Transparency in nutrition: Launching a transparency revolution on June 8

Thursday, 2 May 2013 13:45 GMT

A farmer harvests wheat on a field in the El-Menoufia governorate, about 9.94 km (58 miles) north of Cairo April 23, 2013 REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

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Why transparency is crucial to finally turn the tide against the scourge of undernutrition

In less than two months, UK Prime Minister David Cameron will host the 2013 G8 summit in Lough Erne. The Prime Minister has placed the issue of transparency at the heart of his G8 priorities, alongside the other two “Ts” of tax and trade.   Speaking on the importance of transparency, he said “open societies and open governments will help drive lasting global prosperity.”

A week before the G8 Summit, David Cameron is hosting another major international event, entitled Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger Through Science and Business. The event aims to secure an ambitious range of new policy and financial commitments from governments, international agencies and private companies to accelerate progress against maternal and child undernutrition, and a mechanism for tracking their delivery.

At first glance, the emphasis on transparency at the G8 might seem entirely unconnected to the focus on nutrition at the June 8 event. In fact, a major push on transparency at the Nutrition for Growth event is critical to the UK government’s ambitions to finally turn the tide against the scourge of chronic undernutrition. 

In Dublin Castle last week, the President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, welcomed 300 delegates from around the world, including more than 100 grassroots activities and farmers from Africa, to a two-day conference on hunger, malnutrition, and climate change. Time and again, the top audience polling result centred on accountability, and specifically on empowering citizens to hold governments to account. However, without transaprency, citizens will not have the information they need to effectively assess the progress their leaders are making on commitments and results, and to then hold those leaders to account.  Today, a lack of transparent information on nutrition spending, progress and planning is a key binding constraint for effective civil society engagement and accountability – at both the international and national levels.

At the June 8 Nutrition for Growth event, governments, donors and all partners in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement should launch a transparency revolution for nutrition. This revolution is needed to ensure that SUN is a movement not only of donors, governments, civil society organizations and businesses, but also importantly, of people. The emphasis of this transparency revolution should be on three key pieces of information: spending, stunting progress, and plans. 

Firstly, spending. Today, precious little data is publically available on what national governments and international donors are actually spending on nutrition. Part of the problem is in reporting: most low income countries still do not have a budget line that calculates nutrition spending, and accounting for donor commitments, especially nutrition sensitive spending, is incomplete. There is even less information on what governments commit to spend. In the nutrition sector, there is neither a target, nor readily available data on spending, nor a commitment to report that spending.

This is in stark contrast to the agriculture sector. At the 2003 African Union Summit, all member states signed the Maputo declaration committing to spend 10% of budgets on agriculture. ONE’s Africa team was able to use this commitment and the publically available budget data as the basis of a new agriculture accountability report to hold African leaders to account for their progress on meeting this spending target and other outcome targets.

A major breakthrough on June 8 would be a commitment from all countries to calculate a nutrition budget line and to report that spending annually, including in their country pages on the SUN website. Likewise, donors should commit to improving reporting guidelines by the end of 2014 to enable accurate reporting on all nutrition spending, including nutrition sensitive spending.

Secondly, stunting progress. Ultimately, the most important information for accountability is progress on impact. This could include data such as stunting and wasting levels, prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies, and undernutrition-related deaths. The release of UNICEF’s latest report on child nutrition filled an important void by publishing data on how all countries are performing on nutritional outcomes – compared to each other, and over time. This type of information should be presented in a comparable, standardized, easy to understand manner on the SUN website. Likewise, donors should calculate and disclose their own contribution to progress against key nutritional outcomes.

And finally, plans for the future. To turn nutrition targets into real progress, countries will need effective roadmaps for implementing nutrition interventions. These plans should benefit from public scrutiny and discourse. Today, only 12 of 34 SUN countries have national nutrition plans publically available on the SUN website.  Likewise, few donors have published specific nutrition policies or strategy documents. A commitment from all countries and partners in the SUN movement at the Nutrition for Growth event could be to make all national nutrition plans and policies available online on the SUN website by the end of 2013.  

At the World Economic Forum in January, UK Prime Minister David Cameron declared, “I want this G8 to lead a big push for transparency across the developing world.” The June 8 Nutrition for Growth event is a perfect opportunity to start.