To the World Food Summit: Five Years Later

Statement by Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
At the World Food Summit +5, Rome
Italy, 11 June 2002

A month ago at the United Nations, nearly 400 children-all delegates to the historic Special Session on Children-proclaimed their determination to help create a world fit for children.

Why? Because, they said, a world fit for children is a world fit for everyone.

UNICEF has been part of the process that began with the 1996 World Food Summit under the leadership and guidance of FAO. We believe that a renewed commitment here, five years later, will accelerate progress towards achieving food and nutrition goals as a major contribution towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

We cannot stress enough how important it is to put children at the centre of the food and nutrition agenda-for children’s nutrition and well-being are at the heart of sustainable development and the foundation of a healthy, productive society.

We cannot stress enough how important it is to put children at the centre of the food and nutrition agenda-for children’s nutrition and well-being are at the heart of sustainable development and the foundation of a healthy, productive society.

Ensuring children’s right to good nutrition is a complex task that requires a convergence of interventions and support, through multisectoral action and partnerships. UNICEF welcomes recognition of this crucial fact in the Summit Declaration.

Conventional wisdom would have it that malnutrition comes from a lack of food or an unbalanced diet. Yet malnutrition is caused by a host of factors. There are at least four types of hunger:

  • The first hunger is the most obvious, for food. When delegates at this Summit speak about 800 million people going hungry every day, this is the kind of hunger they are referring to.
  • The second hunger, which has not been talked about much at this conference, is the “hidden hunger” for micronutrients. These are minerals and vitamins such as iodine, iron, and vitamin A, necessary for cognitive development, better school performance, and work productivity.
  • The third type of hunger is the need of children and women for adequate care and nurturing, without which food alone cannot provide good nutrition.
  • The fourth hunger is for a safe and sanitary environment-including safe water, clean air, and sanitation-that promotes health, growth and nutrition.

We can overcome these hungers by taking a holistic, life-cycle approach, ensuring that all children get a safe and healthy start in life, that primary health care and basic education is provided in all communities-and by promoting a healthy lifestyle among adolescents and adults.

Just one month ago, leaders at the Special Session on Children made a solemn commitment to reduce child malnutrition, and we are glad to see this reaffirmed by this Summit.

We urge that this Summit also reaffirm the following key strategies:

Breastmilk is a human being’s first food. Breastfeeding and early childhood care promote family food security, cognitive development and reduction of both chronic and infectious disease. It is therefore vital to support breastfeeding and maternal nutrition.

Good nutrition is not just about quantity of food, but also its quality. We must use the power and cost-effectiveness of micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron to enhance the nutritional value of food and reap the known gains for human potential.

Over the past decade, we have seen remarkable progress in the reduction of iodine and vitamin A deficiency. But progress in reducing the dangerous effects of iron deficiency anaemia in women and children has lagged behind. Yet this anaemia is the single most prevalent cause of micronutrient malnutrition in the world affecting more than two billion people.

The challenge is not a lack of knowledge or technologies. What has been lacking is a concerted effort to combine knowledge and resources from different partners to reduce anaemia effectively.

One initiative taken to tackle micronutrient deficiencies is the launch of a Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) last month at the Special Session on Children involving the partnership of UN agencies, bilateral donors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, private industry and scientific organizations.

Other priority strategies include helping prepare young people for their future roles as providers of nutrition security, by supporting their health, education, and skills development.

Women are the guardians of family food security and key agents in the prevention and reduction of child malnutrition. Investing in girls and women today is crucial for securing good health and development of future generations.

Moreover, we must find effective ways to address the food security requirements and nutritional needs of communities devastated by HIV/AIDS, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which faces the triple burden of chronic food insecurity, a weakened labour force, and the increased nutritional needs created by the pandemic.

Implementing these strategies is not just a question of technologies or resources.

The world produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child on earth. Hunger and malnutrition are therefore not due to lack of food alone, but are also the consequences of poverty, inequality and misplaced priorities.

We welcome the call in the Declaration for an international alliance against hunger, engaging partners from all sectors of society to achieve common goals. In this regard, we believe that follow-up to this Summit would be accelerated if the alliance started with a focus on children. We at UNICEF have learned from over half a century of experience that children have great mobilizing power, and that once leaders and communities see results for their children, it is much easier to find entry points into other areas of action.

This is the spirit of the Global Movement for Children, a drive to build a universal sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child through partnerships and participation, including by children and adolescents themselves.

Distinguished Delegates, while many of you may have the title of Minister of Agriculture, we ask that you see yourselves as Ministers of nutrition outcomes for children. UNICEF stands ready to work with you on the follow-up to this Summit as part of efforts towards achieving the goals of the Millennium Summit and the Special Session on Children. For it is your leadership, resolve and intersectoral action that will generate momentum and unlock the resources to build a world fit for children that is a world fit for us all.