Trade and Aid: Creating Winning Conditions for Nutrition

The Ministry of Trade in Senegal and MI recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of providing more people in West Africa access to adequately iodized salt. It may seem odd – a formal agreement between a trade ministry and a global nutrition organization, but there is an important connection:  MI works not only with the Ministry of Health, but also closely with the Ministry of Trade because the success of salt iodization efforts in the region depends on it. We support the Senegalese efforts to expand the regional market for salt in a way that will help combat iodine deficiency, increase access to adequately iodized salt for the most vulnerable, create jobs, and maximize economic development. This is a win-win approach where development and trade objectives come together.

We are allies in ensuring salt exported across West Africa is adequately iodized, as well as supporting economic development in rural areas of the country.  Good nutrition is a right, not a luxury; our efforts have built relationships to address trade issues, like ensuring that salt that is leaving Senegal for other countries is adequately iodized, breaking down barriers to affordable access to essential micronutrients for local consumers.  When you look at it that way, the link between “nutrition” and “trade” is very clear. And so is the mutual benefit.  We have to find more of these examples.

The nutrition community can help by proactively creating new alliances and opportunities beyond the usual suspects.  While there are some excellent examples of this, in many ways we are still scratching the surface of possibility in terms of private sector partnerships, innovative financing, and moving beyond the traditional aid paradigm.

The creation of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement has supported and challenged the nutrition community to actively seek out these new opportunities. To get there, we’ll have to better learn, understand, and speak the dialects and motivations of other sectors and actors. We can’t wait for potential partners outside the nutrition sector to come and tell us what they need. If we want to expand our impact, it’s on us to engage them with opportunities, concrete ideas and ways of partnering successfully. We can’t miss opportunities to draw other sectors, the private sector in particular, into solutions for scaling up nutrition.

There is a strong private sector and partnership footprint in many of MI’s most successful initiatives. The development of the life-saving vitamin A capsules we send around the world took many sectors coming together – academia, food technology, private sector manufacturing, non-profit management, the aggregation of demand that created a market, and a donor with the vision to make it happen. Only by working together could we develop a capsule that could survive transport to hot climates, have a three-year shelf life, and be easily administered by front-line health workers to over 150 million children every year.   All this and a positive impact on the bottom line, on employee engagement, and on millions of the most vulnerable children in the world.

Let’s capitalize on the ingenuity of the private sector, and give them something tangible to work with.  Ideas and opportunities for scaling up nutrition can be framed not only in terms of how programs and beneficiaries would benefit, but also in terms of how industries and consumers can benefit too.

When MI and its partners help to organize salt producers into cooperatives that pool resources and have a solid business model, they make a much more attractive prospect for investment by a financial institution. They rebrand themselves as entrepreneurs looking for a larger market share, and we decrease iodine deficiency disorders by iodizing more salt.

We know good nutrition is critical to advancing and accelerating human AND economic development. It is not only the nutrition sector that has a vested interest in a well-nourished, productive population, so let’s not miss a single opportunity to talk about the business and trade side of nutrition as well.