How do we end malnutrition in our lifetimes?

For the first time in history, the world has the means to eradicate hunger and malnutrition within a generation.

Globally, there has been real progress in tackling malnutrition. Child mortality due to undernutrition has fallen from 3.5 million in 2008 to 3.1 million in 2011.

According to Unicef, the number of children who are stunted has also decreased globally, at an average rate of 2.1 percent per year – from 253 million in 1990 to 161 million today. More than 50 countries have joined SUN, the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, to include nutrition in all development efforts.

However, set against the scale of the problem, we can do more. More than 805 million people still go to bed hungry, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and ill health. Two billion people around the world lack the essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy life.

At the same time, more than 1.4 billion people are overweight or obese, causing a dramatic rise in non-communicable diseases in rich and poor countries alike.
Malnutrition is a complex phenomenon. Climate change is already making people hungry, pushing up food prices, making staple crops less nutritious and worsening food security for an increasing percentage of the world’s population. Urban food systems are failing to keep up with the rapid growth of cities.

Humanitarian crises such as Ebola and the conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq, show how emergencies have a direct effect on food security and hinder the production and movement of food.
In response to this challenge, we have developed a new strategy that will take us to 2017/2018. As part of this strategy, we have set ourselves a series of ambitious new targets focused on scaling up proven interventions, finding innovative new ways to deliver solutions, and achieving a real and lasting impact.

We know that fortifying staple foods is one of the most effective and affordable public health tools. We will increase the intake of essential micronutrients such as vitamins A, D, iron, folic acid and iodine for 1.3 billion people, including 400 million women and adolescent girls, and 200 million children under five.

We will reach 50 million children under five and five million pregnant and lactating women through integrated approaches, including targeted supplementary and complementary feeding interventions in order to reducestunting by 3 percent per year in the target population.

Through messages and interventions related to feeding, nutrition, care and hygiene practices, we aim to reach more than 70 million women, adolescent girls and children. The world needs new models that can bring stunting down to zero.
GAIN will develop these in a number of high burden countries. We will build local markets that contribute to an affordable, more diverse diet for the poorest consumers, improving the productivity and nutritional value of food along the whole value chain.

We aim to increase dietary diversity for 3 million people through interventions specifically demonstrating the value of linking agriculture and nutrition in a sustainable way.
We closed 2014 with the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome and the launch of the Global Nutrition Report 2014. Both highlighted the enormous untapped potential of proven nutrition interventions and the role that they can play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that will be agreed in 2015.

Our knowledge of what works to reduce malnutrition has never been greater but we need to implement faster. We must catalyse partnerships between governments, business, civil society and communities with clear structures, transparent working arrangements, and strong mechanisms for accountability to the poorest and most vulnerable people.
In 2014, GAIN’s programs reached an estimated 892 million people with more nutritious foods, including 350 million women and children. Having established this reach, we are working hard to increase the quality of the foods that people are consuming, and demonstrating how this contributes to reducing malnutrition.

None of this work would be possible without our partners and the continuing and generous financial support from our major donors: the governments of Canada, France, Netherlands, Ireland, UK, and USA; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation; and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation. We thank them and all GAIN’s partners for their support.

For the first time in history, the world has the means to eradicate hunger and malnutrition within a generation, and also create a food system that feeds the planet and cares for the earth.

Please join us in this effort.

Marc Van Ameringen is the Executive Director of GAIN and Jay Naidoo is Chair of GAIN’s Board of Directors.

This feature article is from Feb 2015