Stuart Gillespie writes from the ‘Together for Nutrition’ conference in Ethiopia on 15 June 2015.
Nearly 200 participants registered for the Together for Nutrition (T4N) conference in Addis Ababa last week. A collaboration between IFPRI’s Ethiopia Strategy Support Programme, POSHAN and Transform Nutrition, this is the second Together for Nutrition conference that follows the success of the October 2014 event in New Delhi. The conference focused on new research on the drivers of the impressive recent progress in Ethiopia, on nutrition-specific interventions, on agriculture, gender and on new horizons in social science research. Under-five child stunting rates have dropped from 58 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2014, child wasting has dropped below 10 percent, and the prevalence of underweight in young children has declined from 41 to 25 percent. Possible drivers of these impressive gains include improvements in infant and young child feeding practices, in agricultural performance, and women’s empowerment, stronger social safety nets, and better roads. On the latter, for example, government investment in road infrastructure has made it easier for farmers to get food to market and for food to travel to remote areas. In 1997, only 15 percent of the population was within three hours of a city of at least 50,000 people. In 2010, the percentage had increased to almost 50 percent.
In his presentation, Dr Ferew Lemma, Senior Nutrition Advisor from the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, acknowledged the achievements and drivers but also outlined ongoing challenges — including engaging sectors at the community level, improving accountability, building capacity and harmonising technical advice. John Hoddinott, co-research director for Transform Nutrition, presented research on production diversity and children’s diets, pointing to the importance of linking interventions in nutrition to those in other sectors.
The balance in research appears to be shifting from the “what and where” of malnutrition to implementation research on how it can be addressed. Going well beyond exhortations to “come together for nutrition” other presentations highlighted new data and analyses that highlighted the multisectorality of nutrition in Ethiopia. While recognizing context-specificity, researchers suggested other African countries could benefit from emulating the principles and processes that underpinned Ethiopia’s strategies for improved child nutrition. And the T4N approach continues to have great potential for harnessing the energy of the multisectoral nutrition community.