Executive Director Ertharin Cousin Remarks at the SAFO Conference, 10 May 2012, Berlin, Germany

Delivered on: 10 May 2012

World Food Programme

Thank you, Dougal, for that kind introduction.

It is a great pleasure and honor to be here in Berlin and to follow Dirk Niebel, who has shown great leadership as Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Germany has been, and continues to be, a strong supporter of the World Food Programme.  In fact, last year’s contribution was the highest funding level ever from Germany ($194.7 million), and was vital in supporting key operations in the Horn of Africa.

I also want to recognize Dr. Sebastian Paust, a Managing Director of GIZ.  Today, WFP is partnering with GIZ in 11 countries around the world, working on project design, monitoring, storage and distribution – delivering nearly 5,000 metric tons of food to beneficiaries last year alone. 

Finally, I want to thank Michael Heinz and the BASF Board of Directors, not just for sponsoring this conference but for their corporate social responsibility and commitment to the UN Global Compact.

As evident by the audience gathered here this morning, addressing the issue of food fortification in tackling malnutrition requires cooperation across a wide range of stakeholders working together in partnership.

Reaching the most vulnerable and hungry people requires the active collaborative engagement of partner governments, civil society, NGOs, foundations, international organizations, private sector, research institutions – in short, all of you in this room.

Such partnerships are ever more vital in today’s world in which the challenge of ensuring access to nutritious food for the most vulnerable has been compounded by a convergence of global trends: an increase in the number and intensity of weather-related disasters, an escalation of protracted crises as a result of on-going conflicts, and continued food price volatility.

Nowhere has this convergence been more visible than what we witnessed last year in the Horn of Africa, and what we are seeing today in the Sahel.  The stakes are nothing less than a potentially lost generation – a generation who will grow up with permanent, irreversible physical and cognitive damage as a result of pregnant mothers and infants not receiving adequately nutritious food during the critical first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

Simply filling empty bellies is no longer enough.  Armed with the latest nutritional knowledge, we know that we must ensure that the food provided is the right nutritional match for the most vulnerable groups – pregnant and lactating women and children under two. 

The world has witnessed a revolution with the development of new specialized nutritious food products that allow for humanitarian programmes to deliver the right foods to save lives in emergencies. We are entering a new age in tackling malnutrition where the right mix of fortified foods can produce dramatically improved outcomes for those in need.  Indeed, our success must be judged not only in terms of how many mouths we feed, but how many deaths and how much lifelong suffering we avert as a result of preventing chronic, as well as, acute malnutrition.

Today, WFP is deploying these specialized nutritious food products in our operations across the globe – for example, helping prevent and treat chronic malnutrition in children under two through the distribution of Fortified Blended Foods (FBF) such as Supercereal Plus.  We are using Micronutrient Powders (MNP) to fortify foods after preparation and just before eating, to ensure an adequate intake of micronutrients essential for bodily functions, growth, and immunity.  And we are utilizing Ready-to-use Supplementary Foods (RUSFs) like WawaMum – a chickpea mix – to prevent, and Plumpy’sup – a peanut based mix – to treat acute malnutrition.

In the Sahel, from where I have just returned, WFP is implementing large-scale blanket supplementary feeding programmes – providing specialised nutrition products to supplement the diets of children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, in preparation for, and during this upcoming lean season.  As I saw first-hand, such nutritional programmes are vital to assist in limiting the incidence of new cases of acute malnutrition and reduce the risk of physical and mental stunting of those suffering from chronic malnutrition.

At the same time, WFP is scaling up the purchase of these nutritious food products.  And I want to again recognize the German Government for providing funding to WFP earlier and with greater flexibility, having already contributed over €11 million euros as untied multilateral cash for development activities this year.  These contributions provide liquid funds accessible for procuring and supporting the delivery of nutritious food products, while at the same time allowing WFP to further improve its nutritional interventions to help the most vulnerable, the hungry poor, build resilience.

Thanks to the support of Germany and many others, the number of children aged 6 – 23 months that WFP has reached with specialised foods, such as WawaMum and Supercereal Plus, has increased from 2.5 million in 2010 to 3.2 million in 2011.  And last year, WFP supported the delivery of these new products in 17 countries. 

Such new nutritional tools represent targeted solutions rather than the “one-size-fits-all” traditional food aid approach, and are critical to combating malnutrition.  By leveraging advances in science and technology we can help bring to scale innovative ideas that are taking root in countries, at the grassroots level.  This means engaging with the private sector to create win-win situations that tap into their knowledge and resources while ensuring that we reach the most vulnerable with life-saving nutritious food.

These types of partnerships are what the SAFO model stands for – channelling the expertise of the private sector with that of development community to help countries mainstream food fortification in reducing malnutrition.  And the results from the SAFO project presented at this conference speak to the success of such dynamic public-private partnerships.

This is why WFP is working with the private sector to develop and assess the effectiveness of ground-breaking products.  DSM 's technical expertise, for example, has been crucial in developing  Micronutrient  Powder (MNPs) formulations  for use in different environments and settings, including emergency relief work; while Kemin Industries has provided access to laboratories in order to study the shelf life of WFP’s food products basket and help improve our nutritional products.

Beyond adding new nutritious products to our toolbox, new approaches are also needed to facilitate a transition from the focus on treating immediate nutrition problems in emergencies to addressing underlying causes of malnutrition in non-emergency contexts – something Germany has been a leader on through its support for transitional and longer-term development assistance.

We must not only be prepared to respond to the nutrition needs of affected populations during emergencies or protracted crises, but ensure a twin track approach by supporting development-oriented programs that tackle the scourge of malnutrition at its roots and help the most vulnerable build resiliency.

One of my tasks as the new Executive Director is to ensure that WFP’s affirmative nutrition agenda cuts-across the organization, not just in food technology or emergency response, but in rural agriculture development and resilience building safety net programmes – formulated in a nutrition-sensitive way that links them to, food security, as well as nutritional objectives. Many agricultural interventions can also influence nutrition outcomes, especially when complemented by activities improving access to food and its utilization, particularly educational outreach to build an understanding of nutritional requirements.

That is why WFP is helping nations and communities transform local staples – often completely lacking in micro-nutrients – into power-packed nutrition life-savers –with a goal of ensuring that every one of WFP’s food interventions has the maximum nutritional impact.

In Afghanistan, for example, work is under way to provide locally produced High Energy Biscuits (HEB) which are fortified with vitamins and minerals, for school meals programmes.  This year we expect to provide more than 15,000 metric tons of biscuits to approximately one million school children across the country.

In Ethiopia, WFP is working with USAID and PepsiCo to pilot the production of chickpea-based nutrient supplement which treats moderate acute malnutrition.  Not only is this partnership helping the government build capacity to address the nutritional needs of Ethiopian children, but we are helping create an Africa-based supply chain by working with more than 10,000 local farmers across the country to raise their yields of chickpeas for the local production of this nutrient supplement.

In Honduras, the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative – which helps small-scale farmers in 21 pilot countries – is facilitating commercial relationships between farmers’ organizations and the agro-industry. As a result, P4P farmers in Honduras are now able to sell their improved maize crops to the food producer Demasa, which supplies WFP with the Corn Soya Blend (CSB), which we use in many of our food assistance programs.
In Senegal, our Country Office has a fortification project that teaches rural women how to blend raw materials available in their region such as maize and peanuts or millet and niebe, and then fortify this blend with premixes which is provided to WFP beneficiaries in country.

And today in Ecuador, WFP is supporting the Government to perform an assessment for rice fortification.  If successful the initiative will ensure that fortified, locally produced rice will be given to children in school instead of imported food aid.

Examples such as these highlight the importance of working with governments across the entire value chain, from food and nutrition programmes to school feeding and connecting family farmers to markets.

Admittedly malnutrition is a complex, multi-faceted problem, and responses must include many diverse actors who can help catalyze home-grown solutions with critical financial backing and scientific know-how.  Partnerships that help countries strengthen their capacity to address malnutrition in a holistic manner are the sustainable nutrition solutions that can truly transform the challenge before us.

WFP’s contribution is essential: in a context of the most vulnerable hungry poor, the right food at the right time is a prerequisite for a successful response.  And I can assure you that WFP will not only continue to provide timely and nutritious foods, but we will support the multi-stakeholder global effort to achieve an integrated and comprehensive response to malnutrition.

No issue is more urgent, or more foundational to other development and resilience building goals, than getting maternal and child nutrition right.  This will require humanitarian and development agencies to re-double our efforts.  It will require the generosity and support of government donors and the private sector.  And it will require historic collaboration among many experts, such as you, in the field.

Working together we can get it right.

Thank you.