I am a public health professional. In 2002-3 my home country, Ethiopia, faced a dramatic drought that led to crop failures, widespread food insecurity and malnutrition. The drought-affected 13.2 million people  and approximately 11.1% of rural Ethiopia suffered severe malnutrition. During the drought, I knew that I wanted to help.
Over the past decade, Ethiopia has reduced stunting rates from 52% to 37% (2000-2019)  and . Malnutrition from birth to a child’s second birthday causes irreversible damage such as reduced growth, impaired mental development and decreased immune system. Among children 6-23 months old, 37% of the children were stunted, 21% underweight, 7% wasted  and 57% anemic . Only 7% eat a minimum acceptable diet and nutrition gaps in iron, zinc, vitamin A are of major concern.
Fortified foods can fill some of these nutrient gaps but less than 4% of infants consume fortified foods. As such, we are currently working on improving the consumption of nutritious and safe food by contributing to increase the availability of fortified and nutritious foods for children and their caregivers in targeted areas in Ethiopia.
Access to fortified foods for infants and young children can be difficult, especially for low-income families. Having worked in different civil society organisations, I see how powerful the partnerships the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has with the market-based actors. Through public-private engagements, we work to increase the access to and create the demand for nutritious food for caregivers to give to their children. Placing extra attention on affordability makes my work extra meaningful.
Each market is different and understanding and adapting solutions to the local context is critical to create long-lasting solutions that work. Working with food suppliers can also increase their capacity to produce and sell nutritious foods for children. For example, together, GAIN and its partners have worked to introduce an innovative, locally produced, safe and fortified dairy product to the Ethiopian market. Though not yet in the market, the affordable sachets of fortified yoghurt will become a supplement to consumers’ daily nutritious intake. They are tailored to the local taste preferences and we have worked to create consumer acceptability for dairy consumption by children and pregnant and lactating mothers also during fasting periods. The model engages the whole value chain from smallholder farmers, dairy processing, distribution, sales and to consumption. The farmers are encouraged to upgrade existing farming methods and share learnings amongst each other.
I came from sectors that did not work with the private sector, but I see today that working together with the private sector, is a crucial way for us to improve nutrition for children in Ethiopia.