02 November 2013

In Praise of Arne Oshaug: Gentleman, Hell-Raiser, Peacemaker and Scholar of Nutrition

I was really pleased to be able to contribute to a seminar held yesterday in honour of Professor Arne Oshaug of the University College of Life Sciences in Oslo.  (Arne is retiring his post, though I imagine he will not notice.)

I first met Arne at a UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) meeting in the mid-1990s.  At that time the SCN was full of squabbling UN agencies, and Arne, representing the Norwegian Government at these meetings, often seemed like the only grown up in the room.   

He has a calmness about him that cannot mask his burning desire to see malnutrition decreased. He was always calling the UN agencies on their often petty squabbles, even though he risked being shunned by them.

Arne has an interesting career—from pantry boy in the merchant navy, to highly skilled cook in a top rated hotel to nutrition researcher to a top civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture to Professor of Public Nutrition (public nutrition says we want to reduce malnutrition and we are going to use all policy mechanisms available, whichever sector they are found in—an innovative programme that Arne helped to develop in the teeth of much opposition). 

As a nutritionist he has worked in some fascinating contexts.  For example, he worked on the oil rigs in the North Sea, trying to figure out how oil rig workers could be enticed to eat healthier food.  The companies that ran the rigs used copious food to keep their workers happy--unfortunately the all you can eat approach combined with high fat and high sugar foods meant that the oil companies were becoming known as the heart attack kings.  Arne and colleagues helped introduce healthier foods and reduce the fat and sugar in the unhealthier foods. 

When he was at IFPRI with me as a Visiting Fellow I gave him the job of getting a group of young and bright but fractious researchers to work together better on developing a new research agenda. Instead of knocking heads together he won them over with his broad and deep understanding of nutrition, the wisdom that his life experiences had given him and his good humour.

His intellectual achievements are many, but his biggest legacy will be his focus on human rights as they apply to food and nutrition security.  When I met him it took me a while to get the human right angle on food and nutrition, but through writing a paper with him for Food Policy on “How does a human rights perspective help shape the food and nutrition policy agenda?” I realised that a rights focus helped zero in on the claimants capacity to claim rights and the duty bearers capacity to deliver rights. 

My talk at the seminar in honour of him was on my familiar themes: accountability, commitment, responsiveness, capacity and financial resources—and only in preparing for the talk did it dawn on me how much that this agenda has been affected by the rights focus and, in turn, how much Arne’s work has influenced my own.  

Arne Oshaug: a gentleman, hell-raiser, peacemaker and scholar of nutrition.  An unsung hero, and way ahead of his time. 

1 comment:

Richard Longhurst said...

Lawrence, I would like to add my own tribute and thanks to Arne for helping me out in the choppy waters of international nutrition (and now I see from your biography of him why he had special expertise in rough seas). As you suggest he provided sanity and common sense when it was in short supply, and when international nutrition had a much lower profile than it enjoys today. His work on rights based approaches to nutrition with Wenche Eide and Urban Jonsson has laid the foundation for the long term goal of reducing under nutrition.