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FCDO Nutrition Policy

Volume 819: debated on Monday 21 February 2022


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their strategy papers on ending preventable deaths and global health systems strengthening, published on 14 December 2021, how they intend to implement the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee policy marker on nutrition across the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office portfolio.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the United Kingdom will spend £1.5 billion between 2022 and 2030 on nutrition, addressing the nutrition needs of mothers, babies and children, tackling malnutrition in humanitarian emergencies and making sure that nutrition is central to the FCDO’s wider work over the eight years to 2030. The marker will be embedded into FCDO systems later in 2022, recording relevant programmes making a contribution towards nutrition objectives from the point of programme design.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Of course, evidence shows that combining the humanitarian response with a longer-term focus on improving nutrition can help improve resilience to future shocks and crises, thereby decreasing the need for, and cost of, future humanitarian assistance. With the average time spent as a refugee on the rise, how would the UK’s nutrition for growth commitments advance the scaling up of successful approaches, such as nutrition-sensitive social protection, and will the department consider incorporating an impact commitment into the next nutrition for growth pledge?

My Lords, first I recognise the valuable work done by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in his work on the APPG, and I wish him well—I understand he is recovering from Covid. In this respect, I also recognise that he has consistently raised this issue and our commitment, underlying the ongoing commitment from the UK, to this important priority. The noble Baroness asks a very valid question about how we can fulfil key objectives. The whole idea is to ensure that, right at the point of planning, all these elements within nutrition are incorporated—not just in the direct commitments on nutrition but that they are recorded as nutrition programme objectives in the wider work that the FCDO does. We constantly review impact assessments as well to see the effectiveness of our work and, of course, I will take back the question of the specific programming that we will be doing as this comes through. As I have said already, we hope the markers will be in place later this year, and at that point I am sure there will be further discussions.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s new eight-year commitment to nutrition. Can my noble friend the Minister share any more detail on this? What will be the split between nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific programming? And what will be the phasing of the spend? My noble friend will know the urgency of this work—by the end of this year, over 30 million additional children could be subject to wasting because of the impacts of Covid-19.

My Lords, I fully recognise the importance of both elements of our programming and ensuring that our £1.5 billion commitment covers both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions and investments. We are currently going through the business-planning process, and we will then be able to provide more information on the expected nutrition investments for the 2022 to 2025 spending periods, and I will update my noble friend accordingly. But I can reassure her that we remain among the top 10 bilateral donors in investing in nutrition.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would like to participate virtually, and I think that this would be a good moment to call her.

My Lords, whilst the Government’s commitment to investing £1.5 billion in nutrition over the next eight years is a start, it is still less than one quarter of what the International Coalition for Advocacy on Nutrition has recommended. Will this reduced amount meet the UK’s commitment to achieve the WHO global nutrition targets by 2025, which include a 40% reduction in the number of children under five who are stunted, and a 50% reduction in anaemia in women of reproductive age?

My Lords, as I have already said, we remain fully committed to ensuring our key objectives on nutrition are met. We are working very closely with organisations, including the World Health Organization, to ensure that the pledges made recently at the Tokyo summit also go towards achieving the very objectives that the noble Baroness has laid out. Specifically, by having every programme of the FCDO in bilateral support that we provide to key countries also focus specifically on nutrition and fulfilling our reporting back on an annual basis to OECD, I think we will see much more focus spent on achieving the targets we are setting ourselves across the piece.

My Lords, the stark statistics—I am sure the Minister will agree—on the whole question of nutrition show that one 10th of the world’s population are suffering from being undernourished, and nearly half the deaths of children under five are caused by malnutrition. Does this not underline the need, yet again, to return to the 0.7% of GNI spent on overseas assistance, and not to wait any longer? Perhaps the Minister, in response to what the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, has already said about the urgency of this and the size of the commitment that we need to make to deal with this problem or to help deal with this problem, could tell the House how much longer we have to wait for the promise the Government have made to return to 0.7% to happen?

My Lords, as I previously said, the Government are absolutely committed to returning to the 0.7% pledge. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has already laid out the pathway towards that objective. However, notwithstanding the reduction in ODA spend, I believe we have again illustrated our commitment on nutrition. On the specific areas raised by the noble Baroness, we have examples of how our programming funding has assisted. In Bangladesh, for example, the Suchana multisectoral nutrition programme has targeted close to 240,000 households and impacted positively 1.4 million people. In Nigeria, our child development grant programme is a six-year investment that provides cash transfers to mothers during pregnancy. There are other, notable examples of in-country support specifically focused on nutrition. As I have already said, our commitment to ensuring that those markers are now integrated in all FCDO development programmes on nutrition going forward will also allow us to provide fully comprehensive reports to the OECD on our nutrition spend. I believe that some of the issues that the noble Baroness raised will be addressed quite directly.

My Lords, can the Government confirm that they will continue to work with NGOs in areas of warfare, such as Myanmar, where the military regime is preventing any aid getting through but the Shan Women’s Action Network is able to get healthcare and food into areas that are otherwise not reached? The history of doing that in that country has been very good; we provided aid to Chin State during the mautam famine, which prevented some of the mass starvation that was going on.

My Lords, I can give that commitment to the noble Baroness. I have seen over a number of years the direct impact of working with civil society organisations on the ground in terms of the support they can provide. I believe very strongly that it is part of our duty to support the infrastructure of their continued work. The noble Baroness talked of Myanmar. More recently, we have seen work of that kind in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. I now look after the civil society organisations portfolio within the FCDO, so I would of course be willing to hear any suggestions the noble Baroness may have relating to Myanmar and to work with her.

My Lords, population and family size are of course a real problem. Could the Minister confirm that we are still helping women in poorer countries to be able to access proper family planning?

Would the Minister agree that, although half the world is starving to death, the other half is gorging itself to death? Could he persuade the Department of Health and Social Care to stop advocating a low-fat diet when in fact the right kind of fat is what limits obesity?

My Lords, I bow to my noble friend’s expertise in this area and totally concur with him. When one travels the world and sees the challenges of famine—I think the latest UN estimate was that 223 million people will face acute food shortages and insecurity—one sees that global actions on fighting famine and looking at dietary-specific solutions are a vital part of our work.

My Lords, could the Minister say what further investment there will be in women’s secondary education, which is closely linked to preventing an increase in population numbers and improving the nutrition of children who are already alive?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has put the whole issue of women and girls very much at the heart of our work. The noble Baroness will be aware of our commitments through the Global Education Summit. We currently provide £430 million for girls’ education. There was an earlier question on the World Health Organization; we are working with the WHO on fulfilling its recommendations about breastfeeding within an hour of birth and nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding methods. These are part of our quite extensive programmes, working both with international agencies and partners and bilaterally in support of development programmes focused on girls and women around the world.