The ongoing lake region Agri Nutrition forum in Kisumu is one of the most important conferences seeking to push for nutrition prioritization and eradication of malnutrition in Kenya.
The commitment by the current government to completely eradicate malnutrition in the next five years inspires hope among nutrition stakeholders that a lasting solution can be found and economic losses due to malnutrition averted.
The two-day conference brought together Nutrition and Agri-Nutrition coordinators from the 14 counties from the L-REB, who are among other things, sharing progressive reports on nutrition engagement in their counties.
The forum wouldn’t have come at a better time than this when the African Union (AU) declared 2022 the year of nutrition, its thyme is strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security of the African continent.
The AU is committed to strengthening Agro-Food Systems, Health, and Social Protection Systems for the Acceleration of Human, Social and Economic Capital Development.
The theme which was launched during the 35th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in February 2022 aims to celebrate gains made in nutrition and focus the continent on maintaining strong political momentum on nutrition.
The year 2022 further provides an opportunity to strengthen continental, regional, and national commitments to end malnutrition in all its forms, given the increase in morbidity and mortality related to malnutrition and the associated socio-economic impacts.
The conference has provided a platform for experience sharing and learning from each other on what the counties are doing on matters of nutrition.
The conference was officially opened by Kisumu County Executive Committee member for Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, Mr. Gilchrist Okuom, and graced by the Chief Officer Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Paul Omanga, the USAID funded ‘Advancing Nutrition program’ Chief of Party Dr. Peter Milo, Mrs. Veronica Kiragu, Head of the division of Nutrition and Dietetics, Ministry of Health, Mrs. Jane Wambugu, Head of Agri Nutrition Department and, Mrs. Leila Adhiambo Deputy Director Nutrition and Dietetics among others.
“We have converged to push the nutrition Agenda, we are here to support the government to meet its commitment and fast track high impact interventions, eliminating malnutrition.” Dr. Milo Said in his opening remarks.
He reiterated ‘Advancing Nutrition’s commitment to supporting even policies documentation and implementation in matters of Nutrition.
Mrs. Kiragu pointed out that Multi-Sectoral nutrition is bearing fruits, though its baby steps were marred with suspicions, “Together we can now advocate for resources for nutrition in line with the health act 2017 stipulating promotion of nutrition across board.” She added.
She said that coordination of nutrition advocacy is vital adding that all key departments at the county level should be sensitized.
“The 2022 AU’s theme will be anchored on continental frameworks including the African Regional Nutrition Strategy (ARNS), which calls on the African States to implement multi-sectoral nutrition action plans, budgets, and expenditure tracking systems for effective implementation and monitoring of nutrition interventions.” Mrs Kiragu said.
The Head of Agri- nutrition, Mrs. Wambugu said that Agriculture’s role in nutrition is well cut out, as the interventions from the department of health, only account for 30 percent of what needs to be done.
“Nutrition-sensitive agriculture will help reduce the number of hospital visits; agriculture needs to step in to implement nutrition outcomes from a food perspective output.” She said.
While welcoming delegates to Kisumu Mr. Okuom said that it’s unwise to burden budgets with curative interventions, while we a lot of resources can be generated and saved giving priority to the preventive measures.
“Our priorities are wrong looking at our crop production, we do not eat well, we have an opportunity as a block to push for policies to remedy this situation.” He added.
He said the conference provides an opportunity to address nutrition challenges together adding that the forum will leverage policymakers as a block.
From the plenary conversations, it emerged that data on clinical nutrition across the board is non-existence and that there was a need to avail tools for reporting nutrition.
“There is need to capacity build counties to come up with their one reporting tools on nutrition to bridge the existing gap in data that can be used to inform decision.” Mrs. Odhiambo emphasized.
The conference realized that a lot of progress has been made with the coming of the USAID Advancing Nutrition program that is being implemented by Save the Children International. Its currently being piloted in three counties including Kisumu, Kakamega, and Kitui counties.
The lessons learned from the three counties are already serving as best practices. Through the program, Multi-sectoral nutrition platforms have been established and are functional, nutrition champions across the board have been trained on advocacy and advocacy messages developed and the dissemination is targeted.
The local civil societies have also been brought on board the local civil societies who have been part of the training, the last one being the use of scorecards to monitor progress in matters of nutrition.
The stake holders have also been trained on program based budgeting , including understanding the governments budget cycles in order to push for more resources allocation for nutrition.
The conference acknowledged malnutrition levels are likely to keep escalating if no interventions are put in place to deal with it at the household level and not just in the hospitals.
The conference is supported by the Advancing Nutrition program.