Put Nutrition and Hunger on G8 Table at Camp David

The G8 summit is expected to produce a new "food security initiative" which is likely to have a strong focus on the private sector's contribution to increasing food production and, we fear, not enough on nutrition.
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This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.

Dear G8 leaders,

When you sit down with President Barack Obama next week and enjoy an American BBQ in the rustic seclusion of Camp David, I'll be thinking back to a more modest meal a young Indian girl once shared with me.

In 1993, when I was working for the charity Plan International, I visited a small village inhabited by "untouchables" in Karnataka district in southwest India. The land was parched and dusty as the monsoon rains had not yet come, and food was scarce.

I went there with Plan's local partner, Myrada, to see our joint efforts to address child survival and malnutrition. The program provided access to staple crops and a new irrigation system, and offered services such as pre- and post-natal care, immunizations, advice on spacing births and a growth monitoring effort to stem stunting.

In looking over the growth charts of the village children, I noticed a large percentage of them were significantly malnourished. Throughout the day a young girl followed me, curious about the Western visitor accompanying Plan's doctor, who was from Nigeria. She told me her name was Nalini and it was obvious she was among those on the growth charts we were concerned about.

We toured a water pump with clean water and then went to a building that was storing grain -- the only concrete structure in a village made up of mud houses. Nalini sidled up to me and grabbed my hand, pulling me up a rickety step-ladder to the roof. On the roof of the granary were hundreds of peanuts drying in the sun. Nalini bent down and picked up a small handful -- about four or five -- not for her, but to give to me. It was lunchtime and this malnourished child wanted to share her food, to give me some of her peanuts. She was proud of what her family had grown and she wanted to be the host for a guest coming from far away.

I accepted them, ate one and took the rest home where I placed them in a prominent place as a motivator to do more to help children like Nalini. Our charity did make greater investments in child survival and food security projects throughout Nalini's region but the image of her handing over those peanuts still motivates me.

Nalini, who may have her own children by now, was very skinny and obviously stunted. About one third of children in the developing world are stunted, according to UNICEF and poor nutrition is the underlying cause of about 35 percent of all deaths of children under the age of five each year. Another 200 million children are chronically malnourished, according to World Health Organization statistics.

I now lead InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international NGOs, many of whom are focused on reducing hunger among the world's poor and to improve the quality of nutrition globally, particularly for women and children. Improving nutrition has a profound impact on a country's long-term economic development and stability.

The G8 summit is expected to produce a new "food security initiative" which is likely to have a strong focus on the private sector's contribution to increasing food production and, we fear, not enough on nutrition. Unless we address both increased production and nutrition, the poorest children of the world will continue to lack the physical and mental development to escape grinding poverty. There also needs to be increased involvement from civil society groups and local farmers in drawing up such an initiative. Without such input, we fear that the bulk of increased food production by the private sector will be for export to countries where companies can charge a higher price and not for the benefit of local populations.

The generous gesture of a young, malnourished host motivated me two decades ago to push harder to meet child survival and malnutrition goals. I hope when you all meet in Camp David from May 18-19, you'll also have a similar personal story to encourage you to stay on track with previous commitments to fight hunger and find new ways to tackle this challenge.

Samuel A. Worthington
President and CEO of InterAction

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