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Niger’s first multisectoral nutrition plan

By Ambarka Youssoufane on 29 November 2018

On the 15 November this year, the Niger government took a big step forward in tackling malnutrition by adopting its first ever nutrition policy known as the “national multisectoral nutrition security policy”. The policy aims to achieve the vision of the citizens having adequate nutritional security, in order to ensure the development, resilience and prosperity of the country as a whole. Notably, the policy aims to make nutrition programmes part of development and resilience work in the country, rather than simply being seen as emergency focused interventions. Furthermore, the policy sets out roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders (such as donors, technical assistance providers, non- governmental institutions, civil society and the private sector) in relation to improving nutrition security in the country, thus emphasizing the importance of everyone playing a role in reducing malnutrition.  

A number of factors have made the adoption of this policy possible including high level Government commitment following the 2005 nutrition crisis, the creation of the national Directorate of Nutrition (in 2007), signing up to the SUN movement in 2011 and creating the High Commission of the 3N initiative (HC- I3N), responsible for food and nutrition security in the country, in the same year. The HC- I3N, situated within the Presidency office, has been spearheading the development, validation and adoption of the National Nutrition Policy and Nutrition Action Plan. Although, the process to develop the policy has been incredibly participatory involving the SUN Focal Point, SUN Networks (Business, civil society, donor), national and international NGOs, UN agencies under the REACH initiative as well as involving consultations regionally and across more than ten ministries.  

The new nutrition policy appears to make good use of new evidence available including recommendations of the SUN Movement in relation to multisectoral planning and programming.  The resulting policy document contains eight multi-sectoral commitments contributing to improved nutrition security for all. For each commitment, a lead ministry has been designated to direct and ensure that progress is made. An action plan has also been developed for each commitment to support the implementation of nutrition sensitive and nutrition specific programmes. This process was also participatory, involving eight working groups who took responsibility for developing a set of  actions for one commitment each. The separate action plans were harmonized into one overarching plan which aimed to enhance the synergies and complementarity between actors across the different sectors and further aims to serve as a tool for accountability, monitoring and evaluation. 

The commitments of Niger's multisectoral nutrition policy:

The Government of Niger is committed to:

Commitment 1:  Ensuring that the policies and tools that protect and improve the nutrition security and living conditions of Nigeriens, especially the vulnerable groups, are formulated and inform the decisions and actions of the Government and its partners.

Commitment 2: Ensuring optimal nutrition and development for every child, adequate nutrition during adolescence especially for young girls, and adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Commitment 3: Creating the conditions for increased availability of diversified food supply and consumption, to ensure a quantitatively and qualitatively adequate diet for children under five, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women throughout the year including the lean season.

Commitment 4: Ensuring the development and scaling up of strategies for access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure for children, women and men.

Commitment 5:  Ensuring that the social protection programs contribute directly or indirectly to the promotion of nutrition security, especially for the most vulnerable groups.

Commitment 6:  Formal and non-formal education that promotes nutrition security.

Commitment 7: Fighting overweight and obesity, including child undernutrition, and to reducing the incidence of noncommunicable diseases.

Commitment 8: Developing and scaling up coherent and multi-sectoral communication strategies that provide political support, social and behaviours changes that promote better nutrition.

With the official adoption of the multisectoral policy, Niger has taken an important first step in reducing malnutrition in the country. However, the national multisectoral nutrition security policy, as with all policies, is merely articulates the  commitment to act and there are many challenges to transform this commitment into impact on the ground. The first, and undeniably the greatest challenge remains funding nutrition interventions. In 2011, the Government created a budget line for nutrition interventions but this remains poorly funded and monitored. Currently the budget funds allocated to nutrition stands at around 1 billion CFA francs. The current multisectoral action plan is budgeted for more than 200 billion FCFA for 3 year (2017-2018) which is equivalent to about 70 billion per year. The exact investment in nutrition in the country is not well known due to lack of sound funding assessment. However, it’s well established that much of the nutrition funding in the country is currently from external donors and implemented by national and international NGOs who often bypass government structures and systems. Thus, this funding and the expertise developed by these support partners are not sustainable.

Strengthening human resources is a further challenge that the Government needs to address to ensure the effective adoption of this plan. This challenge becomes even further complex with the introduction of the new policy which requires additional human resources not only in the health sector but also in the other sectors. The multisectoral action plan, clearly stated in commitment 1, the need of carrying out a human resources gap analysis and elaborating capacity building program. Nutrition International has offered, through the TAN program, to develop the capacity building program and other tools for implementation of the new nutrition policy.

Furthermore, convincing other sectors to conduct nutrition sensitive programming is challenging as nutrition is almost an entirely new dimension. The integration of nutrition in nutrition sensitive sectors and their coordination is a  condition for success. A multisectoral coordination framework, the CMPS4 exists, but not functional. The new multisectoral nutrition policy coordination, which is based on this previous coordination framework, is therefore still a challenge.  

The bureaucracy in the country may prove to be another challenge in the success of this policy given that the country already has multiple horizontal and vertical coordination frameworks which are not fully functioning and suffer from excessive bureaucracy as much as lack of funding. Determining how to strengthen the CMPS4 and make it functional remains to be seen.  

Challenges aside, we remain hopeful of the power of the national multisectoral nutrition security policy to galvanize actions towards nutrition security and how it can support Niger in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The creation of the 3N initiative as an institution within the presidency highlights the countries commitment to nutrition security and is one of the countries greatest assets towards implementing its multisectoral nutrition policy.

The Nutrition International, has begun developing implementation tools for  the nutrition policy, including a capacity building framework, monitoring and evaluation plan, communication and advocacy plan and a coordination framework. The country’s nutrition partners will hopefully align themselves to the  new nutrition policy. This support by NGOs will hopefully be better coordinated under the policy to avoid duplication and allow for improved synergies.

The country has a long history of management of acute malnutrition through the health system across the country. Lessons from this programme can be taken to develop nutrition sensitive programming in other sectors. The coordination frameworks developed at national, sub-national and community level are excellent multisectoral coordination opportunities to strengthen and build on.

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