Columnists Features

A look back at nutrition


THE year 2015 has been special to the Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition. Our voice for nutrition found more new  avenues for sharing nutrition information – Zambia Daily Mail were kind enough to allow me  to be one of their regular contributors.
This was a moment of excitement to CSO-SUN because we had found a partner to communicate one of the most important priorities of our work.
At CSO-SUN we also understand that awareness raising is very important in the fight against malnutrition. When almost half of all children are stunted, the problem of malnutrition becomes invisible to the population, because it becomes the norm.
Malnutrition can also be invisible to those who make policies which affect young children, because policy-makers are not exposed to the realities of malnutrition.
This lack of awareness of the extent of child malnutrition, of its consequences, and of what can be done to address it, limits action to resolve it. That is why CSO-SUN has awareness raising as top on its agenda.
We are of the strong view that bringing awareness of the issue of malnutrition needs to be a high priority and must be inspired by top leadership. For example, when the President mentions malnutrition in key speeches – including the scale of the issue, and what needs to be done to resolve it – then the entire government will understand that reducing the numbers of malnourished children in Zambia is a priority.
This will provide motivation for policy-makers in all relevant sectors to properly address the determinants of malnutrition, and will start to hold those charged with implementing policy accountable for their actions.
This is why CSO-SUN would take every opportunity to share information on nutrition to create demand for nutrition improvement. We are confident that this we have done well in 2015.
There are a number of success points in advocacy that we would talk about when you reflect on 2015, one of these being action on the National Food and Nutrition Commission Act.
The decision at the 23rd Cabinet Meeting held on October 19, 2015 at Government Complex to approve (in principle) the introduction of a bill in parliament to amend the current National Food and Nutrition Commission Act No. 308 of 1967, gives us hope for nutrition progress.
As Cabinet noted, the Act is outdated, therefore through the amendment, the Act will be strengthened to facilitate and strengthen the implementation of government policy on food and nutrition.
The Act itself is hugely important for nutrition, as it is central to the governance of the nutrition sector in Zambia. It provides us the platform to do what is right for the nutrition of our people so that we do not continue to deny hundreds of children their fundamental birth right of access to good nutrition, which is necessary to realise their potential to thrive, grow, and fully contribute to society.
At CSO-SUN, we believe strongly that a problem so fundamental needs governance that is commensurate with the gravity of the problem before us.
One of the issues we are looking forward to in the Act is that it will ensure effective high-level national coordination for nutrition. In Zambia, the responsibility for coordinating efforts to tackle malnutrition is assigned to the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), an organ of the Ministry of Health.
However, despite its efforts, NFNC’s placement gives it limited powers to convene and coordinate the different actors who need to work together to ensure adequate progress in tackling under nutrition.
At CSO-SUN we are advocating for the revision of the NFNC’s mandate so as to enhance its ability to coordinate the national nutrition agenda. This includes changing the placement of the NFNC within the government structure, so that it has the authority to call all stakeholders to the table and hold them accountable to their responsibilities and commitments.
It also includes the need for a strong, multi-stakeholder NFNC Board that represents the various sectors contributing to the national nutrition agenda and oversees the work of the NFNC.
At CSO-SUN, we feel that we have ended 2015 on a good note with the launch of the Global Nutrition Report (GNR), thanks to the power of working together with Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
We are so grateful to have had the Vice-President, Mrs Inonge Wina launch the GNR 2015. She provided great motivation to the fight against malnutrition in Zambia and reminds us of the importance of leadership.
Going forward, we need more than just the usual capacity building, which has focused on building knowledge and technical skills, such as by producing more master’s graduates at the University of Zambia/the Natural Resources Development College.
We must focus also on building and mentoring leaders. Indeed, leadership in nutrition is considered to be a critical component for national-level capacity for effective action.
It is very significant that we sustain our momentum on nutrition in Zambia in 2016 as we still have a long way to go before we get to reduce the levels of malnutrition comprehensively.
As we focus on taking our nutrition programmes forward, we call for investment in developing a cadre of leaders to take us where we want to be.
A Happy New Year from all of us at the Zambia CSO-SUN.
The Author is a civil society advocate for good nutrition and Country Coordinator for Zambia Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN).

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