What is behind successful nutrition policies? Experts and officials share learning on nutrition governance

6 February 2012

Nutrition experts and officials met at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) on the 19 and 20 January to share learning from their experiences building political commitment around national nutrition policies.

Participants included officials from eight countries, experts from cooperation agencies and researchers. The meeting was convened by IDS and the UK Department for International Development.

The event aimed to explore and analyse why some governments have made major progress on reducing child and maternal malnutrition, while in others efforts have been insufficient.

Evidence on how to build political commitment around nutrition policies

At the meeting, Dr. Andrés Mejía Acosta, Research Fellow at IDS, and other members of the IDS Analysing Nutrition Governance project introduced a framework which analyses the politics behind nutrition policies. The research was based on case studies of Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Peru and Zambia.

The discussion focused on the factors that made successful nutrition policies possible. For example, success in reducing malnutrition rates in Peru between 2006 and 2011, was due to public commitment by the president to reduce malnutrition rates for children under five by 5 per cent over a period of five years. The effort was supported by a coordinated movement of civil society and cooperation agencies.

Successful nutrition policies developed differently in Brazil in India. In these countries, civil society organisations advocated for policies based on the human right to food. These organisations worked closely with political parties, the legislative branch and line ministries to ensure nutrition policies were implemented.

Funding was also an important factor. Dr. Mejía Acosta explained: ‘In most cases, we found that funding is essential for policy coordination. Political cooperation and sustainability of nutrition policies are often dependent on how funding mechanisms are allocated.’

Sharing learning on nutrition governance

Participants at the meeting also discussed experiences in their own countries and organisations. They shared learning on how elected politicians adopted nutrition strategies, and about the successes and challenges they faced.

Anna Taylor, Senior Nutrition Adviser at DFID underscored the importance of sharing lessons across national contexts: ‘Today, twenty-three countries are aiming to implement nationwide nutrition programmes. This workshop was an opportunity to share experiences and best practises.’

Drawing lessons about nutrition governance to support policy implementation

Participants at the event concluded with several key messages about implementing nutrition policies:

  1. National governments are important in putting nutrition on the political agenda and creating organisations to coordinate action across ministries and local governments;
  2. Nutrition efforts are more sustainable when local politicians develop a sense of ownership and can claim success from projects;
  3. Coordinated funding mechanisms administered by national governments support long term implementation of nutrition policies;
  4. Developing, analysing and disseminating nutrition data is key to supporting advocacy movements and building political commitment around clear targets.

The outcomes of the meeting will be summarised in a forthcoming synthesis paper and in reports on each of the countries included in the study.