Monday 1st November 2016, Serena Hotel- The first Learning Route for Scaling Up Nutrition civil society alliances in Africa was launched at Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. Hosted by SUN Alliance Rwanda with support from SUN Civil Society Network and PROCASUR Corporation, the event which runs till the 5th November, was given its full support by both Minsters of Health and Local Government as a worthy initiative to capacitate civil society in contributing to the fight against malnutrition.
Addressing over 150 stakeholders from government, civil society, UN Agencies, donors, media and delegates from 8 African countries from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda, Hon Minister Diane Gashumba thanked SUN Alliance Rwanda for bringing this innovative learning approach to Rwanda.
Acknowledging strides made in addressing malnutrition where exclusive breastfeeding rates have increased to 87.3 percent and wasting rates reduced to 2.2 percent, Madam Gashumba stated that much needed to be done to reduce stunting rates in children under five currently at 38 percent. She assured continued political commitment as the government works towards tackling poor nutrition and urged for stronger coordination in galvanizing various stakeholders to contribute to improving nutrition through multi sectorial partnership. “ Civil society have always been victors in bringing together a collective voice. You are the eyes and ears of society. I am confident that through this experience, lessons learned and shared will contribute to growing energy and action for better food nutrition.”
In his welcome address Butera John Mugabe, Coordinator for SUN Alliance Rwanda urged civil society partners to learn from each other in order to build their capacity to tackle the problem of malnutrition a serious cause for concern in Africa. Ending malnutrition in all its forms is one of the challenges set by world leaders when the Sustainable Development Goals was adopted in 2015.
According to the Global Nutrition Report 2016, it is estimated that 45 percent of deaths of children under 5 are linked to malnutrition and the economic consequences amount to losses of 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). These losses put considerable strain on the global economy, which is being tested by the ever- changing social and economic climate. Partners from the SUN Civil Society Network, the SUN Movement Secretariat and donor agencies added their voice to the call to action to improve nutrition for better health and development outcomes.
In her statement Marie Rumsby, Vice Chair of the SUN Committee said that the global network of civil society alliances of which there are 2,500 members were working tirelessly to end malnutrition in all its forms. Through capacity building, the civil society network aimed to strengthen stakeholders’ approach to address this scourge by reaching the most vulnerable as “eyes and ears in communities that can share community experiences of what works.”
Alam Khattak Policy Advisor from the SUN Movement Secretariat reminded stakeholders of the purpose of the movement; “For us SUN is the source of inspiration and engagement bringing various members on board to fight against malnutrition because 159 million children globally are stunted, that is every third child. By investing 1 Dollar in nutrition a country will get returns of 16 Dollars.”
Cara Flowers, SUN CSN Coordinator her message called for reflection on “what we can learn from Rwanda” She stressed on the importance of capturing this learning process through documentation to enable alliances to become effective change agents and giving them the capacity to support each other because “ civil society enriches policy making. They know how to communicate well with communities with the capacity to empower citizens to change behaviors.”
Setting the scene for the learning and sharing to be experienced by participants during this 6-day event Cecilia Ruberto, Coordinator for the Learning Route from Save the Children UK, gave stakeholders a brief background of the Learning Route Programme“ the Learning Route is a 2 year programme, the first exercise in Africa designed on civil society alliances’ needs based on the idea that these countries are likely to face similar challenges in fighting malnutrition. For SUN civil society this is the first time this person-to-person knowledge sharing tool has been used with the belief that it can foster collaboration and sharing of new ideas and solutions among countries and the hope that it can be replicated.”
The value of this approach was further reinforced by Giulia Pedone, Methodological Coordinator of PROCASUR Corporation through examples of how this tool had been used to facilitate social change by tackling global challenges through various rural development projects. More investment in nutrition was the clarion call from government and civil society alliances from the 8 countries, in recognition of the overall impact of better nutrition for a better world.
In response to this Brie O’Keefe of Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) acknowledged that, “all children deserve to survive and thrive”. As part of their principle CIFF invests in problem solving. Nutrition is an area where CIFF is investing with specific focus on stunting and wasting. By providing funds to sustainable movements such as civil society CIFF is assured they will be able to reach the most vulnerable at the local level thereby contributing to improving nutrition outcomes.
Tthe Minister of Local Government Vincent Munyeshyaka in his closing remarks thanked participants, asking for their continued efforts to end malnutrition. A sobering thought for stakeholders was the need for increased collaboration if we are to succeed in improving nutrition for all.
This was well summarized by Ms. Flowers “ An old proverb says ‘if you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together’. We need to do both, that is go fast and together, if we are to achieve global nutrition targets by 2030.”