Rome -- Experts and country representatives meeting at FAO headquarters said both international political momentum and practical solutions tailored to specific countries were needed to tackle the nutrition-related problems that plague more than half of the world's population.
'A common vision is important to ensure and enhance international cooperation and solidarity around nutrition issues, and to ensure that attention given to nutrition on the international development agenda and beyond is elevated significantly. But a common vision doesn't mean a one-size-fits-all vision,' said FAO Assistant Director-General Jomo Sundaram, as he wrapped up the final day of discussions at the 13-15 November meeting.
Jomo's comment echoed earlier calls to listen more carefully to information coming from communities around the world about what is needed and what would work in the formulation of policies.
Around 300 people took part in the preparatory technical meeting, which was jointly organized by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) in advance of a major international conference on nutrition in 2014.
The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), scheduled to take place from 19 to 21 November 2014, will aim to address the persistently high levels of malnutrition by translating political momentum into policies and programs that improve nutrition, especially in developing countries.
'I think we all agreed that this meeting has provided very valuable input, but there is more knowledge out there, there are more experiences that need to be recognized, and to be part of that technical basis for ICN2,' said Dr Hans Troedsson, Executive Director of WHO's Director-General's Office, who said that consultations would continue with countries.
Over the course of the three-day meeting, experts reviewed agricultural food and nutrition policies since the first International Conference on Nutrition in 1992. They also shared stories from successful nutrition-improvement policies and programs in various countries.
Country cases highlighted, among other things, the importance of getting policies right by making social inclusion, equity, women and children explicit considerations, and by making sure that nutrition is mainstreamed in policies across sectors. They also underscored the importance of partnerships, communication and government support.
Experts also exchanged information on trends in malnutrition, from child stunting to obesity; trends in the supply, quality and safety of food; and the influence of issues like sustainability, food waste, trade and social protection measures on nutrition.
Hunger down but high malnutrition rates persist
FAO's Jomo pointed out that while the most extreme and chronic forms of hunger have declined globally, an estimated 842 million people go to bed hungry and over two billion people are estimated to be affected by micronutrient deficiencies. Around 45 percent of the nearly 7 million children who die before their fifth birthday every year do so because of nutritional problems, and 162 million children under five are stunted, while at the same time, over half a billion million people are obese.
Broader view of nutrition needed
Speakers discussed the need to give greater priority to nutrition as a goal in various sectors, not only in food production, marketing and consumption. Some called for providing more carefully-targeted social protection services and infrastructure to be sure they reached the most vulnerable populations, including women - whose high workloads could have a negative impact on family nutrition. Many agreed public information and community education are needed to help families and smallholder agricultural producers better understand the role that diversified crop production and diets play in improving nutrition.
Other points that emerged included the need to build institutional capacity and coordination among sectors; the need for better data for better policy-making; the importance of policies that enabled workable solutions, rather than hindering them; and, the value of experimenting with different solutions at the local and national levels.