Reflections from a policy discussion on multi-sectoral action for improved nutrition

Participants in the 2017 Multi-sectoral Action event

On 30th May 2017, IFPRI and Save the Children co-hosted a technical and policy discussion, bringing together nearly 100 development partners, including implementers, researchers, and donors, to discuss ways to better coordinate multisectoral efforts on development initiatives intended to have an impact on food security, diets, and nutrition. The event was intended as a platform for sharing evidence and real examples of multisectoral approaches that have worked to improve food security and nutrition, in order to apply the learning to ongoing government policies and programs.

Specifically, the event objectives were:

  • Review and validate new evidence from multi-sectoral programs in Malawi;
  • Highlight programmatic and research-based suggestions for stronger multi-sectoral action towards improved food security and nutrition; and
  • Discuss implications for strengthening multi-sectoral policy engagement and uptake of research findings.


Guest of honor, Mr. Bright Kumwembe, Chief Director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development (MoAIWD)

The event began with remarks from Mr. McKnight Karanda, Director of Child Affairs, Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and Mr. Felix Phiri, Director of the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS (DNHA) at the Ministry of Health. Then the official opening was given by, Mr. Bright Kumwembe, Chief Director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development (MoAIWD).
Keynote speakers, Professor Alexander Kalimbira (Head of the Nutrition Department at LUANAR) and Ms. Mary Shawa (Gender and Nutrition expert and PS Ministry of Transport) were followed by a series of short thematic presentations on new evidence from research and practice and a panel discussion on the implications for policy. A detailed summary of the event can be found here, and links to the event presentations and other resources are below.

Some of the key highlights from the presentations and subsequent discussion are as follows:
  • Taking a food systems approach to addressing nutrition issues requires looking at the basket of foods available, including the multitude of indigenous foods, rather than focusing on a single food or single nutrient;
  • The value chains for nutrition diagnostic tool examines the supply and demand characteristics of a number of nutrient-dense locally available foods to pinpoint interventions that can enhance: (i) demand, and (ii) supply of nutritious foods, and (iii) enhancing value chain performance for nutrition.
    • A supply-demand typology helps to do this: For instance, leafy greens and dried fish are preferred foods but there is low willingness to pay for them (low demand) and available much of the year (high supply), so social transfers or subsidies would improve diets by creating linkages from producers to consumers while strengthening markets. In addition, beans and legumes are highly demanded but supply is inconsistent at some times of year and prices are very variable (low supply), thus production support and market strengthening would enable Malawian’s to consume more.
  • Humanitarian food transfers have an immediate and short-term protective effect on diets and food security in spite of targeting challenges and low coverage compared to need. They allow people to purchase other nutrient-dense foods beyond the transfers provided.
  • Leveraging CBCCs as anchors sites to promote production and consumption of nutritious foods for young children improves diets and nutrition outcomes for participating children and their younger siblings. Effects are smaller but likely to last longer.
  • Agriculture’s key role in nutrition can be conceptualized as a pyramid with the following components: start with the environment (natural resources, systems) at the bottom, followed by human systems (for agriculture, food, water, energy, health), then food and water security, health, and finally, nutrition security right up top.
  • The evidence points to the need for a strategic a layered approach to improving food security and nutrition, targeting different populations in different ways depending on the time of year.
  • Moving multisectorality from talk to action: Our government representatives produced a number of examples of multisecoral action currently happening. However, more much be done. Including, improving miltisectoral linkages at the local level (utilizing and integrating current systems and bodies in place), clarifying the specific roles that each sector plays in the fight against undernutrition, and integrating and scaling-up some of the approaches researched and presented.

On behalf of IFPRI-Malawi and Save the Children-Malawi, we hope that the presentation of evidence and lessons from the field have inspired attendees to consider opportunities for multisectoral engagement in their own work. We encourage attendees to connect with each other beyond the one-day workshop, and to make use of the resources below, to continue improving the nutrition-sensitivity of agriculture work and other sector activities in Malawi.



Video on CBCC intervention: Growing Food Growing Futures from Save the Children on Vimeo.