Transform Nutrition-West Africa Launches With Consultation in Dakar

Participants engage in discussion at the Transform Nutrition West Africa consultation. Photo: IFPRI

Transform Nutrition-West Africa is a new regional platform, which aims to enable effective policy and programmatic action on nutrition in West Africa.  The three-year program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI).

In February, approximately 30 stakeholders from West Africa came together for a consultation meeting in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss the Transform Nutrition plan of work for the next three years. The group included a mix of donors, non-governmental organizations, and representatives from the United Nations, government, and research. Meeting objectives were:

  • To generate consensus on major nutritional challenges in the region,
  • To identify priorities for action and future research, and
  • To develop and strengthen partnerships in the region.

The program’s overall approach is being guided by the context in West Africa and, in particular, focal countries Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal, so this meeting was crucial to get input from those who will be most closely involved.

Regional nutritional challenges

Stuart Gillespie presents at the Transform Nutrition West Africa consultation. Photo: IFPRI

After an introduction to the program by Stuart Gillespie (Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI), Roos Verstraeten (Research Coordinator, Transform Nutrition West Africa, IFPRI) outlined the levels and trends in outcomes, drivers of, and programs for different forms of malnutrition in West Africa. She reported that prevalence levels of all World Health Assembly (WHA) global nutrition targets remain high across the region, and although some progress has been made, most countries are off track for meeting the WHA targets. In addition, overweight in females and children under age five is on the rise, and often coexists alongside undernutrition. A variety of factors drive the burden of under and over nutrition, including low rates of exclusive breast feeding, inadequate dietary diversity among children between 6 and 23 months of age, inadequate WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) practices, low access to sanitation (deteriorating in Nigeria), and insufficient access to health services. Verstraeten also noted that recent data for each of the WHA targets are often missing. Some conclusions were:

  • Published literature is centered in Nigeria and Ghana, with far fewer publications on the Burkina Faso and Senegal contexts;
  • There is a huge lack of research on the under 5 years of age (U5) obesity WHA target across all focal countries; and
  • A substantial amount of literature is available on prevalence and drivers of U5 wasting, U5 stunting, and low birth weight, whereas literature on programs and policies for these indicators is limited in all four focal countries.

Participants noted the need to understand why the research on problems and prevalence is so abundant, yet not being translated into programs in the region, and indicated a desire to understand why Francophone countries have less published research than Anglophone countries, including details on who authors the studies and who funds them.

Policy and program landscapes, and stakeholder/organization mapping

Emilie Buttarelli (consultant) outlined the current policy action at the regional level to address these malnutrition problems:

  • Effective monitoring and evaluation systems;
  • A regional resource pool for learning materials; and
  • Greater accountability for failure and successes.

Participants suggested the analysis focus not only on WHA targets, but also on priorities set at country level.

Buttarelli went on to present the West Africa stakeholder and organizational mapping, outlining key people and organizations responsible for policies and programs in the region. She noted challenges including the need for a more thorough investigation of the influence of the private sector and the need to further understand what drives different actors.

Stakeholder interview highlights

Mara van den Bold, (Senior Research Analyst, IFPRI) presented key findings of interviews which sought to capture stakeholders’ knowledge and perceptions about the political environment of nutrition in West Africa. Common themes included:

  • Chronic and acute undernutrition identified as most important, while micronutrient deficiencies, anemia, and rising levels of overweight/obesity were also mentioned;
  • Regional institutions not seen to have much influence over national-level decision-making;
  • Several fora for policy coordination exist, but challenges remain with regard to roles and responsibilities of different sectors, monitoring and evaluation, national coordinating bodies, and technical/HR capacity;
  • To ensure policymakers use research evidence, data need to be accessible and research findings appropriately packaged/communicated, and come with actionable proposals;
  • Need for clearer budget lines, in-country capacity for funding, and better evidence, especially on nutrition-sensitive interventions to increase government funding; and
  • Capacity constraints related to HR and technical knowledge and education on nutrition – in schools and in training curricula in other sectors.

Participants at the Transform Nutrition West Africa consultation. Photo: IFPRI

Future priorities for action

The day ended with a lively prioritization session in which the participants were divided into working groups. Through discussion, each group was asked to narrow their combined priority options down to a list of 10, and then five.

The final top five priorities were:

  1. Capture, document, and learn from implementation experiences (programs and scaling up);
  2. Strengthen regional/national/sub-national capacity to collect, analyse, report relevant data and experience/best practice;
  3. Accelerate equitable program coverage of maternal, infant, and young child nutrition interventions at scale;
  4. Make food systems and value-chains work better to address challenges; and
  5. Assess and strengthen institutional capacity and leadership/championship to implement policies and hold governments to account.

Those not able to attend the meeting contributed to this process afterwards. All of the presentations are available in dropbox.


This post was written by Samantha Reddin, Nutrition Communications Manager at the Institute of Development Studies.