South African Event for the GNR 2015

It is a rare opportunity to present a global nutrition report, hot off the press, to an eager-to-engage multi-sectoral audience.  However, Lawrence Haddad had such an opportunity when he presented an overview of the Global Nutrition Report at the Indaba Hotel in Johannesburg on Friday 2 October, 2015. It was as good choice for such an event as in isiXhosa, an iNdaba is an important meeting and which matters affecting the community are discussed. The event was attended by over 100 South Africans from multiple government departments, academia, civil society, the private sector and media.  The thought-provoking facts in the presentation, lively panel discussion and engaging question and answer session highlighted the need for innovative thinking in how South Africa can get traction on reducing the prevalence of malnutrition. Lawrence’s presentation provided us the opportunity to reflect on our position in global rankings exposed and challenged us.

The discussion’s timing was perfect following the initiation of the Sustainable Development Goals and at a time when South Africa is grappling with how we will deliver on the stretching targets elaborated in the Malabo Declaration of 2014. South Africa’s malnutrition statistics are contrary to expectation for a developed country that is nationally food secure. Despite gains in reducing poverty since the election of a democratic government in 1994, and halving self reported hunger through broad coverage with social grants, a plethora of nutrition interventions and over 70 food security-orientated government programmes, South Africa’s stunting rates are no better than many African countries, and far greater that of countries with similar Gross National Incomes. One in four children is potentially severely disadvantaged for life as a consequence of under-nutrition. At the same time, South Africa still has a high prevalence of hidden hunger due to micro-nutrient deficiencies, and a triple burden of hunger with over 60 per cent of women being over-weight or obese.

The panel included government representatives from agriculture, social development, health rural development and land reform as well as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the well known singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Each panelist was pressed by the Panel Chair, Eric Buch (Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Pretoria) to explain what their sector is doing to address South Africa’s nutrition problems.

The report’s 6 C’s found fertile ground among the South African government and nutrition community, encouraging them to review current interventions and policies to create more coherent strategies with greater impact on shifting the sticky rates of stunting and increasing trend of over-weight. The report helped raise levels of commitment, providing examples of how other countries have succeed and providing South Africa with encouraging examples. While transformative service delivery targets  in other sectors such as housing, sanitation, electrification etc. hold government accountable and have shown what the country is able to do to change the lives of the poor, we are not regularly and publically monitoring programme coverage and need to do a lot more in this area.  Policy coherence is certainly on the radar with the country’s rolling reviews of various programmes and government resolve to drive coherence on key areas of growth and development. One o f the ‘C’ put on the table by the participants in the lively discussion session was the importance of building the capacity to conduct such reviews of policies and programmes to develop coherence in policy as well as delivery. Capacity is desperately needed in more comprehensive delivery and accountability systems at all levels - starting with the community. In particular, South Africa was unable to report on 22 indicators relevant to food security and nutrition, showing that we need to invest more in data to be able to monitor progress and evaluate the cost and impact of programmes. Whether the country needs to invest more cash in more nutrition programmes is not very clear. We are doing a great deal through population-wide programmes such as compulsory fortification of staple foods and targeted programmes for specific groups in the population but making these more nutrition focussed and helping other sector programme deliver more for nutrition is a priority. Another poignant ‘C’ raised from the floor was communication – something we do not use creatively enough to encourage behaviour change, share national strategy and report on progress.

Sheryl Hendriks and Julian May, Directors of the Department for Science and Technology and National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security, co-hosted by the Universities of Pretoria and the Western Cape. The event was part of the CoE’s World Food Day programme.