Forty percent of children under the age of five in Zambia suffer from stunting. To address this worrying trend, policymakers have placed food and nutrition security at the forefront of national priorities. At a recent National Food and Nutrition Summit held in Lusaka, stakeholders emphasized the need for a multisectoral approach to end malnutrition and improve food sustainability in the country.
The conference, supported in part by IFPRI’s Food Security Portal, brought together a number of participants from government ministries and agencies and development organizations.
Gerda Verburg, UN Assistant Secretary General and Coordinator for the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, called for increased domestic investment in nutrition initiatives. Doing so would encourage other stakeholders, such as development partners and private sector partners, to invest in nutrition and food security as well, she said.
The event also focused on lessons that Zambia could learn from the experiences of other countries. Professor Kraisid Tontisirin, Senior Advisor at the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University in Thailand, presented the experience of Thailand, which has seen significantly reduced child stunting as a result of its community-based programs in the 1980s and 1990s. Thailand’s Poverty Alleviation Plan (PAP) helped reduce the prevalence of malnourished preschool-aged children based on underweight for age from around 50 percent in 1982 to around 10 percent in 1995. In addition, overall hunger in the country fell by 79 percent between 1990 and 2015.
According to Tontisirin, the PAP’s success was driven by its multi-sectoral, community-based approach. The program identified several causes of child stunting, including poor maternal health leading to low birthweight, inadequate and inappropriate breastfeeding and complementary child feeding practices, and poor sanitation practices in the feeding and care of infants and young children.
In response, the PAP implemented action at the district level and below to provide basic services to the most people possible. These services included antenatal care and multivitamin and iron with folatesupplementation for pregnant women, village-based food production to support complementary feeding for infants and young children, child feeding and nutrition education, food sanitation and safety education, and school lunch and milk provision programs.
The PAP program also monitored children’s height and weight and trained local mobilizers to provide the program’s services. Each mobilizer was assigned to 10 local households, bringing localized education and outreach at the household level.
Zambia’s District Nutrition Coordination Committee (DNCC), founded by Dr. Christopher Dube, represents a similar community-based effort. In order to create dialogue among a range of stakeholders, the DNCC has established a forum to identify the causes of malnutrition in the country and discuss potential national and local solutions.
After the Summit, Tontisirin met with around 40 stakeholders at Zambia’s School of Agricultural Sciences to further present Thailand’s success in eliminating hunger and malnutrition and to support capacity development for the creation of similar food and nutrition security programs in Zambia.
The Summit, which was well-received by participants and has received ongoing media coverage throughout the country, contributes to Zambia’s National Food and Nutrition Sector Strategic Plan 2018-2022. This represents the second multi-sectoral five-year plan aimed at addressing Zambia’s nutrition challenges and help Zambia achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI