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Ensuring nutrition resilience in an era of ‘polycrisis’

Article-Ensuring nutrition resilience in an era of ‘polycrisis’

© AdobeStock/1STunningART Ensuring nutrition resilience in an era of ‘polycrisis’
From conflict to climate change, a complex cocktail of crises is threatening the resilience of our food systems, jeopardising the nutrition and wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable people.

That was the message from experts speaking at last week’s Micronutrient Forum 6th Global Conference in The Hague, the theme of which was “Nutrition for Resilience”.

The urgency of this “polycrisis” could be felt not only on the show floor, where a diverse range of experts representing more than 100 countries were engaging in discussions about potential solutions, but on the streets outside, where peace protests were taking place.

Six recommendations to strengthen nutrition resilience

As well as having direct health and economic impacts, this collection of crises is disrupting key systems including food, health, water and sanitation, education, and social protection – and in doing so, dramatically increasing the risk of poverty and insecurity for the most marginalised individuals in society.

At the conference’s closing ceremony, the Micronutrient Forum issued a “Way Forward” statement outlining six recommendations to strengthen the nutrition resilience of individuals, households, and communities.

“We – a group of deeply concerned experts from across research, academia, program and policy organisations, and governments – bring forward opportunities for immediate, evidence-based action by the international community to galvanise the momentum necessary to meet the Sustainable Development Goals’ promises for protecting nutrition and health in the face of unprecedented crises,” it reads.

“We fundamentally believe good nutrition is a human right – it is both a contributor to and an outcome of resilience. The need to strengthen nutrition resilience has never been more urgent, and the opportunities for action to do so are compelling and viable.

“We must work together immediately to ensure that current and future generations of children and their communities and nations are able to achieve their full potential.

1. Scale up proven and cost-e­ffective micronutrient interventions across food, health, and social protection systems

The statement calls for investment in low-cost, scalable micronutrient interventions, pointing to the “overwhelming evidence from successful initiatives such as the promotion and protection of breastfeeding; large-scale food fortification and biofortification; and vitamin A and multiple micronutrient supplementation (MMS).

“Evidence shows that these interventions can help reduce mortality, prevent disabilities and cognitive deficits, improve growth and immune functions, strengthen population health, and build the resilience of communities to withstand future shocks,” it adds.

“Micronutrient interventions are among the highest-return investments in overall development: for example, $1 invested in MMS gives a return of $37.”

2. Drive more equitable and well-nourished futures for women and girls

The statement acknowledges that gender equality and nutrition are “deeply interconnected”, adding: “Empowering women and girls is the foundation for nutrition resilience, and, in turn, improving women and girls’ nutrition is fundamental to increasing their own agency over their health, diets, productivity, empowerment, and ability to reach their full potential.

It calls for urgent action to elevate anaemia in women and girls, urging “new stakeholders from diverse sectorsto come together to achieve this, and for prenatal provision common in higher-income countries to be expanded elsewhere.

It adds:Food fortification strengthens food systems and makes nutrient-rich diets more affordable for women and adolescent girls. Improving the quality of prenatal services to include the provision of MMS as the standard of care, as is common in upper-income countries, can dramatically improve maternal health and pregnancy outcomes.

3. Accelerate generation of data and evidence for impactful decisions and action

Robust, real-time information systems are required to measure the effectiveness of nutrition policies and programmes. This is where innovative tech can play a role, the statement’s authors argue, highlighting the gut microbiome and immune function as areas of interest.

“New and innovative technologies and digitisation can help monitor and track trends in nutrition and micronutrient status,” they write.

“Accelerated investments in fundamental, translational, and applied research and knowledge-sharing are critical to understand intractable and emerging issues of significant public health relevance, such as the nature and scale of nutrition-climate linkages and influence of micronutrients on long-term health, including the gut microbiome and immune function.

4. Join forces with the climate sector to leverage and amplify shared agendas and solutions

The statement calls for all players across the board to contribute towards the shared climate agenda, arguing that scaling up access to nutrition services is “an essential part of protecting communities against the crisis.

“Together with climate partners, we must support adaptation and mitigation efforts to enhance food and nutrition security, livelihoods, and resilience, as prioritised in the COP28 Emirates Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action,” it reads.

The authors highlight the level of transformation required for positive and lasting change, calling attention to examples such as investments in adaptive and diverse production systems and markets, and the development of climate-resilient, nutritious, and indigenous crops”.

5. Invest in nutrition-resilient systems and programmes across humanitarian and development programmes to protect and maximise nutrition gains in the near and long term

Countries with high levels of micronutrient malnutrition “also experience a continuum of interconnected and compounding development and humanitarian challenges that reverberate over years, if not decades”, the statement adds.

“Urgent investments are needed to build the nutrition resilience of programmes and national systems for continued access to nutrition services and nutrient-rich foods that vulnerable communities depend on, particularly in crisis-prone contexts,” it reads.

© AdobeStock/Yaroslav AstakhovEnsuring nutrition resilience in an era of ‘polycrisis’

It highlights the “robust evidence for nutrition-sensitive social protection programmes, and calls attention to potential lessons to learn from pandemic responses in different countries.

6. Accelerate the mobilisation of financing for food and nutrition security actions at scale

Building food- and nutrition-resilient systems “demands moving beyond the traditional funding silos and mechanisms that have failed to deliver the necessary resources for nutrition”, the authors argue.

“Achieving impact requires that we bring in new national and global financing approaches and commitments across sectors by emphasising co-benefits (for example, climate co-benefits) and incentivising integrated actions across a continuum of contexts,” they add.