Political Leadership Key to Ending Hunger, Malnutrition in Southeast Asia


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, or Seameo, called on leaders of countries in the region on Monday (07/08) to improve leadership and commitment on all levels to end hunger and address malnutrition.

“Political leadership and commitment to ensure that a food system is nutrition-sensitive is a must to overcome nutrition problems in any country,” Mark Smulders, the FAO representative to Indonesia and East Timor, said in a statement received by Jakarta Globe.

According to the FAO, one in three children under 5 years of age in several Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, suffer from stunting.

The World Health Organization defines stunting as impaired growth and development in children due to poor nutrition, repeated infections and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.

Stunting may also lead to other health issues, such as cognitive impairment, and it is considered a risk factor for obesity and noncommunicable diseases in adulthood.

Smulders said efforts to address the problem of poor nutrition must come from both the government and the private sector.

He noted the importance of developing government programs in areas such as health, agriculture and industry that are mindful of the goal to resolve nutrition problems. This is crucial, as malnutrition in Southeast Asia is influenced by several factors, such as insufficient access to safe and nutritious food.

The FAO has developed a toolkit on this front, which serves as a guideline for policy makers to help design nutrition-sensitive food and agricultural policies, as well as action programs.

Although 12 ministries in Indonesia are tasked with supporting the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement under a 2013 presidential decree, a high rate of stunting in Indonesia indicates that the policy still lacks the effective implementation needed to achieve meaningful results.

One key factor to reinforce action on nutrition in countries experiencing high levels of childhood malnutrition is to foster strong leadership in the sector.

Agus Haryanto, deputy director of the Seameo Regional Center for Food and Nutrition, said “nutrition movers” can help address problems in the region.

“We need to have nutrition movers, a new critical mass of leaders in the field of nutrition who have vision, integrity, confidence and the capacity to ignite action for change, and who are well-informed with the current situation and can stimulate partnerships with other leaders to achieve the goals of nutrition improvement in the region,” Agus said.

To support this vision, the center has organized the South East Asian Nutrition Leadership Program, now on its 12th year, with the aim to empower nutritionists and other professionals and train them in effective leadership skills, communication and decision-making processes.

This year’s program took place in Jakarta on Aug. 4-8, with participants hailing from all 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

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