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Sustainable Development Depends on Better Nutrition for All Nations

This article is part of a series of opinion pieces to mark World Food Day October 16.
Dr. Lawrence Haddad and Dr. David Nabarro are World Food Prize Laureates of 2018

Children in northern Pakistan line up for food rations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

DES MOINES, IOWA, Oct 11 2018 (IPS) - From cold chains and blockchains – major technological revolutions are on the brink of transforming food systems.

While cold chain technology can prevent losses as food travels from farm to market, blockchain technology can help digitally and accurately relay vast amounts of data between networks of farmers, traders and vendors.

All this can help reduce transaction costs, reduce financial barriers to accessing markets and build trust in the provenance of food, from farm, forest and ocean to fork.

Today more than one person in 10 struggles to get needed nourishment from food systems. It is tempting to turn to technology to solve such issues, This, however, will not be enough.

Instead, we need to shift our thinking from seeking singular solutions, and start to look at building better food systems as a means to deliver on the entire Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) agenda.

By investing in nutrition and more reliable food systems, you can reap rewards across all the goals. Yet according to the Global Nutrition Report of 2017 funding for nutrition by global development donors only constitute 5 per cent of all total global aid. Governments, on average, allocate a similar share of their budget to nutrition.

This needs to change, not only to improve nutrition for nutrition’s sake, but to achieve all of the Global Goals.

Better Health

The biggest driver of mortality and poor health today is poor diets. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are on the rise in both the developed and developing world, putting a major strain on healthcare systems worldwide.

Many policymakers right now are very concerned about how to make universal healthcare financially feasible. One of the ways to reduce the financial burden of universal healthcare is to invest in sustainable diets and better nutrition now, before these diseases become a critical issue.

Hence the need to make sure that all food systems yield the kind of food that is needed for good nutrition and for good health. We can do this by enabling everyone to widen their diets to include more diverse and nutritious crops.

A Resilient Planet

The people who work in food systems across the world tend to be some of the poorest and most vulnerable people. They are particularly vulnerable to adverse weather patterns, so we need to help them to be both prosperous with decent livelihoods and resilient in the face of stress.

Farming systems that deliver nutritious diets, can also improve the resilience of farmers, and the resilience of our planet. Crop diversification for example can replenish nutrients to degraded soils, while offering a more diverse and nutritious diet to farmers. It also reduces risk for farmers who will no longer suffer a devastating loss if one crop is destroyed by bad weather or pests.

What we grow and what we eat also have a fundamental impact on greenhouse gas emissions. It is not enough for farming and food production to adapt to changing climates – it must also help to extract carbon from the environment.

Food systems that yield nutritious foods are perfectly capable of doing this – so the health of our planet and the health of our population can progress hand in hand.

Decent Work

Good nutrition improves wellbeing, and therefore productivity of a workforce. If Africa is to harness a dividend from its booming youth population, investments to ensure young people have adequate nutrition to support cognitive and physical development must be made now.

Nutrition-sensitive interventions can easily be integrated into the workplace. For example, can we enable women to have affordable nutritious snacks when they’re hard at work making garments that we will eventually buy in our supermarkets? Can tea plantations offering a facility for women who are lactating to be able to breast feed onsite?

The biggest innovation we need to achieve sustainable development is a different way of thinking about nutrition. This will involve getting people together within and across countries to begin talking about what the problems are and the solutions we can produce in collaboration.

Too often the conversations have been fractured between those who care about physical systems and those who care about human systems; between those who care about humanitarian issues versus those who care about development, or between those who care about the environment versus those who care about human health.

By integrating good nutrition into wider development interventions, we can tackle all these interconnected issues. We can work together towards zero malnutrition, a more resilient planet and prosperous societies.

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