Takeaways from the Micronutrient Forum: steering nutrition together
Insights from Monique Beun, SNV's Global Lead on Nutrition and Healthy Diets, on the Micronutrient Forum's 6th Global Conference in 2023.
By Monique Beun, SNV’s Global Lead on Nutrition and Healthy Diets.
Sitting among a myriad of experts, scholars, and policymakers at the Micronutrient Forum's 6th Global Conference, I was reminded of our shared purpose and responsibility. The closing statement from the conference resonated deeply with me: good nutrition is not just a critical factor for growth and development—it is a fundamental human right.
Amidst the busy conference, our discussions were far from tranquil. We dissected the intricacies of global crises that threaten the food and nutrition security of billions. Over 3.1 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Around 1.6 billion women and young children suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. As a technical expert, these statistics, though unsettling, underscore the magnitude of our responsibility.
The project approaches, research findings, knowledge and data that were shared during the conference stimulate the further development and deepening of our work and strategy at SNV. The insights reinforced our existing approaches while offering nuanced angles to tackle challenges ahead.
The new World Health Assembly resolution on food fortification, and new guidance from WHO on complementary feeding and combating anaemia will inform our work.
Even as the conference concluded, the journey of putting this new knowledge to fruit has only just begun. Here's my personal reflection on the conference and how its learnings mirror our ongoing aspirations at SNV.
SNV's mark on the forum
Co-hosting a session with Helen Keller Intl. was both a privilege and a good example of partnerships for the joint nutrition agenda. Our session, 'Bridging the nutrient gap: the power of multi-sector integrated programming for improved dietary intake and nutrition' brought to the footlight our vision on the role of private sector and NGOs to reshape the food environment for healthier food choices and aligned with the wider heard call for private sector engagement and accountability. Making nutritious foods not just available and accessible, but also enhance its desirability as part of a healthy diet is a mission I deeply resonate with.
Furthermore, the emphasis on context specific grassroots strategies, community engagement, and the empowerment of women was a resounding affirmation of our beliefs at SNV. Good nutrition policies are imperative. We turned the spotlight on translating these policies into actionable grassroots strategies that have real impact on the populations we work with, which defines their importance for me.
Watch the recording of the session below
Broader insights from the forum
The forum highlighted and re-emphasised several strategic areas crucial to advancing our nutrition agenda:
Interconnectedness in nutrition: This year’s Micronutrient Forum conference brought the resilience agenda forward and dedicated time and space to issues like sustainable agriculture, climate change, environmental impact, and food systems, topics previously not spoken about at these nutrition events. In many sessions, reference was made to the poly-crisis the world is facing and both the challenges and opportunities of putting nutrition at the centre.
Beyond choices – reshaping narratives: The discussions around Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) were particularly useful. At SNV, we've always believed in the power of tailored communication in combination with increased income, since so much more food is purchased in markets. During the conference, a PhD student explained that her research showed that the best way to approach adolescents to talk about anaemia and the need for iron-folate supplementation, a nutrition topic, is to talk about their menstruation pains. It is such a great illustration of how you should be talking about what matters to people, not what matters to the policy makers.
Ground-up approach: The forum hosted rich discussions on nutrition governance, highlighting the crucial role of multisectoral coordination and the importance of tailoring solutions to local contexts, especially supporting grassroots actions. From the opening session onward, the dialogue centred on collaborating with local research teams and knowledge and engaging directly with farmer. This local engagement is key to developing agricultural strategies that are responsive to nutrition needs and capable of adapting to climate change. Subsequent sessions delved into strategies for enhancing synergy between food and health systems to address micronutrient deficiencies and for crafting inter-sectoral policies that are rooted in the contexts and realities. The consensus was clear: programming must be attuned to the actual dynamics of households and the realities on the ground to be effective.
Markets and home production: The critical role of diet diversification in preventing micronutrient deficiencies and promoting good nutrition was underscored. Yet, the path to achieving such diversification, especially with the increasing reliance on markets for nutrition security, invites robust debate. While homestead production has traditionally been a pillar in diversifying rural diets, improved market functionality raises questions about the efficiency of farm-level diversification. The benefits of improved quality and income through crop specialisation in mixed farming systems, and targeting diversity at larger local or regional scale could offer greater benefits, considering the labour and time constraints of homestead production.
The path ahead for SNV
The Micronutrient Forum was not just a learning platform; it was a catalyst. Armed with a refreshed perspective and evidence to inform our strategies, we at SNV are reinvigorated in our commitment to nutrition innovation.
The frequent discussions on the unaffordability of nutritious diets for small holder farmers and people living in poverty and crisis affected areas, and the observation that income growth doesn't directly translate to diet quality improvements, emphasise for me the importance for SNV to integrate social and behaviour change communication at all levels into our agri-food projects.
Furthermore, the spotlight on the private sector's role in enhancing the availability of nutritious food, alongside concerns about the rise of unhealthy processed foods, underlines the necessity of expanding SNV’s mission. We must not only improve the food environment but also raise public consciousness about the drawbacks of enticing yet unhealthy processed foods and advocate for responsible marketing practices.
We must act, and act now, to protect our gains and accelerate progress. The global funding commitments for nutrition are needed to make the necessary investments to do more, at scale, and better. The challenges are immense, but so are the opportunities. Together, we can build a resilient future, ensuring that every individual —regardless of where they live or come from — can access the nutrition they need to thrive.