Report urges more private sector action to achieve UN's global nutrition goals

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

A new report has highlighted the role of the private sector in tackling global malnutrition, calling on businesses to be responsible and incentivised to reduce the 3 million deaths annually from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

The report—written by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the USCIB Foundation—urges businesses to build on current efforts to meet the nutrition-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), introduced by the United Nations (UN) in 2015.

“Nations cannot achieve the SDGs without engaging the private sector,”​ said GAIN executive director and recent World Food Prize​ winner Lawrence Haddad.

“But to ensure that engagement is positive, governments need to be proactive, businesses need to be responsible and incentivised.

“Dialogue, transparency and impact assessment need to pervade their alliances to ensure they have positive effects and no negative effects on the nutrition status of all, especially those most vulnerable”.

SDG business engagement platforms

In addition to current government- and UN-led efforts, businesses have championed their own SDG engagement platforms, including SDG Compass, the SDG Business Hub, the SDG Business Commission, Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH), and Business for 2030.

The report acknowledges that achieving nutrition goals would depend on the degree to which food and beverage markets could deliver pro-nutrition products, influence pro-nutrition behaviours, and advocate closer public-private partnerships to better align markets with nutrition goals.

To this end, the report laid out a series of recommendations to advance public-private engagement.

These include efforts to engage more multinational, national, and subnational companies with market share in countries with populations at greatest risk of malnutrition. These include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.

A further recommendation also wanted to see nutrition stakeholders making greater efforts to engage with leading food technology innovators and start-ups to identify and harness new technologies to accelerate achievement of the nutrition goals.

Governments and businesses are also urged to begin negotiations to develop large-scale, public-private engagements and alliances to fight malnutrition issues such as female anaemia, child overweight, low birth weight, and child wasting.

“The future of food is one of the most critical economic and human development challenges of our time, and new solutions are urgently needed to tackle all forms of malnutrition,”​ said USCIB foundation president Peter Robinson, who is also president and CEO of USCIB.

“It cannot be tackled by government or business acting alone. Business is open to doing more and better but we need stronger dialogue and partnerships with governments, NGOs and other public-sector agencies to do that.”

Roundtable discussion outcomes

The report is the result of roundtable discussions last October between the USCIB Foundation, USCIB’s educational and research arm, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and UK-based host of critical development dialogues, Wilton Park. 

“Every country is now struggling with some aspect of malnutrition, and a growing number are experiencing both undernutrition and obesity,”​ said USCIB’s vice president for product policy and innovation Mike Michener, who leads USCIB’s policy work on nutrition, food and health.

 “The roundtable sought to support the accelerated achievement of internationally agreed global nutrition goals, and broader commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by convening a high-level group of leaders from government, business and other key stakeholders.”

The report, No More Missed Opportunities: Advancing Public-Private Partnership to Achieve the Global Nutrition Goals​, was launched last week in Geneva alongside key World Health Organization (WHO) meetings aimed at promoting adolescent nutrition.

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