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Championing nutrition in Gabon

An interview with Yves Fernand Manfoumbi, Gabon’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and the GRAINE Programme1 from October 2016 to February 201).

As Minister, Manfoumbi recognised that malnutrition was a considerable barrier to the socio-economic and environmental development of the country and sent a request for Gabon to join the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN Movement) on 21 December 2016. He was elected as a SUN global Nutrition Champion in 2017 and is the honorary president of Gabon’s SUN multi-sector nutrition platform in his capacity as champion, participating in meetings and acting as a catalyst and advocate for nutrition on the ground.

1. When did you first become aware of nutrition and its importance to your country’s development?

After my appointment as Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and the GRAINE Programme (MAEPG), I naturally got in contact with all partners, including FAO [the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations], who briefed me on the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), the forum devoted to worldwide nutrition problems in the 21st century. At the end of this conference, an assembly of 187 nations approved the final two documents, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition2, which engages countries in eradicating hunger and in preventing all forms of malnutrition, and the Framework for Action3, the technical guide that aims to facilitate its implementation by defining clear and specific strategies for carrying out these commitments. As a financial economist, I was very aware of the impact of nutrition on GDP and that one dollar invested in nutrition can yield a return of 16 more dollars4. This really triggered a ‘eureka’ or ‘light-bulb’ moment for me.

2. What do you consider to be the main nutritional problems in Gabon?

Gabon is one of those countries that is ‘off-course’ in terms of progress towards four of the six indicators adopted during the 65th World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2012; this relates to progress towards goals concerning stunting, which affects 18 per cent of children under five years old [CU5] and wasting among CU5 of 3 per cent; anaemia, which affects over half of women of child-bearing age; a prevalence of 8 per cent overweight in CU5, and a particularly low rate of 6 per cent prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding5. Micronutrient deficiencies in women and children are also major challenges in terms of public health.

 3. What prompted your country to join the SUN Movement in 2016?

Gabon became a member of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement in January 2017 through its endorsement, at the highest level, by the President of the Republic by delegation to the Prime Minister, following a request that we submitted in December 2016. We did this so that Gabon could take part in the dialogue allowing us to interact with other SUN countries and the SUN Movement’s assistance system, refine our skills, improve our understanding of the main issues and come to an agreement on priority actions, all in the aim of making sure that we are on the right track for producing results.

Green Classes at Okala school in Libreville

4. How has being a member of the SUN Movement helped Gabon?

Membership of the SUN Movement has the advantage of helping countries celebrate the progress made by other SUN countries in implementing their national plans for nutrition, in providing a better understanding of the issues and in identifying together the solutions under consideration.

5. From your experience as Minister of Agriculture, how does the SUN multi-sector platform work in Gabon and how are the sectors collaborating in targeting malnutrition?
 

The multi-sector platform brings together various ministries, civil society, technical and financial partners, and was set up under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and the GRAINE Programme. Currently nine ministries are involved (including Health, Agriculture, Trade, Infrastructure, Education and Social Protection) and five networks (government, UN, donor, civil society and private sector). The platform meets regularly (at least once a month – more if there are specific activities) and discusses nutrition issues, the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security (PNSAN), SUN’s roadmap strategy, the policy’s action plan, etc. The capabilities of members of the multi-sector platform are pooled so that everyone understands the role they have to play in resolving food and nutrition security problems in Gabon. One example of sectors working together are ‘green classes’, an agriculture project to produce nutritious food in schools through school gardens. Nutrition training in schools is to be implemented in a collaboration between the Ministries of Education and Health.

6. Tell us about the new National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security (PNSAN) (2018-2025). How has this been developed?

As Minister, since my appointment in October 2016, I have been working towards Gabon obtaining a National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security (PNSAN) document. This meets one of the recommendations of ICN2.

Training on the multi-sector nature of nutrition and the role of each sector was organised with the technical support of FAO, UNICEF and WHO [World Health Organisation] to encourage platform members to improve their contribution in drafting the PNSAN document. Each sector has provided support in drafting the document and I have monitored the various stages of the process and brought them to the highest level.

In March 2017, I recommended organising a workshop to approve the PNSAN document and in July 2017 the Ministerial Council ratified the approved document – so nine months after my appointment, Gabon had a strategic reference and policy framework for all the sectors and stakeholders involved in nutrition.

Financial resources are to be mobilised by the Government with the support of partners. REACH will provide technical support for the development of a coordination framework between the Government and the UN system and MQSUN+ will assist in the development of a costed action plan for PNSAN.

7. Does PNSAN include interventions to address the prevalence of overweight, obesity and malnutrition?

PNSAN is taking into account all interventions to fight hunger and malnutrition; that is why it integrates not only nutrition-sensitive interventions, but also nutrition-specific interventions, taking all forms of malnutrition into account. In collaboration with FAO, the Government has initiated a project on developing national dietary recommendations and a food guide for Gabon, to raise awareness of healthy eating.

8. What role do you see for the private sector in terms of malnutrition?

The private sector has a role of social responsibility to play in the fight against malnutrition and this is why strong advocacy is needed to enable it to finance interventions on the ground. One initiative currently being discussed with agri-business is fortification of cooking oil with vitamin A.

9. What advice would you give on tackling malnutrition to other countries that are facing similar problems to those in Gabon?

Other countries must ensure that they have a legal policy framework which takes the issue in its entirety into account; since nutrition is multi-sectoral, its causes must be identified in order to propose solutions and identify the role that each of us must play by involving benefairies in sustainable interventions.

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1The GRAINE (Gabonaise des Réalisations Agricoles et des Initiatives des Nationaux) programme is a key government priority that aims to limit imports of agricultural products, improve food security, create sustainable jobs and promote economic development.

2www.fao.org/resources/infographics/infographics-details/en/c/266118/

3www.fao.org/3/a-mm215e.pdf

4International Food Policy Research Institute. 2014. Global Nutrition Report 2014: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition. Washington, DC.

5GNR 2017. Global Nutrition Report (2017) Nutrition Country Profiles: Gabon. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives.

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Reference this page

Yves Fernand Manfoumbi (2018). Championing nutrition in Gabon. Nutrition Exchange 10, July 2018. p18. www.ennonline.net/nut/10/championingnutritioningabon