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Going Dutch in Global Nutrition

March 11, 2015 By: Saskia Osendarp Image: F&BKP Office
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The 12th launch of the Global Nutrition Report took place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands this week during an action-oriented discussion event organized by the Netherlands Working Group on Nutrition (NWGN) in collaboration with the Food and Business Knowledge Platform and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and hosted by Unilever R&D.

To ensure that the messages of the Global Nutrition Report reach beyond the global inner-circle of nutrition converters, it is time for nutritionists to step beyond their comfort zone, engage with other sectors and start to speak their language. The event in the Netherlands attempted to do exactly that. With over 100 participants representing the “Dutch Diamond”: government, civil society, private sector and knowledge institutes, the event was not only attended by participants from the traditional food and nutrition sector, but also included representatives from the agricultural, horticultural, retail and finance sectors.

After some opening remarks by Paulus Verschuren, former special envoy food and nutrition security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Haddad presented the key messages of the Global Nutrition Report. Reina Buijs, deputy director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a nutritionist by background, summarized the new Dutch policy brief on food and nutrition security. The most interesting part of the program however, took place after these sessions when the audience debated on a number of rather provocative propositions in the tradition of a true “House of Commons” debate.

It was an extremely lively debate, with great commitments and passion, in which everyone participated. There was a lot that united the participants: everyone felt there was a stronger role for the Netherlands to play and that the Dutch Government should significantly increase its investments in scaling up nutrition. The country can build on a history and strong reputation in both nutrition-specific as well as nutrition-sensitive sectors, and has been a front-runner in bringing together public and private sectors, for instance in the Amsterdam Initiative on Malnutrition (AIM). Being one of the countries with the biggest data-gaps in nutrition itself, the Netherlands should however practise what they preach: mutual accountability is key. It is no longer acceptable to convince governments of other countries to fortify their staple foods or start collecting routine data on nutrition indicators, whereas this is not yet taken place in our own country.

There was no consensus yet on exactly how the Dutch can contribute more to scaling up global nutrition. What is the value added, where are more investments needed and on account of what? Should we prioritize investments in the first 1000 days only? Or rather focus more on fortification, home- and bio-fortification? Or should we instead focus on small-holder farmers, and try to make food systems more nutrition sensitive? Perhaps the focus should be on diets, and fundamentally change them for a more sustainable future. Are we paying enough attention to the global obesity-issue, and countries facing a double-burden and how can we ensure a responsible engagement of the private sector on this end of the spectrum?

Obviously, the debate this week did not resolve all of these issues, but that was not the point. The point was that in the Netherlands a lively debate on the Global Nutrition Report was held that would not have been possible 10 years ago. A debate that was more evidence-based, less ideological and from time to time with a good sense of humor between partners that slowly learn to speak each other’s language but share a joint commitment. That was the biggest asset of the event, one that holds promise for the future to come. A future that will see a series of smaller, thematic follow-up events and where the audience committed to come up with a plan on how the Dutch should scale up their efforts for global nutrition by the end of 2015.

The author is a member of the Netherlands Working Group on Nutrition.

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