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Burundi, 12 December 2011: Government and its partners mobilize for food security and nutrition to ensure child survival and development

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 12 December 2011 – The first ever high-level forum on food security and nutrition takes 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 is strongly advocating for nutrition interventions to be considered as an investment rather than a cost towards the development of the country. The agency is also highlighting the ‘1000 days window of opportunity’ during the first two years of a child’s life.

This forum, which is being organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock under the high patronage of the President of the Republic of Burundi, is the first of its kind in Burundi.

 Under the theme, “Investing in Food Security and Nutrition, a precondition for a sustainable development”, the forum aims to secure high-level commitment from authorities, policymakers, development partners and other stakeholders to invest more in food security and nutrition, and to 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 has decreased between 2005 and 2010 (currently at 6 percent); and underweight has decreased from 39 to 29 percent.

However, the prevalence of stunting or chronic malnutrition has remained staggeringly high at 58 percent, which puts Burundi among the countries with the highest levels of stunting in Africa.

Within the country, stunting rates in rural areas are almost twice as high as in urban areas; and children of mothers with lower levels of education are twice more likely to be stunted than children living in families of higher educational backgrounds.

“It is possible to stop the cycle and intergenerational transmission of child undernutrition if we concentrate our efforts on the most vulnerable groups, during the three windows of opportunity when nutrition interventions will have the highest impact,” said Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Representative in Burundi.

“These windows of opportunity are during the first 1000 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 under nutrition are diverse. In Burundi it can be linked to suboptimal infant and child feeding and hygiene practices, insufficient access to food in both quantity and quality (diversity), 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 (CMAM) 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.

For more information:
UNICEF Burundi
Anne-Isabelle Leclercq
Communication Specialist
+257 22 20 20 80 / +257 79 948 118



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