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This week, the long-awaited Nutrition for Growth (N4G) summit took place. It was a key moment to get concrete commitments to tackle malnutrition from governments around the world, as well as the private sector and civil society organisations.
But while we saw some countries step up, the UK’s contribution at N4G fell extremely short of expectations. Here we take a look at the main outcomes of this year’s summit and the implications.
The history of N4G
The first N4G summit took place in London in 2013 following the London Olympics, which raised over £15 billion for tackling malnutrition. At this summit there was also a commitment to review progress and make further commitments in line with the Olympics cycle. It was followed by a meeting at Rio in 2016, followed by a summit in Milan in 2017. After being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the next N4G summit took place this week on 7-8th December 2021 in Tokyo, Japan, raising an incredible $27 billion.
2021: A year that mattered more than ever
This year’s N4G summit was particularly important because, after decades of decline, malnutrition has been on the rise in recent years. This is due to a devastating combination of conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. More importantly, the majority of the commitments made at the summit in 2013 came to an end in 2020.
In 2020, when the summit was postponed, there was a huge risk that some governments would start de-prioritising nutrition – here in the UK, we saw cuts to UK aid for nutrition programmes of over 70%. This year’s summit was therefore a critical moment to get us back on track.
Concern’s approach to N4G
At Concern, we’ve been campaigning for action on global malnutrition for over two years. Our supporters have signed petitions, emailed their MPs and even tweeted the Foreign Secretary. As a result, we secured parliamentary debates, had MPs writing to the Foreign Secretary and one MP even met with the Prime Minister.
We have also been working in coalition with other charities to raise awareness of the importance of nutrition. We developed joint policy recommendations together which we used to engage MPs, civil servants and ministers.
How did the UK’s contribution at N4G measure up?
While we saw countries like Japan committing $2.8 billion and the US committing $11 billion to tackle malnutrition over the next 3 years, the UK’s commitment at N4G was shocking and beyond disappointing, with no investments committed, nor any target to help people impacted by malnutrition. In their speech, the UK said they were committed to improving nutrition, but their actions were in complete contrast to their words.
Here is what we called for:
Pledge to help 50 million people access better nutrition over the next five years.
Commit to invest £120 million per year in nutrition-specific programmes from 2021-25. These programmes, run by organisations like Concern, directly address malnutrition, for example by providing therapeutic foods for malnourished children or giving iron supplements to pregnant women.
Ensure £680 million of aid spent in other areas is nutrition-sensitive, meaning that programmes which don’t have tackling malnutrition as the primary goal can still help to improve nutrition. For example, programmes supporting farmers’ livelihoods can also promote the use of more nutritious crops.
Implement the OECD policy marker for nutrition. This would encourage nutrition objectives to be adopted in the design of all UK aid programmes, so that every possible opportunity is taken to combat malnutrition.
But ultimately, despite the best efforts of Concern, others in the international development sector and your incredible support, this is what was delivered:
No target to help people access better nutrition. [Fail]
No financial commitments were made - neither nutrition-specific, nor nutrition-sensitive [Fail]
Adoption of the OECD policy marker for nutrition [Win]
The lack of any financial commitment from the UK to tackle malnutrition is deeply concerning. While the UK did announce the adoption of the OECD policy marker for nutrition, it is a small step. This will not reverse the impact of the huge cuts to nutrition programmes we have seen in the past year.
Without the necessary resources for nutrition, the simple truth is that millions of people will miss out on vital support to treat and prevent malnutrition. Within those millions are children, women and girls, who are disproportionately impacted by malnutrition. They will pay the price for the UK’s apathy on this vital issue.
In response to the UK’s N4G pledge, Concern Worldwide (UK)’s Executive Director, Danny Harvey, said:
"The complete absence of a financial commitment from the UK at this year’s Nutrition for Growth summit is shocking. It is irresponsible for the UK to be stepping back just as we are witnessing catastrophic increases in global hunger and malnutrition in the countries we work in, driven by conflict, the climate crisis and Covid-19.
We condemn the UK’s decision to turn away from their commitment as a world leader in nutrition. The UK hosted the first ever N4G Summit in 2013 but, having slashed funding to tackle malnutrition by 70% in the 2021 ODA cuts, it is now stepping away from the opportunity to build on the progress of previous summits.
"We condemn the UK’s decision to turn away from their commitment as a world leader in nutrition."
Malnutrition is the reason why 2.5 million young children die each year before their fifth birthday, and it causes irreversible damage to around 149 million children who survive. Without action, malnutrition will continue to blight the lives of millions, making people more vulnerable to future crises, undermining global health and exacerbating gender inequalities.
While the commitment to adopt the policy marker for nutrition, in line with ICAN UK’s recommendation, is a welcome step, it is not enough. The FCDO must go much further or risk losing decades of progress. As the new international development strategy is finalised next year, the government must make improving nutrition for the world’s most vulnerable a priority."
Thank you to our supporters
While the outcome is very disappointing, we have secured some progress in what has been an exceptionally difficult time. We will continue to build on this and press for better commitments from the UK to tackle nutrition as the government develops its international development strategy.
In the run up to N4G, we also achieved some other campaign wins, like securing an important declaration on famine prevention at the G7 and getting the Democratic Republic of Congo named as a priority country in the UK's famine prevention response.
None of this would have been possible without our incredible supporters who have been campaigning alongside us.
As we look to 2022, we know that there are more challenges ahead. At Concern, we will continue to highlight the issues impacting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, while campaigning for actions and policies which can make a real difference.
We thank everyone who supported us in the lead up to N4G, and hope you will continue to join us in our mission to end extreme poverty and hunger – whatever it takes.