Over the holiday period the nutrition community - and the world - lost a powerful champion: Dr. Ferew Lemma.
Dr. Ferew was the Senior Adviser on Nutrition to the Ethiopian Minister of Health for the past 10 years. The first time we met Dr. Ferew over 10 years ago, he was deeply disappointed over some recently published nutrition data from Ethiopia. His distress made a deep impression on us: here was someone who cared about the numbers, cared about the people behind those numbers, and cared that insufficient progress was being made for those people.
We and countless others have worked with him in many contexts over the past 10 years.
Ferew was on the Global Nutrition Report’s first Independent Expert Group and he hosted the first ever meeting of the group in 2014 in Addis. At that meeting we sweated over what the first ever GNR would look like and how on earth we could make it happen in time. Despite our anxiety, Ferew was the epitome of calm and helped us to a successful launch. He was also on the GAIN Partnership Council and brought a realism to those meetings that was invaluable. We also witnessed the key role he played in developing, supporting, and championing the Seqota Declaration, a landmark plan for dramatically accelerating the reduction of stunting in Ethiopia.
To say Dr. Ferew was an advocate for collaborative engagement would be an understatement. He was passionate about bringing people together to find a way forward – "this is what we want to do" he would say, "what can you do to help us?" Then he would sit back and listen. But if he thought things were not going in the right direction, in his kind way, he would certainly let you know!
This past year we had the pleasure of working with Dr. Ferew in the context of the UN Food Systems Summit and the Nutrition for Growth Summit. It is no coincidence that Ethiopia has made some of the most ambitious commitments and developed one of the most advanced food systems pathways. Ferew was determined to utilize every opportunity to advance good nutrition status in Ethiopia to show the rest of the world how it is done.
The ambition of the Seqota Declaration is contextualized within a bold food systems approach. This approach is not simply made up of words or documents, but is brought to life by people like Ferew, who carried truckloads of passion and a willingness to engage to help bring about tangible change. This is what the entire African continent – and the world - needs. The many commitments that were made at the UNFSS, CoP26 and N4G Summit, in 2021, are meaningless if they are not converted to action, and that requires fortitude, passion and patience. Ferew had all of these in abundance. He could move mountains and he is now the gentle spirit out there, accompanying and urging the rest of us to act and to make food system transformation work harder for nutrition.
This is our abiding memory of Ferew: calm in a crisis, but passionate about improving people’s lives; still when listening, but restless to find solutions; quiet in meetings, but forceful when it comes to implementing decisions.
This good-natured warrior for nutrition and food systems may have passed away but he leaves us a clear legacy to emulate. He will be missed deeply by all of us. We extend our warm condolences to his family.
May he rest in peace.