Columnists Features

Competing budget needs: Finding balance for nutrition


AS THE Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda went on to present the 2016 national budget speech, we at Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN) eagerly held our breaths to hear what was in his plans for nutrition.
We got the feeling that the budget was more of addressing the immediate economic challenges that the country is facing and feared social sectors, including nutrition, may not receive much attention.
After careful analysis, we found in the 2016 budget that most budget lines for nutrition have remained stagnant, a decrease in real terms due to recent currency depreciations. For example, the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), whose mandate is to coordinate nutrition intervention in the country its budget in 2016 has remained the same as 2015 allocation at K8,233,904.
We hope this situation shall soon change with the revised NFNC act, in which we have recommended the revision of the NFNC’s mandate so as to enhance its high level coordination at the national level. There is consensus among nutrition actors that the government moves the NFNC to be placed under the Vice-President’s Office, from where it will have the authority and capacity to ensure adequate coordination amongst all key stakeholders, ensuring that each is playing its role outlined in the national food and nutrition strategic plan.
In the case of inadequate funding to nutrition, I would give a little nutrition for thought. Zambia is currently facing the double burden of malnutrition. The faces of poor nutrition can be seen from adults who have trouble breathing owing to obesity to stunted children and to infants who do not live to see their first birthday as a result of a combination of poor diets, poor infant feeding practices and exposure to infectious diseases.
Malnutrition is a serious problem. The government, civil society, businesses and other stakeholders have to show commitment and walk the talk. The problems of poor nutrition affect the entire nation, especially women and children who are particularly vulnerable due to their unique physiology and socioeconomic position.
The benefits of addressing malnutrition are clear. For instance, 45 percent of all under-five mortality would be avoided by ending malnutrition. This means preventing the deaths of 40 under-fives per every 1,000 children born, year in year out. The economic returns are equally large, as analysis in the 2014 Global Nutrition report shows; the benefit-cost ratio of scaling up nutrition interventions for Zambia is 17 to 1.  That is, for every Kwacha spent on nutrition programmes, the nation gets back 17.
Like many people understand today the challenges of nutrition are known, however, now more than ever the political will to translate evidence into action is needed. Nutrition requires action and accountability that is orchestrated across many sectors. Nutrition also requires long-term commitment – and to be long-term, that commitment has to be political, but not partisan. It is necessary to ensure commitment by government is embraced and non-negotiable by all parties.
The good news for Zambia is that remarkable moves have been made to promote nutrition, such as establishing a special committee of permanent secretaries on nutrition, which meets to agree on policy directives as well as service delivery channels and track progress against targets.
Some more BIG news, Zambia is making some progress in reducing malnutrition, the stunting figures reduced from 46 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2013/2014, according to the Zambia Demographic Health Survey. This is impressive and deserves strong commendations. What we need to do now is to find out what really led to this reduction and build upon for more success in future.
I join many people saying the government is committed to fighting malnutrition. However, if we are to truly address the problem of malnutrition, there is urgent need for increased financial commitment from the government and other stakeholders. It is important to make a fundamental shift in the way we view malnutrition in order to put more money on nutrition. Malnutrition must be viewed as everyone’s business and responsibility. We must always think investing in nutrition is as good as investing in the future of Zambia.
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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