October blog

Claudio Schuftan

Women! Don't let that old trickle-down black magic get you in its spell! Nourish your community from your land. Women farmers in Africa, India

Rome. I am here not to see the Pope or the Piazza d'Espagna, but to contribute to our global efforts to bring the struggle for food sovereignty a step closer to reality. The occasion has been a meeting called by the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN). Its purpose has been to consolidate a civil society statement, responding to the intention of FAO's Committee on World Food Security to launch a Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition. The Framework will coordinate and guide food policies and actions at global, regional and national levels.

Civil society organisations maintain that this Framework is crucial as a global reference for policy-makers. Above all, it should ensure that policies are people-centred. I have been part of the drafting team for the civil society statement. Its vision and demand is that the people who produce, distribute and need food must be in the centre of policies. The key roles of food providers and consumers are highlighted, including those of social movements and smallholder organisations of fishing communities, peasants, pastoralists, and indigenous people.

At the same time as this work, we have been working out how to organise a Global Right to Food Network. Its purpose will be to strengthen efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. It can do this by promoting better cooperation between like-minded partners and by amplifying our demands for the fulfilment of the right to nutrition. The seed for the network was planted and we will certainly hear more about it in the future.

Have I got to see the Coliseum and the Fontana di Trevi? Just passing by. It was an intense three days…

Impoverished countries

How nutrition may improve

Here's a quick summary of some actions reckoned to be relevant to nutrition in impoverished countries around the world.

Finally no, I do not think the Road Map for Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) represents a set of nutrition-relevant actions that fulfils several let alone many of the criteria above. See my July column for why I think this.



Detective work done by honest and qualified researchers should sharpen our wits and improve our capacity to bring together all relevant elements of observed and sometimes puzzling 'realities'. Only then we can decisively choose which nutrition-relevant actions are best in any given setting. With this information, we can also oppose and even confront nutrition-irrelevant or anti-nutrition actions.

I have long been convinced that people will feed themselves well, if their environments enable them to do so. The nature of enabling environments varies, of course. Governments and agencies – including non-governmental organisations – do not always foster enabling environments. They are usually either part of the problem, or else are neutral.

Sharing a common conceptual analytical framework has proven to be crucial to understand the causality of malnutrition, and to develop at least some beginnings of a shared political view. We have tried to do this since the 1980 UNICEF conceptual framework for nutrition as agreed and published. But this is only the first step. Creating political awareness of the problems of malnutrition is no longer enough. Our goal has to be to mobilise resources and people for action for nutrition-relevant actions.

The first requirement is a correct analysis of the relevant causes. Only then is it possible effectively to intervene in service delivery, capacity building, and community empowerment. Engaging communities actively in service delivery, in capacity building and in their own empowerment, becomes central to the creation of enabling environments. What needs to come first is local. National or global environments are just as important, but are more remote to communities.

Fostering effective local democracy may well be a move to tackle the ominous health and nutrition consequences of non-enabling environments, and also to engage in policy and political issues.

Outside agencies and agents can support effective local democracy. Governments – and other organisations – that say they respect and protect impoverished people's entitlement to food, care and health, but do not positively and actively fulfil these obligations, should be openly confronted. Needed actions, include ensuring household food security, food sovereignty, the care of women and children, and the provision of basic health services, as well as environmental sanitation. Governments must be pressed to make needed interventions in these areas.

With encouragement, communities will be able to take on responsibilities. They will also be able to engage the resources they control in making their entitlements more attainable. Also, they will be better able to mobilise and to fight for resources that they do not control (This assumes that their government is not so repressive as to make this impossible). The key linked issues are community mobilisation and community empowerment. This is what creates an enabling environment, which is ultimately linked with the underlying and basic determinants of ill-health and malnutrition.



Women! Work for independence and empowerment and for your rights! Women generating income on their farms in the Ukraine, the US, Malawi

Here are two scenarios. The first is more down-to-earth.

Economic development is positively related to nutritional improvements. Economic growth – only if and when it trickles down – is said to help to prevent and control ill-health and malnutrition in poor countries. But the effects of such aggregate economic growth are not immediate (nor automatic) on poor households' disposable income. This is thus an illusion. We should not be deceived.

The good road towards empowerment now, I believe, is a wide movement to promote education and income generation activities for women.

Income generation for women can short-cut the 'waiting-for-trickle-down' syndrome emptily promised by structural adjustment and by conventional donors. Income generation activities can generate more immediate needed additional modest household income – a true bottom-up solution.

In the poorest households, women's income generation can result in sometimes quite significant increases in disposable household income, even if the total income is low.

As an intervention, income generation by women attempts to blend the technical with the political in the battle against malnutrition. It more directly deals with the basic causes underlying the ill-health and malnutrition that characterise poverty worldwide.

Income earned by women is, to a much higher degree than that of men, used for family well-being expenditures --nutrition included. Women's modest, frequent income more directly affects the proportion of every increase in income that goes to consumables, including food and also basic services

Income generation by women does not of itself correct the immiserating impact of unfair political and economic systems. But women's income generation can target some key determinants of ill-health and malnutrition. Also, it can organise and empower women in a way that prepares them for taking more active roles in participating in decisions and actions concerning food and nutrition in their families and in their communities.

Here is my more dreamy scenario.

Some of us have for too long lived surrounded by four walls, in an immutable environment, with the line of our professional horizon barely perceptible. Have we thus grown up inside impenetrable armour of good manners and conventionality?

We have been trained to please and serve and, I'd say, have ended up limited by our own routines, the prevailing social norms and our hidden fears. Has, for too long, fear been our companion? Fear of authority and of what people will say, fear of the unknown and of what is different, fear of the unpredictability of social justice, fear of leaving the protected cocoon of our guild, fear of facing the dangers of the real world out there, fear of our own fragility and of the ultimate truth?

Could it be that our truth has been made up from omissions, courteous silences, well kept secrets, order and discipline? While masses of the impoverished share the same space and time with us, yet it is as if they existed separate from us? And under such circumstances, have our aspirations really been more to achieve virtuosity and recognition?

We do not know in what turn of the road travelled we lost the person we used to be. We are not sure any more, which of the causes we championed were meaningful, which we won and which we lost. If we made some mistakes and had uncertainties and fears about the future, we feel we have paid dearly for them already.

But also, I want to believe that we feel suddenly empowered. A new mood allowing us to make meaningful decisions in our professional lives is infusing us. We are willing to pay the consequences for it. We do not owe an explanation to anyone for these changes.

This sense of optimism and commitment invades some of us, particularly in preparation for our upcoming Rio2012 congress. Our fears have dissolved as we have lost our fear of fear. We now find new strengths as we face new risks. We are finding new forces within ourselves that we always had, but did not know we had, because we had never used them. We are ready to join the growing number of explorer-doers seeking new ways out to the problems of the world. We feel pride as women and men who are reinventing equity in our work.

Some of us walk victorious, while others still carry disillusions mostly having suffered early defeats. But we feel we own our destinies, our future, and our irrevocable newly acquired dignity. We finally understand talk about liberation, about rights and empowerment, and about freedom from want in new ways and yearn to discuss with others what we see and feel about each of them.

We can now live each day without necessarily making worthless plans. We feel we have a blank sheet in front of us where we can write our new plans and, in the process, become whoever we want to become, without anybody judging our past. In short, we can be reborn (1).

And then I woke up.

Yet, I hope I have here advanced some ideas that might provoke you to contribute to this movement, to get closer to the time when real democracy and the respect of human rights is no longer a dream.


  1. Allende I. The Daughter of Fortune. Plaza y Janes Editores SA, Barcelona, 1999.
Acknowledgement and request

You are invited please to respond, comment, disagree, as you wish. Please use the response facility below. You are free to make use of the material in this column, provided you acknowledge the Association, and me please, and cite the Association’s website.

Please cite as: : Schuftan C. How nutrition may improve. [Column] Website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, October 2011. Obtainable at www.wphna.org

The opinions expressed in all contributions to the website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association (the Association) including its journal World Nutrition, are those of their authors. They should not be taken to be the view or policy of the Association, or of any of its affiliated or associated bodies, unless this is explicitly stated.


2011 October blog: Claudio Schuftan

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