Health

FAO, Global Alliance Scale-Up Healthy Diets Initiative

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By Akanimo Sampson

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) have resolved to join forces to scale-up the availability and affordability of nutritious food for all in developing countries.

The partnership aims to enable inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems, focusing on new approaches which engage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to promote market-based solutions as a key tool for improved nutrition.

The cheery news came as a group of prominent women joined three United Nations agencies on Friday, to mark International Women’s Day at an event recognising women’s contributions to building smart solutions for those who are excluded from decision making and influencing development in all sectors.

A vibrant discussion saw Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; Giulia Blasi, Italian author and journalist; Minna Salami, Finnish-Nigerian author, blogger and social critic; and Sarah Jane Morris, British singer and songwriter share their vision for a gender-equal society where women will thrive.

The event – jointly organised by FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – focused on this year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day: “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. 

WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, said ‘’we know that creating a world with Zero Hunger requires empowering more women and girls, with programmes that educate and build economic opportunity. We must work harder at this because right now progress is being held back in so many places where women aren’t given the opportunities that they should have. That’s why every day, WFP is helping millions of women tap their full potential and improve their own lives, the lives of their families, communities and nations.’’

IFAD President, Gilbert F. Houngbo, said ‘’equality for women is a cornerstone in building a world without hunger and poverty, which is why it is one of IFAD’s four mainstreaming themes. Half of the participants in the projects IFAD supports are women. We have seen transformative results through our approach of working at the household level to promote equitable relations and a fair division of labour and decision-making for the entire family.’’

For the FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo, ‘’innovations in technology, services and infrastructure have great potential to advance gender equality and rural women’s empowerment. We must continue to work together to help remove the structural and socio-cultural barriers that hinder women’s and girls’ ability to exercise their rights and freedoms.’’

FAO, IFAD and WFP work globally to tackle gender-based discrimination against women and girls, so that men and women have the same rights and can enjoy equal access to services, resources, and opportunities – which are vital for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Zero Hunger by 2030.

The three UN agencies work in synergy across their programmes to close the gender gap in agriculture by enhancing women’s economic empowerment and their role in rural development.  They are implementing, together with UN Women, the  joint programme “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” – JP RWEE – which since 2014 has reached 51 180 people (40 227 women and 10 953 men), as well as over 465 000 household members (directly and indirectly) in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.

By helping to improve women’s food security and nutrition, increase their income and enhance their decision-making power, while at the same time encouraging policy environments that are conducive to women’s economic empowerment, the JP RWEE is promoting sustainable rural development and the achievement of Agenda 2030. 

FAO and GAIN will also work to make urban food systems more nutrition-sensitive, through support to GAIN’s Urban Governance for Nutrition Program and FAO’s Urban Food Agenda.

At present, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas and it is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050. This creates an enormous challenge to food production and supply. Food and nutrition security of poor urban populations remains at risk as a consequence of the volatility and rapid increases in food prices, natural disasters and climate change effects.

Referencing the recent General Assembly resolution onGlobal health and foreign policy: a healthier world through better nutrition, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva called for greater promotion of healthy diets. ‘’We must focus more attention on the promotion of healthy diets, especially now with the epidemics of obesity and overweight. We know the main causes of hunger and how to defeat it.’’

However, he noted that there is still a need for greater monitoring and regulation in order to make food systems safer and more resilient. ‘’The private sector has a key role to play here – without them, we cannot move ahead with this agenda.’’

For the Executive Director of GAIN Lawrence Haddad, ‘’healthier diets are critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and this requires action to enable food systems to deliver more affordable nutritious foods to all. FAO is a leader in this effort, and we are delighted to cement our partnership today. We will focus on practical ways we can jointly help businesses and city governments deliver nutritious diets.’’

Building resilient food systems for the future by integrating rural and urban areas and strengthening their linkages – with the involvement of all stakeholders – will benefit both smallholder farmers and the urban poor.

Since its launch 2002, the Switzerland-based GAIN has worked to keep nutrition on the global agenda. Working in alliances to make food systems more nutrition-sensitive, GAIN provides technical and policy support to key stakeholders across food systems, such as governments, private sector, farmers and consumers.

GAIN has considerable experience working with the private sector, in particular through its Marketplace for Nutritious Foods programme. The Marketplace functions both as a Community of Practice and innovation accelerator, linking a network of local entrepreneurs, investors and institutions which work on agriculture and nutrition, and offering participants the chance to receive support for ideas that increase access, affordability and diversity of nutritious foods for vulnerable populations.

The partnership between FAO and GAIN envisages support for policy at country level, and increased engagement of the private sector in improving food systems by supporting SMEs in bringing more nutritious foods to market.

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