From fashion to climate change: 6 key messages on hunger and malnutrition

20th October 2015

Cara Flowers reflects on the Committee on World Food Security which took place 12-15 October in Italy.

On World Food Day on 16 October, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that ‘we need fashion experts’ in the fight against hunger. I couldn’t agree more.

Ban went on to say that we need everyone from mayors to rock stars to UN agencies and governments to engage in the issue. Governments have committed to eradicating hunger by 2030 through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but to achieve this we desperately need new alliances and partnerships that are inclusive and most importantly put communities at the centre of their work.

Despite its recurrence as a trend in global development and some notable gains outlined in the 2015 Global Nutrition Report, 2 billion people still experience micronutrient malnutrition (such as a lack of adequate iron, zinc, vitamin A or iodine), 161 million children under five are too short for their age and 51 million weigh less than they should.

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) civil society network believes that we must be united across sectors and silos if we are to get anywhere to close to eliminating malnutrition. This means bold steps and radical actions. It might mean testing out new technologies and ways of working. For example, in Myanmar the SUN Civil Society Alliance (SUN CSA) and Save the Children UK are piloting mobile technologies for monitoring violations of the breastmilk substitute marketing code.

In Sierra Leone, the SUN CSA is also a platform for the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative and is currently campaigning for the right to food and nutrition to be included in the national constitution. While in Ghana the SUN CSA has enlisted the support of a pop star Nobel Nketsiah who will donate 20 per cent of the proceeds of his next album to the SUN CSA and their 1000 Days campaign.

We will need to work with unlikely partners, be innovative and be open to dialogue and debate. However, we cannot shy away from accountability and changing course if things just aren’t working as is emphasised by the 2015 Global Nutrition Report’s theme of accountability.

I attended the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) this week I took away several additional key messages on how we might start to achieve more in the food and nutrition community:

1. We cannot ignore climate change. Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised this. Politicians have been complacent about the link between food, nutrition, agriculture, water and climate change. We need to ensure that the UN Conference of the Parties (COP 21) negotiations and agreement in Paris reflect this reality.

2. Women are vital. As Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme stated, 55 per cent of hunger gains are attributable to women. Let’s make sure they are not just included but central to our work.

3. Communities must be at the centre. They should be allowed to lead the way through designing, monitoring and implementing the actions that will support them most effectively. Data is often centrally controlled and monitored, while this is important local communities must be given freedom to own data and collect their own. Accountability for the SDGs will only be real if led by those the goals are trying to reach.

4. Conflict and war could exacerbate the current situation of food insecurity and malnutrition. Refugees are arriving in Europe for a reason – lack of food is one aspect of their struggle. How do we respond more effectively to crises and prevent food being used as a political tool? The new Committee On World Food Security framework for action in protracted crises could be one step.

5. Hunger and malnutrition are social justice issues which need more than technical responses. We must participate in and support social movements who work on the right to food and nutrition and celebrate the role of right to food and nutrition activists in this arena.

6. Malnutrition affects everyone and we must all work together if we are to tackle this. We need to make partnerships, alliances and work in cooperation.