need time-bound specificity. As a minimum we need to know:

  • the specific policy commitments of individual member states
  • their targets and key performance indicators
  • their timeframe for action
  • the amount of extra money in country budgets and overseas development aid expenditure.

Without this detail it will be very difficult to track action.

The solution

Better accountability is key. Most observers at the conference know that and we’ve discussed it at length. Improving accountability was the talk of ICN2’s civil society pre-meet, it was a major theme at the ICN2 launch of the Global Nutrition Report, and it was the theme of a Save the Children co-hosted side event, ‘Accelerating progress to end malnutrition: action, results and accountability’.

With malnutrition rates so high (165m stunted children under 5), progress so desirable (estimated cost of malnutrition: $125 billion by 2030), dramatic improvement so possible (a $9.6 billion investment could save the lives of 900,000 children under 5 each year), and nutrition commitments from Member States so infrequent (the last International Conference on Nutrition happened over 20 years ago), there is a real appetite to ensure these pledges stick. Calls for a Decade of Action on Nutrition to meet ambitious 2025 World Health Assembly targets can’t come soon enough.

Overall, ICN2 has been a positive week for nutrition. It has put nutrition high on the agenda of member states. And it has brought together a mix of individuals who have the power to improve the situation, with speeches from His Majesty King Letsie of Lesotho (Nutrition Champion for the African Union), His Holiness Pope Francis, the Queen of Spain, Her Royal Highness Princess of UAE (UN Messenger of Peace), and Melinda Gates.

Ultimately, what happens after ICN2 will be more important than what’s happened at ICN2. Save the Children is very grateful to all those who’ve worked to negotiate these outcomes and make ICN2 happen. We look forward to working on the follow-up from the conference to ensure that commitments translate into action.

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