Dr. Hameed Nuru, World Food Programme Country Director, interviewed by Soma Basu (The Hindu)
Malnutrition is a complex problem and results from not getting enough food to not getting the right kind of food, says the United Nations WFP (India) Country Director
Even with the world's largest subsidised food distribution systems serving 65 million poor families across the country, India continues to be home to a quarter of all malnourished people worldwide. In view of the incredible challenge of improving nutrition for all people by 2030 as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has realigned its focus in India. From a food aid provider, it is now a catalytic partner of the Indian government with a dedicated focus on improving food and nutrition among the most vulnerable sections — women and children.
On the occasion of International Women's Day, the WFP Country Director, Dr. Hameed Nuru tells The Hindu why mainstreaming of the gender component has become inevitable today to tackle malnutrition.
“It is vital to recognise the pivotal role played by women — as mothers, providers of food and nutrition to their families and breadwinners and invest in robust data if we want to accelerate our progress towards nutrition goals,” he says.
* On the Global Hunger Index, India has slipped from 97th out of 116 countries in 2016 to 100th out of 117 counties in 2017. Hasn't nutrition taken centre stage in the scheme of development?
This concern has reflected in the NITI Aayog announcing the National Nutrition Strategy which is a major step towards addressing malnutrition and hunger in a sustainable way. As part of the strategy, the National Nutrition Mission — with a three-year budget of ?9046.17 crore — will look at targets of reducing the level of stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and low birth weight babies. There are government systems such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mid Day Meals Scheme (MDMS), Targeted Public Distribution System (TDPS) also in place. It is now imperative to synergise and ensure better monitoring to achieve the common goal of ending malnutrition.
* How successfully has WFP aligned it’s activities with the government’s and is working in tandem towards convergence of different schemes?
Malnutrition is a complex problem and results from not getting enough food to not getting the right kind of food and therefore demands the attention and requires more collaborative action of all key holders including the private sector, civil society, NGOs, media and the government. Inter-sectoral linkages are undoubtedly the key to optimising resources and enhancing service delivery in an efficient and transparent way.
WFP is working in India as a technical partner for supporting and building upon the capacity of the Central and the State governments. While supporting the existing food safety nets, we bring in our global expertise on supply chain, logistics, cash-based transfers, nutrition and vulnerability assessments.
We run pilots in collaboration with the State governments and then handhold in the scale-up. A good example is our rice iron fortification project in Gajapati district in Odisha that has brought down anaemia by 6% among schoolchildren. It is a huge push on the scale up and now Odisha government on its own is extending the project to 15 other districts.
At the national level, we are working directly with the concerned Ministries to share best practices and advocating policy reforms wherever necessary. Together with NITI Aayog and RIS (Research & Information Systems in Developing Countries), we are formulating the framework for a SDG 2 Roadmap as an input towards achieving the 2030 target.
* How do you make the case that investments in women and children are absolutely necessary to end malnutrition?
If one wants to address malnutrition, one has to look at the vulnerable groups — children, adolescents and pregnant and new mothers. WFP recognises the significant contributions of women not only at the production level on farms, but also at the household level where in most cases they provide the meals for their families. They are the caregivers whose voices have to be heard. They have to be supported with nutrition education. The enlightenment of women and adolescent girls takes priority in WFP programmes as they educate the next generation.
* How is WFP mainstreaming the gender components in its programmes to fight malnutrition? Cite some specific examples.
It is being done in multiple ways. For instance, the end-to-end computerisation of TPDS has been done successfully in Odisha and Kerala by supporting the database digitisation of all stakeholders. This addressed challenges like fake and bogus ration cards and ensured no eligible woman under the National Food Security Act (2013) gets left out of the TPDS, and also gets the food grains at affordable prices as part of her “right to food” entitlement.
Through the MDM, we work with adolescents and support fortified school meals so that children between six and 14 years who come to school daily receive a nutritious meal — complete with multi micronutrients. In Dhenkenal, Odisha, we moved on from just iron to introduction of seven different essential micronutrients in rice kernels.
We also work towards providing good nutrition during the first 1,000 days window and the fortified take-home rations provided for children between 6 and 36 months has yielded dramatic results.
With frontline community workers, who play key role in counselling and advising pregnant, lactating and nursing mothers during home visit, we cover children below 6 years under the ICDS.
* Would you say rice fortification is a successfully implemented tool in fighting malnutrition in India?
There has been growing recognition by the government on the importance and value brought in by fortified foods, especially rice — as 65 % of the Indian population consumes rice, and it is a widely distributed cereal in the food-safety nets. The fact that the introduction of a fortified food does not need behavioural change is a big selling point. While Odisha has most successfully mainstreamed rice fortification into food safety nets and is set to scale up the ongoing initiatives, MoUs have been signed with Kerala and Uttar Pradesh for implementing the fortification model in Wayanad and Varanasi respectively. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Rajasthan are also considering the same models for fortification while Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan sent their delegations to study the model and take it to their respective countries.
* What will drive the goals — nutrition as an health or an agriculture issue?
Malnutrition is multi-dimensional. When we say Zero Hunger, we cannot confine ourselves to food access issues alone, but simultaneously look at achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. Only a holistic ‘Food Systems Approach’ — that is, food production, food supply, food availability, nutrition and absorption are collectively addressed by convergence of all national schemes and sychronising all efforts along with community empowerment — will push us towards the target.
India is huge and populous. WFP is not able to reach all States and districts. The next Five Year Plan will take cognisance of 115 aspirational districts in the country and our modus operandi is in place, to work on the principle of piloting, follow clear evidence base and replicate the best practices.
The Hindu, 7 March, 2018, please click here to access
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The Hindu, 7 March, 2018, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/mainstreaming-of-gender-component-is-inevitable-to-tackle-malnutrition-says-un-wfp-india-chief-hameed-nuru/article22969429.ece
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