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Kenya moves toward national food and nutrition policy

A team from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is providing technical assistance to the East and Southern Africa Regional Office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (EASRO UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the government of Kenya to build strategies for implementing Kenya’s National Food and Nutrition Policy.
The Friedman team, led by Gary Gleason, PhD, associate professor at the Friedman School, is assisting the Kenyan government with translating the policy document into a strategic, actionable plan. The scope of the plan ranges from agricultural production, strategic grain reserves, and post-harvest protection, to nutritional interventions for high-risk groups, and the interrelationship of nutrition and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

"Many countries throughout the world were originally spurred to build national food and nutrition policies because of a call-to-action at the 1992 World Food Summit in Rome," says Gleason, who is also co-chair of the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition Working Group on Micronutrients. "What we’ve learned since that time is that food and nutrition policies are often developed but seldom fully implemented. Taking them from paper to approved policy, and from policy to funding and effective programs is a challenging, multi-faceted process, requiring involvement from many government groups that sometimes see themselves as unrelated.

"In Kenya," Gleason continues, "this is a good time to develop a policy that can have a lasting impact. There is a convergence between many Kenyan government groups and various international and donor agencies, all of which recognized acute nutritional problems in the country that require a complex solution."

Gleason, along with Tufts colleagues Patrick Webb, PhD, dean for academic affairs at the Friedman School and former head of nutrition at the World Food Program, and Nevin Scrimshaw, PhD, visiting professor at the Friedman School and president of the International Nutrition Foundation, formed a team that facilitated two meetings in Nairobi on March 26 and March 27-29, 2007. The purpose of the first meeting, attended by senior policy makers, including ministers and regional and country level United Nations agency heads, was to introduce the national policy and generate commitment to the development of a comprehensive, workable strategy. The second meeting was a working meeting, with participants from several government ministries, consultants from FAO and UNICEF, and specialists from various international non-governmental organizations and national groups who collaborated to define strategy for moving the policy forward. Some of the key areas of strategy addressed at the meeting were as follows:
  • Forming a consensus on agricultural production and food trade issues
  • Establishing a life-cycle approach to organize nutritional interventions, including a cross-generational approach for maternal-child nutrition issues
  • Ensuring the new nutrition strategies are phased in three-to-five year periods so that goals are attainable and there is an operational research phase to build on
  • Organizing a dynamic framework for the national food and nutrition policy with ongoing review and adjustment
  • Promoting intersectional collaboration for nutrition and agricultural interventions
  • Creating acceptance among food and nutrition ministries of the private sector as an ally
  • Building capacity of various ministries to ensure sustainability of the policy
"The Friedman team’s strength is bringing evidence-based solutions to the table," says Gleason. "By utilizing our experiences in other countries and listening to the specific challenges of the Kenyan government, we can ascertain if policies that are successful elsewhere are adaptable for Kenya."

If the current draft passes several steps of approval, it is expected that the official policy will be accepted by the middle of 2007. "We want to facilitate genuine ownership and collaboration on nutrition and food policy in Kenya," Gleason concludes, "so that the many ministries with a hand in food and nutrition are actively working together to implement change."

Siobhan Gallagher | EurekAlert!
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