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Policy and legislation

In the past, governments and development agencies hardly considered under-nutrition when formulating policies on agriculture. It was assumed that by growing more food, or increasing economic prosperity, better nutrition would be triggered automatically. Now, a growing and increasingly influential wealth of research makes it hard for governments to maintain this position. As became clear in the description of the other topics as well, it takes more than merely an increase in production to have an impact on nutrition. Without a comprehensive approach millions of people will not live healthy and productive lives.

Without involving government and encouraging government to implement nutrition objectives in its policies, chances for successfully and sustainably influencing nutrition will decrease. Government often functions as the main funder of nutrition programs. It also has a role as a planner in the process of choosing interventions that are feasible and as a coordinator, given that carrying out interventions will involve existing government staff and infrastructure. Finally, the government can function as an enforcer of any policies that are passed and as an evaluator of the programs it mandates. Furthermore, government can create incentives, create and adjust legislation and stimulate the generation of knowledge. 

There is a strong rationale for governments to make nutrition a top priority and to implement effective nutrition policy. Only when enjoying good nutrition, individuals can realise their physical, cognitive and economic potential. Malnutrition reduces individuals’ income generation potential, lowers children’s schooling performance, increases the risk of disability, morbidity and mortality. For society as a whole, under-nutrition frustrates economic growth and deepens poverty through direct losses in productivity from poor physical and mental performance of the labour force, indirect losses from reduced working and mental capacity of the population, and losses in resources due to increased health care costs. All in all, these effects of under-nutrition together amount to GDP losses of 2 to 3 percent on average.

To counter the described effects, governments would do well to prioritise successfull implementation of policies to counter under-nutrition. As governments have limited resources, it is unlikely that government will enforce laws aimed at stimulating nutrient intake by the population if nutrition is not a priority in policies. Relevant areas for (direct) nutrition oriented legislation include:

  1. A legal framework to regulate the quality and marketing of breast-milk substitutes;
  2. Laws governing maternity leave, in order to allow a mother the space and time to breastfeed her infant and introduce nutritious and appropriate food after six months;
  3. Food fortification standards designed to increase amounts of micronutrients in the diets of mothers and children. (SUN movement)

However, the successful implementation of nutrition sensitive value chains, for example, depends on other legislation as well. Legislation that stimualte these kinds of activities related to agriculture are crucial. And, as has been indicated many times already, for nutrition sensitive interventions to be successful interventions need to be of a multi-sector charachter. In other words, legislation in multiple sector affects the impact of nutrition sensitive interventions.