On 7‒8 December 2021, heads of state, ministers and other government figures were joined by a range of nutrition experts and other interested parties from around the world for the much-anticipated Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit, hosted by the Government of Japan. An unprecedented number of side events in the lead up to the summit helped to build momentum, including the side event on nutrition investment cases, held on 2nd December and co-organized by UN Nutrition, specifically its members the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). After what seemed like a year-long marathon to call for action on nutrition and mobilize related investments, the nutrition community watched intently from their screens as stakeholders unveiled their N4G commitments along the path toward 2030.
The urgency to act now
During the Opening Session, UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, took the occasion to remind participants that, “some 3 billion people ‒ almost half of all humanity ‒ cannot afford a healthy diet,” with COVID-19 exacerbating the situation. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was off track to achieve the global nutrition targets for 2025 set by the World Health Assembly,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO during day 1, underscoring the need to act and invest in nutrition. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major player on the international stage and in this year’s N4G, led by example in September, when it announced a USD 922 million commitment for nutrition at the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). This also served as a strategic bridge between the two summits and a springboard for more N4G commitments in the months that followed.
Historic levels of funding pledged
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida raised the bar in his opening speech at the Tokyo N4G Summit, pledging USD 2.8 billion for nutrition-related assistance over the next three years. Several other donors followed suit, with commitments taking the form of financial, policy, programmatic and/or impact pledges. Furthermore, a sizable number of joint commitments (144) were made, accounting for about 44% of the overall pledges and reinforcing the importance of partnership in nutrition.
As many as 156 stakeholders from 66 countries submitted 331 commitments through the 2021 N4G, totaling over USD 27 billion in pledges and exceeding the amount mobilized of previous summits. The amount is even more impressive, considering the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturns as well as other pressing global issues, not least climate change. These commitments will be tracked in the Nutrition Accountability Framework by the Global Nutrition Report (GNR), an independent platform.
Country commitment and ownership
Beyond the ‘dollar marks’ of the 2021 N4G Summit, it was particularly encouraging to see lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) come forward with commitments. “Ending all forms of malnutrition, especially in vulnerable groups including women and children is one of my government’s top priorities,” stated H.E. Mr. Taur Matan Ruak, Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. Rwanda and South Sudan were among the countries to make bold impact statements, announcing their intent to reduce stunting to 10% or less in 2030, among other nutrition targets.
In some cases, countries went as far as to commit domestic financing for nutrition. For example, Rwanda pledged to increase domestic resources from USD 36 million in 2020/21 to USD 50 million in 2030 and underscored the importance of homegrown solutions. Malawi disclosed a series of commitments, including the intent to allocate at least 5% of district budgets to nutrition. Furthermore, Ecuador and Senegal committed to develop and leverage financing mechanisms that address malnutrition, with the latter striving to secure 15% of the cost of the national nutrition action plan through innovative financing. These are just some of the many country N4G commitments.
The health theme attracted the most commitments, with multiple countries (e.g. Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia) committing to integrate nutrition into national universal health coverage plans. There were also various commitments for improving access to healthy diets, such as New Zealand which highlighted its intent to support Pacific children and populations as part of efforts to combat diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In addition, Honduras mentioned plans to develop legislation and regulate processed foods, among others, noting that these commitments are in line with United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition, 2016‒2025 (Nutrition Decade) and SDG2.
UN engagement and commitments at a glance
The role of evidence and collaboration featured strongly in Dr. Naoko Yamamoto’s remarks, who as the UN Nutrition Chair, affirmed its efforts to overcome fragmentation and harmonize UN assistance to support countries in nutrition. UN Nutrition made pledges covering the full spectrum of sectors that are needed to sustainably address all forms of malnutrition, reflecting the respective niches of the UN agencies in the field. Among these, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO committed to launch the Global Alliance for Children’s Diets to help fulfill the special nutrition needs of this cohort and advance efforts stemming from UNFSS, such as the healthy diets coalition. UN commitments also clustered around the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting in addition to others, such as one from the World Food Programme (WFP) to scale up food fortification in its programmes as well as one from IFAD which aims to integrate nutrition in its investment portfolio, targeting all stages of the food value chain with a focus on the rural poor. These are just some of the ways the UN System is stepping up its efforts to face today’s unprecedented nutrition challenges. Additional UN commitments are captured in the Annex of the Tokyo Compact on Global Nutrition for Growth.
A plethora of side events
The large number of side events (over 120) was another metric of success of the 2021 N4G, with UN Nutrition member agencies being directly involved in a host of them that profiled an array of topics. These include the UNICEF/WHO 4-day series which focused on actions that can be taken in food and health systems to deliver sustainable healthy diets. FAO organized other complementary side events, focusing on food-related topics, including the recent webinar on Maximizing nutrition gains among forestry communities. In addition, a WFP side event highlighted steps that can be taken – even in fragile contexts – to improve access to healthy diets so that people can better cope with shocks.
The 2nd December side event provided an opportunity to showcase country examples of noncommunicable disease (NCD) investment cases, using methodologies developed by UNDP, WHO and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on NCDs, and was testament to the UN cohesion that UN Nutrition is fostering. Renaud Meyer, UNDP Resident Representative to Thailand, explained how being able to generate financial numbers, such as equating the economic burden of NCDs in Thailand to 10% of its GDP, is helping to attract the attention of top decision-makers in government. While some of the NCD investment cases included nutrition components, there is also scope to harness the learning from these experiences to carry out similar efforts in the area of nutrition. In addition, UN Nutrition participated in an event about the true cost of food, which highlighted the creativity that is needed to reduce harm on the environment and promote good health of people, while at the same time, preventing actual costs of a diet to rise. UN Nutrition, furthermore, engaged in side events on the theme of accountability, including one co-organized with the SUN Civil Society Network and another organized by the GNR, Access to Nutrition Initiative and RESULTS UK, which took place just after the Tokyo Summit.
The outcomes of the 2021 N4G are truly encouraging, with recommendations articulated in the Tokyo Compact, endorsed by 64 country governments, eleven international organizations, three donor organizations, 60 private sector businesses and 58 civil society organizations, among other entities (including UN Nutrition). N4G side events will continue to be held through January 2022 and galvanize actors to advance the nutrition agenda. Moving forward, monitoring progress will be essential to ensure efforts are on track. The GNR’s Nutrition Accountability Framework will indicate how well things proceed with the next N4G Summit planned for 2024, to be hosted by France.