Nutrition is key to everything

Looking at all of the notes I’ve taken at the First Global Conference on Biofortification hosted by Harvest Plus, I’m a little overwhelmed. There were so many important ideas, from specific details on the ground in Uganda to broad discussions that affect everything we do in communicating risk.

The take home message, for me, is that there are people in dire need that deserve better, and improved nutrition is the key to solving many problems. As Mark Whalqvist said in a symposium about “Weaving biofortification into the global development agenda”, good nutrition is not really about rights. It’s about equity, fairness. A child growing up in rural India or Uganda deserves a chance for healthy brain and body development just as much as a child growing up in Washington, DC or Ames, Iowa. It’s only fair.

Just defining the problems can be difficult. On a global scale, we have one list that has been agreed upon by representatives from counties all around the world. The Millennium Development Goals, developed by the UN and adopted in 2000, are a good list of the things that those of us in the developed world need to work on both in our own countries and in the developing world (bonus: cute logos). The list isn’t so good for accountability and determination of success because it is based on many factors that aren’t easy to measure but it’s still a useful list. And, every one of these goals has roots in nutrition.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger Calories aren’t enough. Brains and bodies need macronutrients like proteins and fats as well as micronutrients like iron and beta carotene to grow strong and healthy. People who suffer from nutrient deficiencies have a reduced ability to help themselves and their neighbors.
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education Without healthy brain development, education is far more difficult. This is true no matter where a child lives.
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women As men leave the farms in search of work in cities, women are left to tend children and farms. This means women have even more control over nutrition than ever before. We need to empower them with the ability to choose healthy foods for their families.
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality Child mortality is a direct result of poor nutrition. Not only can a lack of key nutrients cause health problems and death on their own, the lack of those nutrients can reduce immune response so fighting off illness is harder if not impossible.
Goal 5: Improve maternal health Well nourished moms have healthy babies.
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases Well nourished bodies can better fight off disease. While nutrition isn’t going to cure AIDS or malaria, it can reduce secondary infections and help keep the diseases from being debilitating.
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability Biodiverse diets are the best for nutrition, and there is a lot of evidence that biodiverse farms are better for the environment, provide habitat, and require fewer inputs. Because farming is the biggest human land-impacting activity, making farms more biodiverse results in more environmental sustainability.
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development This one might be more of a stretch, but I think we can all agree that one of the few things that unites all humans is an appreciation for a good meal. Whether it’s green papaya salad in Thailand, wood fired pizza in Naples, or fufu soup in Ghana – food is more than the nutrients it carries. Food is pleasure, food is livelihood, food is economics, food is the one thing we can not do without.

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