Photo credit: Ostergaard/Panos

According to a new report from GAIN and the United States Council for International Business, one in three people worldwide suffer from either undernourishment or overweight/obesity. This malnutrition crisis is now global, affecting every country in the world. Experts have estimated that malnutrition results in the loss of at least 10% of global GDP every year, threatening economic development and poverty reduction.

The world needs coordinated action to address this crisis, and various public-private platforms, such as the SUN Business Network and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Food Reform for Sustainability and Health initiative, have emerged in recent years to tackle the nutrition crisis. However, concern remains that governments and private sector actors are still not engaging with one another effectively. In an effort to enhance these types of partnerships, GAIN and the USCIB held a multi-stakeholder dialogue in late 2017. The event included more than 40 representatives from governments, the food and beverage industry, non-profit organizations, and UN agencies and focused on establishing a set of guiding principles for public-private engagement in nutrition over the next 10 years.

No More Missed Opportunities: Advancing Public-Private Partnerships to Achieve the Global Nutrition Goals emphasizes the huge economic gains that will result from addressing the world’s nutrition crisis. For example, for every US$1 investment in fighting child stunting, countries could gain between $12 and $16 in economic benefits (based on estimates from the Global Nutrition Report and the World Bank, respectively). Reducing obesity would also bring economic boons, cutting healthcare costs in high-income countries by as much as 20 percent per year. For many countries now struggling with both undernourishment and overweight populations, the returns to these combined investments would be even higher.

Governments cannot meet these investment needs alone, however. The private sector has an integral role to play in improving nutrition through its production, distribution, and marketing of food. Many companies have begun responding to consumer demand for more nutritious food, as well as to technological innovations that have made supplying that nutritious food more cost-effective.

To improve the way in which governments and businesses work together on nutrition goals, the GAIN/USCIB report presents a series of recommendations to enhance public-private engagement in order to support achievement of the nutrition-related SDGs. These include:

  • Engaging more governments at the national, state, and city levels in countries with the largest populations at risk for malnutrition; these include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.
  • Engaging more multinational, national, and local companies with market shares in countries at the greatest risk for malnutrition; these include the same countries as above.
  • Developing a comprehensive, widely accessible global database of diets in order to better align government and business policies, strategies, and investments with global and national nutrition targets.
  • Working together to identify and utilize new food technologies, such as blockchain technologies and gene sequencing, to enhance the supply and distribution of nutritious foods.
  • Assessing the cost-effectiveness of public policies to incentivize food and beverage companies to improve nutrition.
  • Utilizing existing multi-sectoral platforms and partnerships to more actively connect governments and businesses using clear principles for engagement.

The report also presents draft guidelines for engagement between governments and businesses on nutrition goals and suggests that adherence to these principles – which include transparency, prioritization of nutrition indicators, inclusion, and use of data and innovative technologies – should be closely monitored in the context of the SDGs.

In recognition of the need to further address the nutrition crisis through public-private collaboration, IFPRI has also established a new research program on Food Industries for People and Planet. The research program was recently launched at a Research Day event held in Washington, DC that brought together representatives from governments, the food industry, and the civil sector.

By: Sara Gustafson

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