Making Healthy Food Choices should be Easy for Fiji and other Pacific Island States
A blogpost by Dr. Jimaima Lako (Fiji National University), Judith Ann Francis and Jana Dietershagen (CTA)
Dr Jimaima Lako, Lecturer, Fiji National University presented the recommendations from the Innov4AgPacific project at the IAEA ‘International Symposium on Understanding the Double Burden of Malnutrition for Effective Interventions’ December 2018 in Vienna. The call is for integrated action to scaling-up the worldwide Nutrition movement.
The International Symposium was organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). More than 450 professionals representing, governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and civil society participated at the event in December 2018 in Vienna, Austria. The symposium aimed at identifying and sharing experiences on double-duty actions, new assessment tools, considerations for policies and action plans to support Member States in achieving their defined nutrition commitments within the Nutrition Decade.
Dr Jimaima Lako, Lecturer at the Fiji National University represented the Government of Fiji and presented “Major Policy and Programme Gaps and Improving Agri-Nutrition Outcomes in Fiji” from the CTA-IFAD-PIPSO “Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific Islands” project under the “Intervention and Policy” theme.
Malnutrition a Global Challenge: Implications for Fiji and the wider Pacific
Malnutrition in all its forms affects all countries of the world. It is the single most important driver of the global disease burden and has a negative impact on GDP.
Fiji is no exception to the prevalence of double burden malnutrition, 98% of the population is at moderate to high risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, asthma, diabetes etc., and this is related to unhealthy eating habits and low physical activity. It is estimated that NCDs account for 84% of all deaths in Fiji (WHO, 2018). A multi-sectorial approach and inter-disciplinary engagement is needed to improve incomes and nutrition outcomes.
Over their lifetimes, malnourished individuals can earn 10% less than those who are well-nourished. Investing in nutrition through agriculture is not only socially responsible, it is sound development policy and good economics. Cornelia Richter, Vice-President of IFAD
Concrete Steps going Forward proposed for Fiji
Dr. Lako presented key recommendations for improving policy and governance, research and product development, education and outreach and partnerships during the Symposium. These recommendations have previously been endorsed during multi-stakeholder consultations organised through the CTA-IFAD-PIPSO project and are reflected in Fiji’s government policy e.g. in the Fiji 5-Year National Development Plan 2017- 2021, which has been launched during COP23 in Bonn, Germany. They 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 & 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 & health projects;
- Promote success stories.
- Strengthen multi-sectoral collaboration, public-private-producer-community partnerships, inclusiveness (Gov/NGO/Private Sector/communities/religious groups/women/youth), data sharing/ and joint action.
The Fiji recommendations are also in line with the key messages from the Symposium including:
- Double duty actions and investment mechanisms need to be carefully designed, tested, scaled up and accelerated to tackle malnutrition in all its forms.
- Building the evidence base needs to be a priority. It is not an excuse for inaction – actions can help shape the evidence base. Evaluating impact is key.
- Addressing household food insecurity is crucial to address all forms of malnutrition and NCD risks.
- For policy advocacy, work is needed to translate scientific evidence into clear economic arguments to evaluate cost and benefits of improving nutrition.
- Healthy choice needs to be an easy choice – taxation, pricing, access and affordability needs to be addressed.
- Food systems need to be more pro-healthy diet, pro-health and pro-environment.
For Fiji and the wider Pacific region, further work on assessing interventions to build the evidence base on the impact and lessons learned in strengthening the agriculture-nutrition-income linkages for reducing the double burden malnutrition should be tested through multi-sectorial and inter-disciplinary approaches. This could be carried out with the Ministries of Agriculture and Health as well as between the Colleges of Agriculture, Medicine and Engineering, Science and Technology within Universities. The CTA-IFAD-PIPSO Innov4AgPacific project is aiming to provide lessons through its multiple interventions for filling the evidence gap.
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2018. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018. Building climate resilience for food security and nutrition. Rome, FAO.
Republic of Fiji, Ministry of Economy. 2017. 5-Year & 20-Year National Development plan – Transforming Fiji.
WHO. 2018. Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD) Country Profile – Fiji.
CTA, IFAD, PIPSO. 2017. Fiji National Roundtable Workshop June 2017: Outcomes Report An Enabling Environment for Strengthening the Agriculture Nutrition Nexus.