Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

News and notes

Economic recession, adjustment policies, and nutrition
First regional ECSA food and nutrition training course on maternal and child nutrition to be held in Zimbabwe
The impact of agricultural and food supply policies on nutrition and health status
EUROFOODS meeting in Warsaw, 24-27 May 1987
INFOODS food composition data base server
Formation of a UNU/SCN-sponsored International Dietary Energy Consultancy Group (IDECG)
Brief reviews


Economic recession, adjustment policies, and nutrition

The ACC Sub-committee on Nutrition (ACC/SCN) held a symposium on "Economic Recession, Adjustment Policies and Nutrition" at its twelfth session at the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo on 7 and 8 April 1986. Dr. Abraham Horwitz (PAHO) was the chairman and Mr. D. J. Shaw (WFP) was rapporteur. The proceedings of the symposium will appear as a special issue of the UNU Food and Nutrition Bulletin.

Papers were presented by Dr. Per Pinstrup Andersen, Programme Director at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Dr. Alan Tait, Deputy Director of Fiscal Affairs at the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Dr. Slomo Reutlinger, Senior Economist, the World Bank; and Dr. Richard Jolly, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), UNICEF. The symposium was attended by senior officals from other United Nations organizations, including UNDP, ILO, FAO, UNEP, WHO, WPRO, IFAD, and WFP; from bilateral agencies and ministries in Australia, China, Denmark, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States; and by distinguished scientists and academicians from Canada, Japan, and the United States.

In view of the serious effects of the recession and of certain associated economic adjustment measures on the nutritional status of the poor in developing countries, the ACC/SCN decided that a statement should be made to the ACC requesting that certain actions should be taken to address this adverse and avoidable outcome.

The conclusions reached at the symposium are as follows:

Many developing countries have experienced severe economic crises since the early 1970s. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the poverty and nutrition situation, already bad, has deteriorated further in many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. In many instances, per capita incomes have fallen and public expenditure on health, education, and other basic services has been cut. Various types of structural adjustment policies have been implemented in attempts to deal with the economic crises. Where adjustment measures have been necessary—which may, in a number of ways, have helped the poor—one of their primary purposes has been to restore the foreign exchange balance, with little or no consideration for the deterioration of the nutritional conditions of the poor, Even if the eventual effects of successful economic adjustments are beneficial to nutrition, the short-term effects of a number of the policy measures may be to cause irreversible damage to nutrition and human capital. The absolute poor are especially affected, because they are already living on the margin, with few resources to carry them over until longer-term benefits materialize. The symposium was concerned both with preventing damage from short-term adjustment policies and with ensuring that subsequent economic development be designed to produce sustained improvements in nutrition.

Despite the urgency of the situation, governments in many developing countries, international aid organizations, and donor countries have given insufficient attention to this nutritional problem. There are various reasons for this. In formulating and implementing structural adjustment policies, day-to-day pressures regarding the many economic and political issues make it difficult to take account of possible adverse consequences on the nutritional status of the poor. Conventional thinking and current orthodox approaches to economic development and development assistance, with a lack of data and a clear understanding of what to do, as well as limited staff and time, have resulted in insufficient attention being given to the problems of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.

The symposium felt an urgent need to draw attention to the magnitude of this problem, and to the pressing need for taking effective and immediate action to address the nutritional consequences of both the economic crisis itself and associated adjustment policies. A broader approach to adjustment policies— incorporating concerns for the nutrition of the poor—should start with a clear acknowledgement of the need for, and a commitment to protect, a minimum level of nutrition. Over the past year, new recognition has been given to the need for more growth-oriented adjustment. This is an important step forward, but there is still need to include explicit attention to nutrition and other basic needs in this process.

It is clearly recognized that most of the nutritional problems of the poor are caused by their poverty. These problems cannot be solved only through welfare and relief measures, although such measures are likely to be needed in mitigating the short-term effects of structural adjustment. Nutritional considerations must form an integral part of macro-economic adjustment policies and programmes for growth with equity, and compensatory measures for the poor must be introduced over the transitional period during which such measures can take effect.

Serious obstacles in developing countries to designing and implementing adjustment policies and programmes that incorporate nutritional concerns for the poor were identified. These obstacles include: limited administrative and managerial skills which restrict the capacity of countries to undertake such measures; the need to increase cost-effectiveness in the use of scarce resources, which might be brought about, among other things, through greater community participation; and problems of targeting programmes of assistance to those who need them most. The symposium focused especially on the need to avoid, or at least to ameliorate, those effects that are likely to be detrimental to the nutritional status of the poor, and in future to build as fully as possible on the potential of adjustment measures for bringing about long-term prevention of hunger and malnutrition.

There are no blanket prescriptions for overcoming these problems; policies and programmes must be designed on a country-specific basis. None the less, the following general types of measures were considered particularly important in affecting nutrition, and should explicitly include nutritional objectives:

(a) measures affecting productivity and earning capacity;
(b) income support through targeted transfers or subsidies;
(c) policies and programmes to strengthen national and local food security;
(d) price policies (particularly for food prices) that take account of effects on both producers and consumers; and
(e) safeguarding and extending basic healthcare delivery systems.

Enough is known, on the basis of common observation, to recognize that the problem is real and that action for the poor needs to be taken, but better information is essential both to refine understanding of the problem and to target action more effectively. Data on the poor and their nutritional status are often inadequate. Too little is known about the specific effects adjustment policies are having on the poor and their basic needs. In order to include nutritional objectives in adjustment policies, better country-specific information on nutrition is often required.

A system should be developed for monitoring the nutrition of the poor during the process of adjustment and also to allow timely compensatory action or modification of policies. There is a need to supplement data on inflation, balance of payments, and economic growth with up-to-date information on nutrition, household food security, and human growth. The proportion of a nation's households falling below some basic poverty line should also be monitored and treated as a sensitive indicator of the effects of adjustment policies on the poor. Consideration should be given to making funds available as part of adjustment financing for collecting and analysing the necessary data.

The symposium considered carefully priorities for implementing these nutritional concerns in economic adjustment policies. Governments in developing countries, international aid organizations and donor countries must play a role, individually and collectively, in taking into account more effectively the nutritional concerns of the poor in the context of macro-economic adjustment policies and programmes. The most necessary and urgent steps, as considered by the symposium, are summarized below.

Actions within the purview of governments in developing countries, suggested in order of priority, were:

— to acknowledge explicitly the objectives of improving or protecting the nutritional status of the poor within their adjustment policies;
— to support measures to protect and, if possible, to increase the production, employment, and incomes of low-income groups;
— to monitor the effects of price increases on the food consumption and nutritional status of the poor and undertake cost-effective measures to avoid adverse effects;
— to restructure the health, water, and education sectors with particular emphasis on low-cost measures, basic primary education, and primary health care;
— to improve administrative and management capacity and institutional arrangements to address the nutritional concerns of the poor;
— to supplement national economic data with indicators on socio-economic and nutritional status.

Within their respective mandates, international aid organizations and donor countries should give particular attention to the following areas of activity:

1. All United Nations organizations and donor countries concerned directly and indirectly with the adjustment process in developing countries should explore how they could help enhance nutritional benefits and avoid negative consequences of these policies.

2. The heads of the United Nations organizations and donor agencies concerned should review their continuing and prospective programmes of assistance with a view explicitly to considering their benefits for the nutrition of the poor in developing countries.

3. Increased financial assistance, on a more flexible basis, should be provided to assist countries to take account of nutritional concerns in adjustment policies. In the short run, financial and food aid should be provided as compensatory assistance during the transition period while adjustment policies are implemented; in the longer run, financial, food, and technical assistance should be considered to offset possible costs associated with meeting nutritional objectives through economic development policies.

4. Particular attention should be given to providing appropriate financial and technical assistance for improving the administrative and institutional capacity of developing countries for designing and implementing nutrition improvement programmes for the poor within the context of macro-economic adjustment policies.

5. Financial and technical support should be provided to help developing countries improve their data bases and to monitor the nutritional status of the poor, especially during the adjustment process.

6. Greater use should be made of national and international non-governmental organizations in view of their special advantages in having outreach to, and knowledge of, poor communities in developing countries.

7. The United Nations agencies concerned should strengthen their co-operation through appropriate coordinating arrangements in order to improve the cohesiveness and consistency of their respective aid policies and programmes for improving the nutritional status of the poor during the adjustment process.


First regional ECSA food and nutrition training course on maternal and child nutrition to be held in Zimbabwe

Under the established network for Food and Nutrition Co-operation in the Eastern, Central, and Southern African (ECSA) region, a series of four in-service training courses will be held at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare, 12 January to 20 February 1987. The project of four courses is planned and implemented jointly by the University of Zimbabwe, Harare (Dr. B. G. Choto, Course Co-ordinator); the Ministry of Health, Department of National Nutrition, Harare (Mrs. J. Tagwireyi, Director); the ECSA Regional Training Committee, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Dr. T. N. Maletnlema, ECSA Nutrition Co-ordinator); and the international Course in Food Science and Nutrition, Wageningen, the Netherlands (Prof. J. G. A. J. Hautvast, Director). The courses are financially supported by the Royal Netherlands Government, the Swedish International Development Authority (SIDA), the United Nations University (UNU), and the International Course in Food Science and Nutrition (ICFSN).

The broad aim of the project is to improve the multisectoral functioning of participants in solving nutritional problems within the context of the specific course theme. Courses are primarily designed for presently employed, intermediate-level food and nutrition personnel. In implementing these courses, the project takes account of the priorities for national training needs and of existent regional resources. Additional courses are being prepared with the following themes:

1. Management of food and nutrition projects.
2. Proper food handling for improved nutrition.
3. Training and communication for food and nutrition officers.

Requirements for admission to a course are twofold: an '0' - level pass and no fewer than two years of relevant working experience in one of the fields of maternal and child nutrition, human nutrition, food science, community development, agriculture, education, health, etc. Candidates are expected to explain clearly on an application form how their work at home, after taking the course, will relate to the course theme.

For participants from ECSA-member countries, 20 fellowships will be made available. Applications for these fellowships should be made to a selection committee through the National Nutrition Unit of the ECSA-member countries. A limited number of additional places are available for suitable candidates provided that they attend with the sponsorship of other organizations; applicants are advised to write directly to the course co-ordinator.

Further information and application forms may be obtained by writing to one of the following:

Dr. B G. Choto, Course Co-ordinator, ECSA Food and Nutrition Training, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box A178, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe. Telex: 4152 univz zw.

International Course in Food Science and Nutrition, ECSA Food and Nutrition Training, Lawickse Allee 11, 6701 AN Wageningen, the Netherlands. Tel.: 31-8370-19040, ext. 241; telex: 45888 intas nl.


The impact of agricultural and food supply policies on nutrition and health status

In July 1982, the Food, Nutrition, and Poverty Programme of the United Nations University supported research designed to provide information to policy-makers and planners on various measures to increase food security for vulnerable groups in developing countries. The specific focus of the UNU project was to analyse the implications for nutrition and health status of at-risk populations of the particular choice of agricultural and food supply policies a government adopts. The project's principal success was in focusing attention on the actual problems involved in drawing direct linkages at the micro level (i.e. in terms of specific country experience) between agriculture and nutrition. The project produced a series of 13 research reports that represent useful additions to the collective knowledge on this subject. These reports are summarized in The Impact of Agricultural and Food Supply Policies on Nutrition and Health Status, copies of which are available without charge from the Cambridge Programme Office of the United Nations University, c/o MIT, E38-756, 292 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


EUROFOODS meeting in Warsaw,
24-27 May 1987

The next EUROFOODS meeting will be held at the National Food and Nutrition Institute in Warsaw, Poland, from 24 to 27 May 1987, immediately after the Fifth European Nutrition Conference. The scientific programme will include reports of the various activities of EUROFOODS, plenary lectures, and workshops on topical problems related to nutrient data banks in Europe.

For further details contact either the Co-ordinator of EUROFOODS, Dr. C. E. West, Department of Human Nutrition, Agricultural University, De Dreijen 12, 6703 BC Wageningen, the Netherlands (tel: 31-8370-82589; telex: 45015 blhwg nl) or the Chairman of the local organizing committee, Professor W. Szostak, National Food and Nutrition Institute, ul. Powsinska 61/63, 02-903 Warszawa, Poland (tel.: 48-22-420571).


INFOODS food composition data base server

The INFOODS Secretariat based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, has begun work on an experimental data base server centred on one of the MIT computers. Initially, it will make available current food composition data of the US Department of Agriculture. This data base server will respond, unattended, to requests for data and other information, sending responses back over a computer network. It is planned to be initially accessible over the BITNET/ NETNORTH/EARN network, although the Secretariat is investigating other options. We expect to run the server as a service experiment for at least the balance of the calendar year.

Users of the BITNET/NETNORTH/EARN network who are interested in the data base server and its use should send a file as MAIL or as a NOTE, or a standard file to INFOODS on MITVA, containing a single line with the word "help" in it. The server will send back a file describing the facilities available and how to use them.

A detailed description of the system is being developed in a series of working documents, which can be obtained on request by anyone having a computer with access to BITNET by writing to INFOODS, 20A-226, 18 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Formation of a UNU/SCN-sponsored International Dietary Energy Consultancy Group (IDECG)

With the joint initiative of the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS), 15 persons interested in human energy metabolism met in Geneva on 3 September 1986 to found an International Dietary Energy Consultancy Group (IDECG).

The objectives of IDECG are:

1. The compilation and interpretation of relevant research data on the functional consequences of changes in dietary energy intake.
2. The identification of related research priorities and needs.
3. The publication of policy statements and other information on the significance of chronic deficiencies and excesses of dietary energy.
4. The identification of practical means of corrective action.
5. The promotion of corrective action among target groups

In order to meet these objectives, IDECG will seek to bring together scientists engaged in relevant research with representatives of international organizations concerned with the problem, of bilateral agencies and foundations, and of governments interested in relevant policy actions. It will develop summaries and policy recommendations, identify critical gaps in knowledge, promote needed research, seek to expand awareness of the problem among policy-makers, and propose specific action programmes.

The Nestlé Foundation and B. Schürch have agreed to serve as the secretariat and secretary respectively. An interim executive committee consisting of N. S. Scrimshaw (UNU), J. G. A. J. Hautvast (IUNS) and B. Schürch was established, which will later also include representatives of FAO, WHO and other interested organizations, and will become the group's steering committee, call on technical advisers, appoint task forces, commission reviews, and take other measures deemed appropriate to deal with problems of high priority.

Three such problems of high priority, identified at the foundation meeting, are:

1. The physiological and behavioural consequences of chronic energy deficiency.
2. The social and economic consequences of energy deficiency.
3. The significance of environmentally induced small stature.


Brief reviews

Publications of the International Agricultural Research and Development Centers. 1985 ed. International Rice Research Institute, P.O. Box 933, Manila, Philippines, 1985. 691 pp. Paperback. Philippines, P80.35 (includes surface mail and handling); other countries, US$10.20 (includes airmail postage and handling).

The International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs) focus modern agricultural research on the crops and livestock that provide 75 per cent of the food for developing nations. The centres are major publishers of books, periodicals, slide sets, films, and other educational materials on agricultural science and technology for developing nations.

The third exhibition of Publications of the International Agricultural Research and Development Centers was held at the 1985 Frankfurt Book Fair, featuring about 1,200 titles published by 13 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), eight other IARCs, the Board on Science and Technology for International Development (BOSTID) of the US National Academy of Sciences, and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) published this 691-page catalogue for distribution at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and is handling its worldwide distribution. The catalogue is the only compilation of the major publications of all IARCs, GTZ, and BOSTID. Included is a description of each publication, prices, and ordering instructions.

An in-depth index (162 pages) helps the reader to locate all publications in certain fields (i.e. cytogenetics, insect resistance, or maize).

This catalogue is a must for libraries and organizations with an interest in global agricultural improvement.

The publications of the following CGIAR-supported centres and organizations are featured in the catalogue: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR ), 1818 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20433, USA; Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Apartedo Aereo 6713, Cali, Colombia; Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP), Apartado 5969, Lima, Peru; Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maize y Trigo (CIMMYT), Lourdes 40, Mexico 6, D.F., Mexico; International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR), Crop Ecology and Genetic Resources Unit, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), P.O. Box 114/5055, Aleppo, Syria; International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, P.O. Andhra Pradesh 502 324, India; and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036, USA.

Rice Grain Quality and Marketing. International Rice Research Institute, P.O. Box 933, Manila, Philippines, 1986. 76 pp. Paperback. US$5.00 plus airmail ($4.00) or surface mail ($1.00) postage.

Grain quality becomes increasingly important as more Asian countries become self-sufficient in rice and look toward export markets for selling surpluses. Although production, harvesting, and post-harvest operations affect the quality of milled rice, the variety remains the most important determinant of market quality. Consumers favour certain varieties and value specific appearances and tastes of milled rice for home cooking.

Recognizing that markets are most responsive to high-quality rice, planners of the 1985 International Rice Research Conference, held from 1 to 5 June at IRRI, included a half-day session on grain quality and marketing. Presentations covered the status of rice quality in world and domestic markets, consumer demand for rices with certain physical and chemical characteristics, effects of environment and variety on milling quality, and breeding for rices of excellent processing, cooking, and eating qualities.

Participants also discussed priority problem areas in rice breeding for market quality. Recommendations stress research needs in milling quality and consumer preferences.

Rice Grain Quality and Marketing includes the papers and recommendations of that meeting.

Contents - Previous - Next