Nutrition Exchange – sharing experiences from West Africa

ENN’s SUN Knowledge Management project has focused on documenting the experiences and lessons learned from nutrition policy and programming in a number of regions, including West and Central Africa. One of ENN’s publications, Nutrition Exchange (NEX), shares articles by practitioners for practitioners working at national and sub-national level in nutrition and related sectors. The most recent issue (NEX11 – available in four languages, French, English, Arabic and Spanish) features a number of stories from the region.

Parliamentarians are increasingly involved in strengthening nutrition through country and regional networks for nutrition in West and Central Africa. Interviews with parliamentarians in Chad and Burkina Faso highlighted some of the challenges in setting up and running a parliamentary network, such as a lack of nutrition knowledge among MPs; a high turnover rate of those in office; and lack of funds to organise or carry out outreach activities. Work with partners via sensitisation workshops on the importance of nutrition, and capacity-building sessions have helped engaged MPs realise their potential role in improving nutrition in their countries – through both connecting with communities and bringing the problem to higher political attention.

Mali faces high rates of malnutrition (including 38.5% stunting and 15.3% wasting among children under five years old) due to factors such as climate change and conflict. The Government strengthened its commitment to nutrition by joining the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in 2011. Since then, the country has made significant progress in nutrition governance, including the creation of a Nutrition Coordination Cell (NCC) with operating costs funded by government.

In an interview with head of the NCC and the SUN country focal point, Dr Djibril Bagayoko explains the Cell’s mandate to coordinate multisectoral programming, including at the regional, departmental and commune level. According to Bagayoko, Mali’s SUN membership and the establishment of the NCC have led to substantial progress in governance, including better coordination at national and sub-national levels; integrating nutrition into sensitive sectors, such as WASH; and the implementation of the different SUN networks.

Since it was created in 2011, numerous countries in West and Central Africa have joined the SUN Movement. One of the key characteristics of the SUN model is the countries’ networks that were designed to formalise the approach of different stakeholders to the Movement. At the national level, four networks are recommended: civil society; private sector; United Nations (UN); and a donor’s network. Collectively, they bring together key players to influence nutrition interventions, and it is crucial that all networks align with government priorities in order to make the government’s nutrition commitments official.

The SUN Movement has taken root in different national contexts. As a result, networks operate differently and at different scales within highly variable frameworks. In addition to the national sections of SUN networks, there is a global support structure through host organisations for each of the four networks. Between March and June 2018, ENN mapped networks in West Africa, East Africa and Asia to reflect the establishment of networks at the country level, but also to document some success stories in scaling up nutrition. The NEX11 article summarises findings, including case studies such as the success of the UN network in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in improving alignment and working together.

The network mapping exercise revealed several areas that are useful to consider when setting up networks in fragile or conflict-affected states, including:

  • Ensure government support for networks
  • Build on what already exists in the country
  • Avoid network stop-start
  • Learn from the mechanisms of the Civil Society Network
  • No one size fits all.

The full report is now available:

Mapping SUN Movement Networks in 17 fragile and conflict-affected states: A snap shot of developments and progress.

Nutrition Exchange (NEX) is a free, bi-annual publication – subscribe for online or printed copies.

Written by Ambarka Youssoufane, Nutrition consultant and former ENN regional knowledge management specialist; and Judith Hodge, co-editor of Nutrition Exchange