Advocating for nutrition in West Africa: The role of SUN civil society alliances
Judith Kabore is an advocacy officer at the regional office of Action Against Hunger (ACF). Before this, she worked for nine years in the Ministry of Health in Burkina Faso and in broadcasting for six years.
Laure Serra has been an advocacy officer at the regional ACF office since 2016 after spending four years at the French Embassy in New York, where she worked on sustainable development issues.
Advocacy is a key pillar in the fight against malnutrition in West Africa. In 2012, Action Against Hunger (ACF) decided to invest at the regional level in civil society capacity-building and knowledge and experience-sharing through a three-year project that nominated nutrition champions from local civil society in 12 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone). Their role was to mobilise other stakeholders to create Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) civil society alliances (CSAs) where they did not exist, create and implement local advocacy plans, influence policies for nutrition, share experiences and participate in country learning-exchange visits.
A number of key events have been organised over the three years. One was advocacy training for 25 members of the CSAs from West Africa in October 2013, which kickstarted a series of annual, weeklong regional workshops held between 2013 and 2017. These aimed to strengthen capacities of CSA members through sharing knowledge and experiences and planning common advocacy activities. The workshops triggered discussions on capacity-building at regional level, highlighted the value of multi-sector advocacy and looked at how nutrition objectives can be integrated into other relevant sectors, such as agriculture and water, sanitation and hygiene.
Sharing advocacy experiences
The regional workshops have been an opportunity for the CSAs to discuss how their advocacy efforts are aligned behind national plans and how they are building successful working relationships with SUN Government Focal Points and their multi-stakeholder platforms. Over the course of the project, participants have discussed methodologies and tools for multi-sector public policy influence and budgetary advocacy, shared their experiences of good practice – including engagement with parliamentarians and the media – and recounted common challenges faced by the SUN CSAs. Mali, for example, shared its experience in creating a network of parliamentarians in favour of nutrition, which has been active since 2015. Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mauritania gave examples of influencing their government to increase nutrition budget with a specific budget line.
Some other advocacy experiences included:
• Supporting the adoption of legislation in Guinea-Conakry, such as the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes2
• Advocacy for increased investment in nutrition-sensitive agriculture in Senegal;
• Promoting the use of local foods for feeding young children in Mauritania;
• Increasing awareness of nutrition within government, partners and communities in Yobe and Jigawa States, Nigeria;
• Supporting the integration of nutrition in the student medical training curricular at the University of Mali;
• Increasing civil society coordination and regular advocacy activities in Niger; and
• Developing a SUN civil society platform in Liberia and Burkina Faso.
Views from civil society champions
“The SUN CSA in Niger, Collectif Tous Unis en faveur de la Nutrition (TUN), was founded in 2011. At that time, we were not familiar with advocacy work and coordination for nutrition. Thanks to the Nutrition Champions Project, we were trained in advocacy programming and implementation and benefited from hearing about the experiences of other countries in influencing national nutrition policies.”
Dr Souley Harouna, the SUN civil society coordinator for Niger
“The opportunity we had to be trained as champions, to understand how to advocate for nutrition, to mobilise other actors in civil society and to influence policy makers is really important. Back in my country, my role will be to share the skills and knowledge I gained here with other civil society organisations so that we can continue to raise the nutrition profile in Liberia and ensure that commitments are respected.”
Manah Katta, Head of the Nutrition Department, ACF Liberia
Regional workshop in Dakar
Civil society representatives from the 12 SUN countries met for a four-day workshop in Dakar, Senegal in March 2017. This workshop aimed at strengthening capacities of participants to analyse, influence and monitor public policy, as well as exploring various thematic advocacy areas. Expert advocacy support was provided, creating a space to share experiences and learning. Using the ACF advocacy toolkit3 and other advocacy tools, such as the RESULTS advocacy tools4, the training combined theoretical learning with case studies, group and individual exercises and role-plays. The workshop took a comprehensive approach to joint advocacy planning and included power mapping, analysis and targets and materials needed to reach all audiences. Discussions about multi-sector nutrition policies helped advocates to understand the power of evidence-based advocacy and participants identified communication as a key area for further development.
Finally, a common regional advocacy workplan for the SUN CSAs in West Africa was developed at the workshop with the following key objectives:
• Improve government accountability to meet political and financing commitments for nutrition;
• Improve financing for nutrition in West Africa through funding national nutrition policies and contributing sector policies;
• Elaborate, implement and monitor public policies that are influenced by civil society in favour of nutrition; and
• Strengthen civil society capacities in West Africa to speak with one voice.
For each key objective specific common advocacy activities have been identified and will be carried out by the network during 2017 and 2018. This includes, common advocacy documents for specific opportunities like World Bank meetings or ECOWAS Forums, thematic advocacy on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to present to parliamentarians or for national agricultural plans, as well as country peer visits and contributions to the SUN Global Gathering.
Challenges and next steps
During this gathering, the SUN CSAs worked together to overcome common challenges they faced. These included difficulties in accessing information on nutrition budgets and monitoring political commitments (such as Nutrition for Growth commitments) by governments and international donors; maintaining good coordination among actors involved and relationships with governments to advance together; problems encountered when working in consortia; and the importance of clear communication and specific roles and responsibilities. The lack of funding remains one of the main challenges as the financial support for SUN CSAS as well as regional coordination and meetings like this workshop cannot be continued without sustainable support.
The next steps for the West Africa SUN CSAs are to:
• Advocate with donors to fund national SUN CSAs in order to strengthen nutrition at country level;
• Implement activities included in the common regional advocacy workplan;
• Produce and publish briefing papers and advocacy tools;
• Continue sharing advocacy success stories; and
• Continue to organise annual regional workshops.
Note: The regional advocacy workplan is available on request from the ACF West Africa regional office. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
2 The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (WHO,1981) and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions (the Code). http://ibfan.org/the-full-code
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Reference this page
Judith Kabore and Laure Serra (2017). Advocating for nutrition in West Africa: The role of SUN civil society alliances. Nutrition Exchange 8, July 2017. p24. www.ennonline.net/nex/8/suncivilsocietyalliancewestafrica