THE BLOG

Development Goals Must Adapt to New Nutrition Challenges

08/18/2014 04:34 am ET | Updated Oct 18, 2014

The year 2015 must have seemed a long way off to those agreeing stretching development targets at the turn of this century. And yet, with just 500 days to go until the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire on 31st December 2015, the global community has begun the countdown.

Certainly, we should applaud the progress that has been made. There are less hungry people in the world today; the proportion of underweight children in developing countries has fallen; and, some progress has been made in reducing mortality in children under five. Nonetheless, many of the targets will not be met, especially in the poorest countries.

One of the areas that the MDG's largely overlooked was nutrition. Yet, good nutrition underpins the achievement of almost every development goal -- from reducing child mortality and boosting maternal health, to lifting people out of poverty by enabling them to attend school and earn a living. Neglected by the MDGs, it's unsurprising that malnutrition continues to blight lives and devastate communities.

Today, two billion people lack the vital vitamins and minerals they need for their bodies and brains to grow properly, for them to live a healthy life, and raise a healthy family. Poor nutrition is the underlying cause of an estimated 45 percent of all child deaths. It leaves 162mn children around the world stunted, with lifelong effects on their health, education and ability to earn a living.

In 2008 The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition first made the link between good nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child's life and their ability to survive childhood, creating an imperative for the international community to act. Stunting became a potent emblem for the impact of poor nutrition on a child's growth and development. Large global gatherings like the Nutrition for Growth Summit last year resulted in more money and more attention for nutrition. The private sector and governments alike recognized that global prosperity could not be achieved if poor nutrition continued to drain billions of dollars from the world economy through ill health and lost productivity.

GAIN was created in 2002, two years after the MDGs were agreed, one of a wave of new institutions that were created to use partnerships and alliances to galvanize action. Since then, with our partners, we have scaled up programs to reach almost 1 billion people with nutritious foods. We know that there is no silver bullet. But, from developing large scale food fortification programs to focusing on the 1,000 day window to give children the best start in life, we've found that multi-stakeholder partnerships -- when governments, civil society and business work together -- are the key to success. The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement is a good example of an alliance that has been hugely successful in building support for nutrition, with 54 governments at the core of this movement having committed to do more to improve nutrition in their countries.

I'm more optimistic now than I have been for many years that we can scale up these partnerships to eliminate malnutrition for good. It is encouraging that the UN Open Working Group has put ending hunger, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture high on the list of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the MDGs. By the time the SDGs expire in 2030, the document expects the international community to have put an end to hunger and all forms of malnutrition for good.

But, it won't be an easy task. Demographic shifts and climate change are increasing food insecurity for large numbers of the world's population. And, as cheap, empty calories enter the diets of consumers across the globe, more and more low and middle-income countries will grapple with the double burden of malnutrition and rising obesity. From tackling food deserts to taking on the unhealthy marketing practices of some large food companies, the post-2015 system must be flexible enough to adapt to these new challenges.

One way the new SDGs can help is by recognizing that all actors must play a role in ending malnutrition. The food system is enormously complex. It is unrealistic to expect that governments alone have the funding, skills or reach to deal with the multiple challenges facing us. This will require a break with traditional thinking about who should be involved in finding and delivering solutions. It will also require the post-2015 framework to recognize and support the conditions that underpin successful partnerships involving the private sector, civil society, governments and multilateral organizations -- clarity of purpose, well-defined roles and measurement systems that keep us all on track.

We can eliminate malnutrition. And, I believe that it's possible to do so by 2030. Ambitious targets and a common vision are a great start. But, to fix the food system we need a framework that drives stakeholders to work together, regardless of their differences. In the post-2015 world all actors must play their part if we are to reach the goal of ending malnutrition within our lifetimes.