09 March 2016

Why Norway needs to get back it's nutrition mojo

From my presentation at the OSLO Global #NutritionReport launch
The Norwegian people and their government are some of the most generous in the world when it comes to development.

For example, Norway gives over 1% of its gross national income (GNI) to overseas development assistance (ODA).  And yet hardly any of this is going to nutrition, according to the OECD reporting system. 

For example Ireland spends $20 million each year on basic nutrition, Norway spends $0.8 million.  And yet Norway has given us some of the great thinkers on nutrition and used to be very active in nutrition 10-15 years ago.

I brought this up at the Oslo launch of the 2015 GNR today.  I also pointed out that Norway was not a signatory to N4G nor a member of the SUN donor group. 

So what is going on?  Several explanations were provided by various panelists.

1.  Norway provides funds to multilateral organisations and funds, many of which are highly relevant to nutrition (e.g. UNICEF, WHO, GAVI, GFF)

2. Norway's ODA climate agriculture, education, gender work is significant and contributes significantly to nutrition.

3. Norway has other priorities (education and women's health).

On the first and second, the assumptions are that these mechanisms are supporting malnutrition strongly.  They may be, but they may not be.  We know that funds going into sectors that could support nutrition are much more likely to actually support nutrition if they have a credible plan to do so.

If I were a Norwegian citizen, my response to the first 2 explanations would be "show me".  Show me that the spending in these areas is actually nutrition sensitive.  Use the methodology that the SUN donors have developed so you can make a comparison.

My response to the third explanation is: "you are undercutting your ability to reach these goals by ignoring nutrition".  Children learn less if they are malnourished at an early age.  Women who are malnourished at birth are more likely to have health problems throughout their lives.   So good nutrition is an essential precursor for achieving the other goals.

But even if we accepted these 3 arguments at face value, the lack of profile Norway gives to nutrition sends a poor signal to nutrition champions in Norway and elsewhere.  The Norwegian community needs to feel they are working in an enabling environment.  In addition, by not profiling nutrition, Norway is forgoing the opportunity to influence the multilateral funds and the rest of its ODA portfolio to work harder for nutrition.

Norway needs to signal its commitments to nutrition more clearly.  And if the commitment is found wanting once the funding flows have been counted, then the nutrition community in Norway needs to come together and project collective "people power" to get the government to pay more attention to this vital issue.

Norway has been an important leader in nutrition, but lately? Not so much.  Norway needs to get its nutrition mojo back.

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