Civil Society’s role is crucial for enhancing food and nutrition security

Access to food and nutrition is a basic human right and is a key determinant of economic development of any country. Nepal’s development process is challenged by food insecurity and poor nutrition status. The cases of child undernutrition leading to both chronic and acute malnutrition such as wasting, and stunting are prevalent in Nepal. There is a wide disparity in food and nutrition status amongst different ecological regions. For example, the population with insufficient calorie intake is higher in hilly and mountainous regions (36% and 38% respectively) as compared to the Terai (24%) region (Source: Nepal Nutrition and Food Security Portal). Amongst seven provinces, Karnali has the highest percentage (55%) of stunted children under five (MoSD, 2019). Poverty, limited access to resources, and poor infrastructure are some of the factors limiting access to food and nutrition. Among many actors, civil society organizations (CSOs) being one of the pillars of development play a crucial role in promoting the food and nutrition security of the country. 

Photo 1: Dr Uma Koirala highlighting the nutritional status of Karnali Province. Photo: Bijay Poudel, LI-BIRD.

Civil Society Organization (CSO) and SUN Movement

A civil Society Organization (CSO) is a group of task-oriented people with common interests who work voluntarily in the areas of common interests of performing humanitarian and services-oriented tasks towards bringing citizens’ unheard voices to the government. It holds the government accountable through policy monitoring and enhances political participation at the community level. The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) defines Civil Society as an important sector existing alongside and interacting with the state and private sectors. Globally, CSOs are actively being involved in advocacy-related activities such as campaigning, lobbying, raising awareness; providing legal assistance to organizations and funding to organizations in support of good initiatives; technical assistance, and providing training and capacity building support in the areas of a wider range; networking opportunities between organizations and individuals. In Nepal, several CSOs, such as the Right to Food Network and Farmers Federation Group have been working on promoting food and nutrition security.

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, launched in 2010, is focused on reinforcing the commitments of world leaders to enhance the nutrition security of their countries and make them accountable. Nepal also expressed solidarity with the movement and became a SUN member country in 2010. It created a platform where CSOs came together from all over the world to act upon nutrition advocacy, develop an enabling environment, and support the global commitment to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The Civil Society Alliance for Nutrition Nepal (CSANN) established in 2014 is supported by the SUN movement. It is a network of CSOs working, directly and indirectly on nutrition-related agendas in Nepal. CSANN has its provincial chapters in all seven provinces and is responsible for planning, advocating, and implementing nutrition-sensitive interventions to improve the nutritional status of community people in their corresponding provinces. 

LANN+ and collaboration with CSANN

“Advocacy and strengthening resilience through LANN+ (Linking agriculture, natural resource management towards achieving nutrition security) project envisions strengthening a civil society network to raise the nutrition-related agendas at the national and international levels. The project provided an opportunity to collaborate with CSANN in achieving a common goal. As the first step in collaboration, the event “Karnali Province Level Learning and Sharing Workshop on Nutritional Status and Capacity building of Civil Society Network ” was held in Birendranagar, Surkhet from 28 to 29 March 2022. Considering Karnali Province’s low food and nutrition security index, the Karnali chapter’s capacity building was prioritized. The opening session of the programme was chaired by CSANN Karnali Province Chairman, Mr. Jagat KC and Mr. Anand Saaru, Chief Secretary of the Chief Minister’s Office, Karnali attended the programme as a Chief guest. The event highlighted global and national nutritional scenarios, the status of Multi-Stakeholder Nutrition Program II (MSNP II), and the role of stakeholders in nutrition-specific, and sensitive interventions. CSANN central committee members Dr. Uma Koirala, Dr. Atul Upadhaya, and Dr. Ojaswi Acharya participated in the programme as special guests. Similarly, Hari Khatri, Senior Officer of Karnali Province Planning Commission, Anita Gywali, Coordinator, Social Development Ministry, Women’s Development Division, LI-BIRD staff working in Surkhet, CSANN members of Karnali Province representing 7 districts, media agency, and LANN+ project representatives from Dhading and Salyan. In total, 55 participants were presented. 

Photo 2: Jagat KC, CSANN Karnali Province Chairperson, welcoming the chief guest Anand Saaru. Photo: Bijay Poudel, LI-BIRD

The second day of the event focused on the formulation of the CSANN action plan. Group discussions were done among the participants, based on leading questions on possible activities in alignment with SUN CSN’s strategic objectives such as civil society space, enabling civil society environment, network sustainability, and programme delivery. The action plan focused on monitoring ongoing programmes, capacity development of local groups, sharing and updating the progress amongst members, preparing IEC material and disseminating, media mobilization, and coordination with government agencies. In addition, informal interaction with local leaders of Karnali Province was also held. It was evident that even though they had an understanding of the importance of the nutrition agenda, its prioritization was lacking due to limited knowledge and the complexity of the issue. This can be one of the areas for Civil societies like CSANN to advocate. 

Photo 3: Group discussions to prioritize the action plan. Photo: Chetan Bhattarai, LI-BIRD

Since the inception of CSANN, this programme has been the first of its kind (focused on sensitizing and capacity building of network members). The CSANN and its provincial chapters should prioritize the capacity building of its members for greater impact. CSANN is committed to materializing the action plan prepared in the event and in the process by coordinating with concerned international and national agencies and ensuring their support and commitments through visible results. Furthermore, ongoing, and upcoming programmes/projects like LANN+ need to place Civil Society at the core to contribute to nutrition-related agendas.