Our nutrition wish list for USAID

October 26, 2017
In rural Zambia, USAID programs in partnership with the Zambian government are helping equip villagers with the knowledge of proper nutrients. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Jordan Teague

There’s a new boss in town. USAID Administrator Mark Green was confirmed by the Senate in August 2017. As he settles into his new role as USAID’s leader, Bread for the World Institute has a nutrition wish list for him.

We know that maternal and child nutrition is central to human and economic development, and we know what it will take to achieve worldwide goals of reducing stunting, wasting, and anemia, and of increasing exclusive breastfeeding. We also know that business as usual will not cut it. Business as usual will leave millions of children at the mercy of severe forms of malnutrition such as stunting and wasting. Business as usual will continue to stunt economic growth in countries desperate to move forward.

The United States is one of the largest investors in global maternal and child nutrition and has led the way in making nutrition a high priority in global development. USAID has long been at the forefront of U.S. government global nutrition efforts. Administrator Green witnessed this on his first trip as USAID Administrator, to East Africa, where he visited nutrition programs along with Food for Peace and Feed the Future projects. We thank Administrator Green for focusing on nutrition and food security from the start of his tenure and we call upon him to:

  1. Protect and increase U.S. government funding for nutrition. The United States and its global partners invest less than 1 percent of their budgets in Official Development Assistance. Analysis by the World Bank has found that current levels of global funding for nutrition are not even close to sufficient to put us on track to meeting the globally-adopted 2025 nutrition targets. (These include, for example, reducing childhood stunting by 40 percent and increasing exclusive breastfeeding to 50 percent). The amount invested in nutrition is $3.9 billion annually, but the needed funding is $10.9 billion from all sources including all donors, country governments, businesses, and households themselves. The latter is an ambitious but not unprecedented level of investment—and it would yield tremendous returns. Compared to 2015, the baseline year, it would mean 3.7 million children’s lives saved; at least 65 million fewer children suffering lifelong damage from stunting; an additional 105 million babies breastfed exclusively, which is essential for optimal health and development; and 91 million fewer children with severe wasting, an immediately life-threatening condition. Nevertheless, in recognition of the resource-constrained environment in which we are currently operating, we urge Administrator Green to increase the administration’s budget request for nutrition in global health programs to at least $250 million for fiscal year 2019, which represents a portion of the U.S. government’s nutrition investments.
  2. Reaffirm U.S. government commitment to nutrition at the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan, Italy, on November 4, 2017. The Italian G-7 Presidency and Italy’s Ministry of Health, in partnership with the Nutrition for Growth Stakeholders Group, will host a Global Nutrition Summit on November 4 in Milan. This Italian-led nutrition event will celebrate the progress made throughout 2017, including new financial and policy commitments. It will be an occasion for governments and their many partners to highlight innovative and effective nutrition programs and to discuss the accountability needed to achieve results. Because the United States is one of the largest bilateral donors to maternal and child nutrition efforts, it is essential to continue our global leadership in this sector with senior-level USAID participation in this event. This will signal the U.S. intention to continue making nutrition a priority of development assistance.
  3. Continue U.S. leadership in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. The SUN Movement is made up of five networks and a supporting structure that includes the SUN Movement Coordinator, the Executive Committee, the Secretariat, and the Lead Group. The Lead Group provides strategic and high-level oversight of the SUN Movement’s overall direction and serves as senior level representation of the Movement. Since SUN’s inception, the sitting USAID Administrator has been a member of the Lead Group, providing critical U.S. leadership and maintaining nutrition as a priority for U.S. development assistance. Administrator Green should continue this high-level engagement to preserve key U.S. leadership in the critical global movement for maternal and child nutrition, and to make clear U.S. support for SUN.
  4. Designate a focal point for nutrition at USAID. Maternal and child nutrition is currently housed in multiple sectors and portfolios of USAID. The Bureaus for Global Health, Food Security, and Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance all participate in nutrition initiatives. This makes sense in that the causes and consequences of malnutrition span the spectrum of human and economic development and are thus part of the scope of work of several portfolios. However, a high-level focal point for nutrition at USAID would coordinate and manage nutrition efforts across bureaus, offices, and programs—thus helping to prevent isolated “silos.” The focal point would lead the implementation of the USAID Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy and interagency efforts, including the Global Nutrition Coordination Plan.

The United States is poised to continue making an enormous impact in the lives of millions of women and children suffering from malnutrition. The above points are important first steps for Administrator Green that will help ensure sustained U.S. contributions to progress on maternal and child nutrition.

Jordan Teague is international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

The United States is one of the largest investors in global maternal and child nutrition and has led the way in making nutrition a high priority in global development. 

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