Yesterday I had the privilege of representing the foundation at the Olympic Hunger event, hosted by the UK and Brazilian governments at Downing Street. The Hunger event, and indeed the Olympics themselves, were a wonderful representation of the coming together
of a global village. We heard comments and ideas from a diverse, committed, and innovative group of leaders all talking about how to converge on a common goal: making sure children, and their families, are healthy, nourished, and are able to access all the
promise and opportunity available to them.
This idea is at the center of our work and is at the heart of Melinda Gates' efforts to constantly champion healthy families.
I was pleased to see that good nutrition and agriculture were joined in a common conversation, which allowed us to talk about a joint understanding of goals, roles, and measurements. This discussion has not always been at the same table which has never made
sense to me given that that’s exactly where it should be.
For all of us, food is where agriculture, nutrition, and health come together. We know we can make the most impact on child nutrition and health in the first
1000 days, but in order to ensure the best possible health status, the mother must already be well-nourished when she becomes pregnant. This means we need enough high quality food to be readily accessible before that--which
is one clear place where agriculture has a role to play.
Yesterday, I mentioned that we should be thinking about new measures to keep agriculture accountable to nutrition: perhaps pushing our thinking beyond yield (which is essentially the amount of usable crop produced per 10,000 sq. meters) into considering
what nutrition per hectare might look like. The science is finally at a point where this should be possible.
We’re in an exciting new era where we can understand information about the smallest components of plant life, including the nutrition they provide, and this can be marked, mapped, and used by plant breeders as they develop new, nutritious varieties. This
should always be matched with local preferences and diets, which may mean we need to spend more time focused on neglected, drought tolerant crops like sorghum and millet, which comprise so much of the diet of the farmers we work with. We note and applaud
DFID’s commitment to furthering just this idea.
The power of science must always be linked to and harnessed at the local level. Families need information about what constitutes good nutrition as we often forget this is not simply intuitive. We heard this from many yesterday, including from the Minister
of Agriculture Akin Adesina from Nigeria, and were encouraged to see that there is interest across the board in making sure that families, and women in particular (as farmers, cooks, and mothers), are empowered with good information to inform their choices
on what to grow and eat.
We were encouraged by the announcements made yesterday: India announced they will double funding to support nutrition under their next 5 year plan. The
World Food Program announced a commitment to help farmers grow more nutritious crops which they’ll buy for families in need of their support. But yesterday was just the beginning.
Bill is always reminding us that new partnership and systems are needed to address these challenges; the discussions yesterday set the stage to start envisioning and building those new structures.
Many of those at the table are champions in the
Scaling Up Nutrition Movement (SUN), which will be a long-term effort to create a ‘tent’ under which like-minded groups can unite around common goals for addressing the very real and unnecessary challenge of child stunting. I was excited to see agriculture
joining that conversation yesterday in a real way and can happily see we’ll need a bigger tent as this work continues to build momentum.