From a food systems perspective, transformation means progress towards all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Ms. Gerda Verburg visited Malawi from 31 August to 3 September 2021. During the visit, she participated in the launch of Malawi’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN 3.0) Strategy and interact with various stakeholders on efforts to eliminate malnutrition in the country.
Verburg speaks more about the fight against malnutrition in the responses below:
The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement was established over a decade ago to end malnutrition. What progress has the SUN movement achieved in countries like Malawi to eliminate malnutrition since it was established?
I’m pleased to share that the SUN Movement has supported its now 64 member states to make some significant nutrition advances. Malawi has created one of the first SUN country movements. Support comes through an expanding network community that today includes more than 3,000 civil society organisations, some 900 small and medium-sized businesses, and 16 United Nations agencies, both in-country and international.
Currently, 23 SUN countries are on track to reach the global breastfeeding target, while 35 are on track to reach the global child overweight target, and 10 are on track to reach the global stunting target – and these figures are increasing each year.
It is exciting to see is the transformation of “how” countries are tackling malnutrition. Many are now applying the SUN multi-stakeholder, multisectoral approach. In fact, 42 SUN Member States now have a national nutrition plan which brings together sectors and stakeholders, while 19 countries have included their national SUN Focal Point in their national emergency response team. It is “a must” to include food and nutrition security in each and every emergency response team.
Malawi has launched the Scaling Up Nutrition 3.0 Strategy. What does this mean to nutrition efforts in the country? How crucial is this strategy?
It was an honour to take part in Malawi’s launch of the SUN 3.0 Strategy. The powerful launch event really demonstrated the strong energy, commitment, and ambition here in Malawi – across all sectors, led by the President – to fight malnutrition in all its forms, towards making good nutrition understood, accessible and affordable for every family in Malawi. I was also touched by the strong and concrete commitments of 10 stakeholder groups, including traditional and religious leaders, media and young people. I will share this inspiring example with other SUN country movements.
The SUN 3.0 Strategy further strengthens the “country-driven and country-led” approach of SUN, which has always been at our core. What we saw and heard at the launch event was that the SUN 3.0 Strategy is one catalyst to bring all people together to fight malnutrition as one, because “nutrition is the engine of change and progress”. If Malawi gets nutrition right, socio-economic development, better education, health, productivity, escaping poverty innovation and sustainability will follow easily. Why? Because nutrition is an investment in human capacity and human capacity is the best capital a country has to catalyse development.
Malawi is a leader among others in how it is engaging with the SUN 3.0 multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder approach, and should be applauded for this.
Considering that Malawi has been implementing SUN interventions for more than 10 years, do you see any difference that the new strategy has from the previous efforts to eliminate malnutrition in the country?
Malawi has been a SUN Movement Member Country since 2011, and since then has demonstrated clear achievements. So much so, that it was one of the first SUN Early Risers – those developing countries that had begun to scale up nutrition action at the national level.
The expectation now is that, with the implementation of SUN 3.0, Malawi will further gear up to make significant measurable strides in tackling malnutrition by strengthening and expanding its multistakeholder and multisectoral collaboration at community and district levels
Malawi is often criticised for having good policies and strategies which it fails to fully implement. How do you assess the implementation of the previous SUN strategies in Malawi?
The numbers speak for themselves here in Malawi. As national SUN Focal Point Dr Felix Pensulo Phiri shared during the launch event, since joining the SUN Movement in 2011, this enabling environment has helped Malawi to reduce stunting from 47% to 33% in 2021; iron deficiency from 51% to 22%; and Vitamin A deficiency from 22% to 4%. These are quite significant figures.
But more progress still needs to be made, and new forms of malnutrition are making their way to Malawi, that will now need to be tackled. Overweight is increasing in the country, and it is impacting everyone – children and adults, men and women. This causes not just health issues, but also economic issues for a nation.
As the President pointed out at the launch event, trying to respond to problems is more expensive than investing in preventing them from happening. And so, it is encouraging to see that Malawi is now poised to invest in more preventative actions through investing in human and financial capacity. This is the kind of systemic change needed to make malnutrition part of history in Malawi.
What support will the the SUN Movement be providing to ensure the new SUN 3.0 strategy is fully implemented in Malawi?
The SUN Movement is comprised of a SUN Business Network, a SUN Civil Society Network, UN Nutrition, a SUN Donor Network and a SUN Movement Secretariat. Through our new SUN 3.0 Strategy, these structures will be closely aligned and will work jointly and complementarily to further strengthen support tailored to the demand and need of Malawi.
Malnutrition is compounded by the recurring climate crisis as communities and families often lose their livelihoods and food when disasters strike. How can countries like Malawi build resilience for good nutrition?
This is very critical question, and very relevant. During the launch event, the President highlighted the importance of diversifying diets here in Malawi. Specifically, he called on the people of Malawi to commit to reducing their nsima consumption by 10% per year and replacing this with other more nutritious foods. I applaud the President for this very concrete guidance on what is needed and what families can do themselves All men, women and young people, have a role to play in awareness raising and decision making on good nutrition, and this, together with the reform of the Malawian Food System, will certainly strengthen the resiliency of your beautiful country to move towards more food diversity that is nutritious and affordable and less dependence on costly food imports during lean seasons.
Women play a vital role in ensuring good nutrition for households. What is the cost of leaving women behind on nutrition and how can this be avoided so that women are at the forefront of efforts to end malnutrition in communities?
Yes, women play a vital role in ensuring good nutrition, and women also suffer disproportionately from malnutrition. But, as I said at the launch event, it is not solely a women issue. Nutrition requires the commitment of everyone – across ministries, throughout communities, and within families. It is about women, but men need to rise up to invest in their families, their communities, and their future.
The cost of malnutrition, in all its forms, carries huge direct and indirect costs to individuals, families and to entire nations. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that the impact on the global economy could be as high as US$3.5 trillion per year, or US$500 per individual. Malawi is losing 10.6% of GDP annually due to hampered productivity caused by malnutrition.
But malnutrition does more than cost dollars, it costs lives. It is estimated that up to 45% of all preventable child deaths are caused by undernutrition, while severely undernourished children are up to nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children. Ensuring women have access to good nutrition goes a long way to ensuring that their children do too.
What things need to change to ensure every child, adolescent, mother, and family realises their right to food and nutrition to reach their full potential?
This requires the multi-stakeholder and multisector approach outlined in SUN 3.0. It takes the involvement of stakeholders from government, but also of businesses, civil society, academia, clergy – everyone; and the involvement of all sectors including the health sector, but also the finance, agriculture, social protection, gender, planning, education, religious and local sectors.
Only if all these players really work together on implementation at the family and community levels can game-changing transformation happen in our efforts to bring good nutrition to everyone, everywhere.
With the UN Food Systems Summit happening in New York on 23rd September 2021, how can countries like Malawi take advantage of the Summit to boost efforts to end malnutrition?
The UN Food Systems Summit and the upcoming global Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo in December provide good mechanisms through which countries, including Malawi, can share their commitments to achieving their nutrition goals. Both summits also promote a country-based multi-stakeholder and multisectoral approach, so leveraging these can also benefit Malawi.
I’ve invited the President, the government, and all stakeholders to make strong commitments at each of these summits. By doing this, Malawi could inspire other countries to step up as well. Besides this, 2022 will very likely be the “African year of nutrition and investing in human capacity”, which is a great year to set the pace towards Africa becoming a healthy and nutritious food basket for countries and worldwide.
From a food systems perspective, transformation means progress towards all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We can no longer afford to sit in silos looking at only one aspect without looking at others.
For this reason, I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to meet this week with Malawi’s Honourable Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Finance to explore with each this important multisectoral approach. Very fruitful discussions took place in this regard.
Do you have any additional comments on this issue?
It was great to participate in the ambitious launch. I now look forward to ambitious impact and the SUN Movement Global Support System will be there to support where needed.
Development Coordination Officer, Programme Communications and Advocacy