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Investing in Healthy Food Systems Requires Investors

In the context of the first of three intersessional events on nutrition within the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), UNSCN and CFS co-hosted an event based on the UNSCN Discussion Paper - Investments for Healthy Food Systems. The main outcome from this discussion was an increased common understanding about how policies and investments can foster good nutrition and human health.

However, investments in food systems are often disconnected from nutrition policies and programs. Agricultural and food investment policies aim to increase economic rates of return in the sectors rather than the quality of food produced. For example, most agricultural subsidies serve to increase production of commodities, not nutritious solutions such as fruits and vegetables. The UNSCN-CFS May 2017 discussion was successful due to the inputs from the various CFS constituencies but the target audience was policy makers. Therefore, UNSCN thought to expand the outreach to the international financial institutions.

On 8 February 2018, UNSCN joined forces with its associate member the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to organize the policy seminar Investment for Nutrition in Washington, D.C. During the event, IFPRI’s David Laborde explained how ending hunger generates economic benefits both in the short and long term. According to Mr Laborde, bringing undernourishment to 5% or less in every country will boost global GDP by 276 billion by 2030 when considering the direct and immediate labor productivity loss of the calorie constraint on existing workforce.

The author of the paper that served as the background for the event, Rachel Nugent of Research Triangle Institute International, described how the current trends of “rising overweight and obesity and diet-related diseases are all directly tied to investment decisions made decades ago.” Ms Nugent reminded participants that investments to support healthier food systems are easily accessible for countries in the ICN2 Framework for Action. Examples of promising double-duty interventions include marketing regulations, school nutrition programs that target differential malnutrition risks in children, the reformulation of food products to fortify with nutritious and sustainable food based dietary guidelines. However, significant knowledge gaps remain. To address these Ms Nugent encouraged financial institutions and development banks to provide contextualized financial information to better identify promising investments that improve nutrition and health.

The World Bank solutions to close the nutrition-financing gap were also highlighted by Preeti Ahuja. They include: i) identifying and scaling up impactful, cost effective, nutrition interventions; ii) stemming post-harvest loss and waste of nutritious foods; iii) reorienting public investments (e.g. subsidies, R&D) and private incentives to promote supply of nutritious foods; and iv) engaging and partnering with the public and private sector. Ms Ahuja stressed that an additional $70 billion is needed during the Nutrition Decade to meet World Health Assembly nutrition targets.

The policy seminar closed with a clear message: A shift in investments from the current focus on the quantitative production of few crops to increased quality and diversity of food production for healthy diets is urgently needed. Existing knowledge, infrastructure and investments need to be leveraged to close the nutrition financing gap and countries need to invest more than the current rate of 1% of ODA.

The discussion about investments for better health will continue during the Global Financing Dialogue event in April 2018. UNSCN will continue to keep its readers updated as the theme develops.

Healthy Urban Childhoods 8 – 9 October 2019Uppsala, Sweden Uppsala Health Summit is a recurring international policy arena for dialogue on challenges for health and healthcare, and how we can overcome them. In 2019,…

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