Need to align agriculture and food systems to tackle malnutrition: Experts from South Asia

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The consultation was organized in the wake of the newly created Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to support the development of improved nutrition outcomes in the context of food and agriculture systems. Participants comprised senior policymakers and representatives from organisations in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma and Bangladesh.

This consultation aimed at building a shared high-level vision of future malnutrition challenges in South Asia and a consensus on action by governments and other stakeholders to develop and guide sustainable nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive policy development. One of the principal aims is to develop a consensus and way forward for South Asia in addressing malnutrition in all its forms. In recognition of the success of the Panel’s 2016 Ghana meeting and the emergent African Leaders for Nutrition initiative, the organisations partnered today explored how the Global Panel might draw on this experience and feedback from the consultation to develop a new initiative, called South Asian Policy Leadership for Nutrition and Growth (SAPLING).

Ambassador Shyam Saran, Chairman, RIS highlighted, “South Asia is most ecologically integrated region and thus more interconnectivity between people from South Asia will help to address the regional issues of climate change like changes in monsoon, glacier melting and river systems. There is also a need to focus on energy, water and food as interlinked sectors in relation to the new set of Sustainable Development Goals.”

Professor K Srinath Reddy, President PHFI and Member of the Global Panel said, “Agriculture and food systems need to promote adequate, appropriate and affordable nutrition for all at each stage of life. While nurturing nutrition, we also need to ensure that agriculture and food systems are economically viable and ecologically sustainable. This calls for concerted multi –sectoral action at national and regional levels. SAPLING is intended to provide a platform for accelerating action to position nutrition within this integrated framework of sustainable development.”

Focusing on the agriculture, Professor Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, RIS said, “There is a need to breed crops that are of more value in terms of nutrition. For this, increased regional cooperation and connectivity are required. We need to look at how we can make agricultural productivity economically viable and sustainable.”

Professor Sandy Thomas, Director of the Global Panel, said “Working together across South Asia clearly has great potential to achieve common goals in nutrition, and stimulate new commitments to the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Rio this year. The Global Panel looks forward to working with its partners on this ambitious agenda.”

Good nutrition provides a vital foundation for human development. Much has already been achieved in South Asia in the drive to address malnutrition, and in tackling the multiple challenges at the nexus of agriculture, food and nutrition. A significant example is the reduction of stunting in India in children under the age of 5, from 48 per cent in 2005-2006 to 39 percent in 2014.

Despite these gains, India is experiencing the “double burden” of both underweight and obesity. New policies across agriculture and food systems dealing with production, marketing, processing and consumption will need to be coherent and based on the best available evidence. By aligning their strategies and policies even more closely, South Asian countries will be able to make informed and effective progress at the necessary pace to achieve the goal of nutritional wellbeing for all.

Governments working in concert with civil society, business, and the knowledge community will need to create integrated approaches and develop a strategic view of food systems and agriculture to help ensure that today’s decisions and investments are robust to future uncertainties.

More about the event