New nutrition initiative in LAC lies at the intersection of innovation and commitment

Without good nutrition, people and societies cannot grow and thrive. Good nutrition yields high returns on investment plus is a basic human right. However, it somehow continues to be an underfinanced area, accounting for a mere 1% of global development assistance.1 The Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit was a golden opportunity to bolster political support and attract investments. For many countries, it was a push to make sure that nutrition remains high on the political agenda. For Colombia, the wheels were already set in motion thanks to the First Lady’s determination to make the difference and support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to reset the agenda on food security and nutrition.

It started early in 2020, following a meeting between the First Lady of Colombia, María Juliana Ruiz, and the Executive Director of WFP, David Beasley, where both reflected on how progress could be fast-tracked towards Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) on Zero Hunger. The First Lady leads the Grand Alliance for Nutrition in Colombia to tackle the country’s nutrition challenges from low exclusive breastfeeding rates (estimated at 36.7% nationally) to overweight, which affects approximately 62.6% of adult women and is continually rising.2 Within weeks, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic hit, nearly monopolizing government efforts worldwide and eroding hard-won nutrition and food security gains in the country and beyond. However, the pandemic gave even more reason to address malnutrition in all its forms and the inequities of historically marginalized communities that underpin it. It also underscored the need to think outside the box.

A new food security and nutrition agenda for the region

Fast forward to February 2021. The First Lady and WFP Colombia jointly launch an initiative, called Innovation 4 Nutrition (I4N), together with Colombia’s Presidential Advisory Office for Childhood and Adolescence, affirming their steadfast commitment to fighting hunger and malnutrition. I4N celebrates diversity and has a strong local flavor. It pursues transformative solutions to end hunger and malnutrition by empowering local change agents and innovation ecosystems, cognizant that these are instrumental to ownership and sustainability. How?

Actors are now devising FBDGs for the wider population to be finalized in 2022. The following food categories are targeted, to either encourage or discourage consumption in light of the Costa Rican context.

Fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration

I4N places a premium on broadening partnerships and alliances across sectors. At the country level, the initiative is building on the effective coordination among UN agencies, including through the joint cluster on food security and nutrition, co-led by FAO, UNICEF and WFP. The United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF), the country-level joint workplan of the Rome-based agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP) and the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) provide other outlets for inter-agency collaboration.

According to the WFP Representative in Colombia, Mr. Carlo Scaramella, “Solving hunger in today’s world requires assertive leaderships and courageous, disruptive actions, aimed at moving societies beyond their inertia, towards a future where all citizens, ethnicities, social groups, and communities fully enjoy their right to food. I4N aims at ensuring this leadership, also through broad multi-stakeholder alliances across sectors of societies as the mean to promote and accelerate transformations, contributing to a lasting societal change towards food security and nutrition for all.” I4N is emphasizing the importance of leveraging the potential of youth, women, communities and territories, through empowerment and innovation.

A range of stakeholders rally at landmark I4N event

Fast forward again, this time, to November 2021. A multitude of actors gathered on 23‒25 November 2021 to share insights and visions regarding the new regional roadmap towards Zero Hunger, building on the momentum of the UNFSS. In their introductory messages, UN Secretary-General, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres and the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, stressed the importance of initiatives like I4N in fostering new, transformative approaches to achieve the SDGs.

WFP’s participation at the I4N event included interventions by its Executive Director; Lola Castro, LAC Regional Director; Carlo Scaramella; and Abigail Perry, Director of Nutrition. Other key interlocutors, some from the UN family, included: David Nabarro, Senior Adviser on Food Systems Summit Dialogues; FAO Chief Economist, Máximo Torero; and UNICEF Regional Adviser, Maaike Arts. Máximo seized the opportunity to present the nutrition and food security situation, underlining that “healthy diets are expensive and inaccessible for a good part of the population.” He also honed on disparities within the region, particularly the high cost of a healthy diet in the Caribbean flagging Haiti as the extreme, where 88% of people lack access. As Máximo highlighted in his speech, healthy diets are crucial for reducing the region’s double burden of malnutrition and averting deaths due to diet-related noncommunicable diseases. Ultimately, the 3-day event culminated in the signing of the Regional Pact, grounding successive action.

Next steps

I4N is a story about LAC countries coming together to reaffirm their commitment to nutrition and explore new approaches at a time when poverty and malnutrition have dramatically deteriorated and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges. I4N is about to enter a new phase of activity with the HZERO hub, which will focus on scale up. In Colombia, key stakeholders are now working towards implementing the FSS National Pathway Roadmap, which foresees I4N as an instrument for transformation and program delivery. WFP has played an instrumental role in supporting the Government of Colombia cultivate innovative and inclusive approaches to food security and nutrition, and bringing these efforts to the regional level, with many partners and allies joining this rather unique initiative.

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Photo credits:
©WFP/Lorena Peña

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