BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI, 14 December 2011 – The first high-level forum on food security and nutrition took place in Burundi between 12 and 14 December.
In a country where more than half of all children under five years of age suffer from stunting, UNICEF strongly advocated for nutrition interventions to be considered as an investment rather than a cost towards the development of the country. The agency also highlighted the ‘1,000 days window of opportunity’ for nutrition interventions in the first two years of a child’s life.
This forum, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock under the patronage of the President, was the first of its kind in Burundi. Under the theme “Investing in Food Security and Nutrition, a precondition for a sustainable development”, the forum aimed to secure high-level commitment from authorities, policymakers, development partners and other stakeholders to invest more in food security and nutrition and accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
Preliminary results of the Demography and Health Survey 2010 show that the prevalence of acute malnutrition in children under five in Burundi decreased between 2005 and 2010; and underweight decreased from 39 percent to 29 per cent in the same period.
The prevalence of stunting or chronic malnutrition remained staggeringly high at 58 per cent, putting Burundi among the countries with the highest levels of stunting in Africa. Stunting rates in rural areas of Burundi are almost twice those in urban areas and children of mothers with lower levels of education are twice more likely to be stunted than children in families with higher educational backgrounds.
“It is possible to stop the cycle and inter-generational transmission of child undernutrition if we concentrate our efforts on the most vulnerable groups, during the three windows of opportunity when nutrition interventions have the highest impact,” said Souleymane Diabaté, acting UNICEF Representative in Burundi.
“These windows of opportunity are during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, during adolescence for young girls, and during pregnancy. This is why there must be strong and sustained political and financial commitment to nutrition, and the time for it is now.”
The causes of undernutrition are diverse. In Burundi, it can be linked to infant and child feeding and hygiene practices, insufficient access to food, weak access to basic social services like health and education, as well as underlying structural causes including demography, access to land and agricultural production. Studies have shown that children who suffer from chronic malnutrition during the first two years of life also suffer irreversible negative effects on brain and cognitive development. This leads to reduced learning capacity in school and wage earning potential as adults.
In Burundi, UNICEF works on effective nutrition interventions, including support to exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, micronutrient supplementation, food fortification, deworming, community-based health and hygiene promotion, and community-based management of acute malnutrition. The challenge is to scale these interventions up to national level and to deliver them as a holistic package.
As a response, the Government, with the support of UNICEF and other partners, has recently accelerated the scale-up of community-based nutrition interventions, including Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition and the Positive Deviance approach to promote the use of local foods and growth monitoring in hard-to-reach areas. The Government has also adopted key nutrition indicators into the new national health information system to better monitor the nutritional situation and programme performance at district levels.
“This forum is a timely call for strong political engagement and greater financial investment in food security and nutrition interventions," said Mr. Diabaté. "Only with that, we can reach the most vulnerable and isolated populations, and for our programmes to have a long-term impact on Burundi's children."
The high level forum is supported by the United Nations, including WFP, FAO, UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, IFAD, and the World Bank, the European Union, USAID, German Agency for International Cooperation and Belgian Development Agency.
UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
For further information, please contact:
Anne-Isabelle Leclercq, UNICEF Burundi
Tel + 257 22 20 20 80 / +257 79 948 118