At the International Symposium on Understanding the Double Burden of Malnutrition for Effective Interventions, held in Vienna in December 2018, a multi-sectorial approach was called for to improve nutritional outcomes for Fiji, and the wider Pacific.
Malnutrition in all its forms affects all countries of the world, and Fiji is no exception – with 98% of the population at a moderate-high risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, asthma and diabetes. And whilst traditionally, Pacific islanders depended on the local production of nutritious crops and fishing to sustain their diets and livelihoods, food and nutrition security are now being threatened by a decline in agricultural production, changing dietary habits and an increased dependence on imported processed foods.
The International Symposium, which was organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency in cooperation with WHO and UNICEF, was attended by more than 450 professionals representing governments, international organisations, NGOs and civil society. The aim of the conference was to identify and share considerations for policies and action plans to support member states in achieving their nutrition commitments as defined within the Nutrition Decade.
During a session on ‘Intervention and Policy’, Dr Jimaima Lako, a lecturer at the Fiji National University, presented findings from a CTA-IFAD project entitled 'Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands'. Recommendations from the project, which is working to improve local food supplies, income and nutritional outcomes across the Pacific, have already been incorporated within Fiji’s 5-Year National Development Plan 2017- 2021, and include:
Policy and governance:
- Improve policy coherence and coordination among government agencies and implementing partners, including NGOs and the private sector;
- Promote and support bottom-up approaches with active community participation and ownership;
- Mainstream nutrition-sensitive agriculture into national development policies and plans; improve monitoring and evaluation systems to track impact of policies and programmes on food and nutrition outcomes;
- Provide incentives/dedicated budget to improve agricultural performance and local food crops and fisheries value chain development.
Research and product development:
- Analyse bioactive components in local food crops and fisheries and validate their role in improved health (NCDs) outcomes;
- Improve and enforce food safety standards to enhance consumer confidence and market access for traditional food products;
- Develop new/improved affordable convenience nutritious food products.
Education and outreach:
- Design communication campaigns and marketing strategies to aggressively promote that NCDs are preventable and reversible; use local champions;
- Promote a seamless link between primary, secondary and tertiary agriculture, food and nutrition curriculum;
- Develop food technology/science and engineering capacity;
- Target women in community food and health projects;
- Promote success stories.
In the long term, the project also aims to enhance strategic partnerships with governments, private sector actors, universities, international organisations and farming communities, to ensure best practices in addressing food and nutrition challenges are effectively scaled. This is in line with one of the key takeaway messages of the symposium – the need for a multi-sectorial approach and inter-disciplinary engagement for enhanced income and nutritional outcomes.
A collaborative approach could be undertaken, it was suggested, by the Pacific islands’ Ministries of Agriculture and Health, as well as between the colleges of agriculture, medicine and engineering, science and technology within universities, to assess interventions working to reduce the double burden of malnutrition. This would help to build the evidence base on the impact and lessons learned by innovation projects, like 'Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands', working to strengthen the agriculture-nutrition-income linkages.