The Ethiopian Way

Countries and societies differ in the way of doing things. I am sharing two such observations from Ethiopia where I attended the Academy Week on Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (#ANH2016).

Out of the many interesting sessions, one was on “How Research can Support Policy in Agriculture for Nutrition and Health in Africa” chaired by John McDermott. The session included representatives from African Union, Ministry of Health (Ethiopia), National Food and Nutrition Commission (Zambia) and Dr. Namukolo Covic from IFPRI.

The first observation that surprised me; Ethiopia has had a National Nutrition Strategy and Programme since 2008. Led by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), the program has enabled nutrition planning across different Ministries and sectors. I am not sure as to what extent we can credit this initiative for the decline in prevalence of undernutrition from 56% in the year 2000 to 35% in 2014; but the session elucidated the difficulties that policy-makers face in translating research to workable solutions.

First, the panel highlighted the importance of sensitising policy-makers about the implications of undernutrition using clear parameters, i.e. ‘what is the urgency for nutrition sensitive policies’. Second, research evidences are not often the reason for policy change, but it is the timing for policy advocacy that matters. Third, the economics of the policy, what costs will it entail. And finally, policy changes are often influenced by perceptions and demand of the electorate.

What do these four points mean for researchers? First of all, is the need to clearly highlight the impact of undernutrition on comprehendible macro level indicators (like loss to GDP, demographic dividend etc). Second, to track the policy processes i.e. to create engagement platforms for policymakers. Third, the financial implication which means more information on feasibility of an intended policy change. And last, researchers also need to highlight the policy components that can easily connect to people.

These were few important efforts that could have played a key role in the conception of National Nutrition Programme for Ethiopia and its sustained continuation.

Recently in India, it was reported that Ms Maneka Gandhi (Minister for Women and Child Development, Government of India) wrote a letter to Mr. R.V Paswan (Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Government of India) to include millets in Public Distribution System (PDS) for its nutritional benefits. Introduction of millets in the PDS is already provided for under the National Food Security Act. The existences of a multi-ministerial platform for tackling undernutrition like in Ethiopia, would I feel have eased implementation of such initiatives.

The plenary round table on 'How research can support policy in agriculture for nutrition and health in Africa' at ANH2016

The other observation was during my last few hours in Ethiopia when I realised that the date in Ethiopia does not change at midnight but on sunrise; i.e. 00:00am is not midnight as under global standard time but six hours later in the early morning! This unconventional way of changing date makes sense, but for four days I was unable to understand why clocks in Ethiopia were showing the wrong time. Once the realisation struck me, I thought it was quite novel and wondered if there are other countries that do likewise!

These were two different ways of doing things by Ethiopians. While, adoption of the second can make day to day life complex across time zones, the first can certainly help in solving the complex problem of malnutrition.


By Rohit Parasar, Senior Research Fellow at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), India, who works on the Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA) programme.

This blog is cross-posted and originally appeared here.

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