Shaping the global nutrition agenda: Are we listening to local voices?

UN REACHby Mary Manandhar, International Facilitator, UN REACH Bangladesh

In November, two major global events in Rome will shine the spotlight on nutrition and the high burden of undernutrition faced by many countries. These events are the SUN Global Gathering and the Inter-Governmental Conference on Nutrition, ICN2.

What will we hear at these events? We’ll probably hear a lot about: situation analyses, capacity and coverage gap assessments, stakeholder mapping, indicator dashboards, investment plans, sectoral plans, multisectoral plans, data of every description, monitoring reports, nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, and building an enabling environment. We’ll hear about Communities of Practice, a Rome Declaration, pledges by Heads of State and Ministers, researchers and activists, and maybe even a few arguments about conflicts of interest and a new UN Agency dedicated to nutrition.

But are we in danger of forgetting something – keeping fully connected with the realities on the ground? Will the voices of those people most affected also be heard? What is their understanding of the underlying causes of undernutrition in their contexts? Have we heard enough about that and brought it into the debate for solutions?

Photos: REACH/Al Reffell

Photos: REACH/Al Reffell

In Satkhira District in south-west Bangladesh, we recently tried Participatory Video (PV) as a way of bringing the real voices of people to the attention of policy makers and programmers, engaging their attention and their emotions too. PV is a set of techniques that involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film. It is now being used in many areas of development such as climate change and farming, housing, indigenous peoples’ rights to land and water, adolescent girls for change, social exclusion and safe motherhood. A good place to learn more about PV is the InsightShare website.

Our film, called “Understanding Nutrition”, used many PV techniques to highlight the complex underlying causes of undernutrition. In local peoples’ own voices, aspects of community and household life are described to illustrate the context of undernutrition in their area. The film captures stories about how different aspects of peoples’ lives impact on their nutritional status.

We are using our film in different ways in Bangladesh to stimulate debate and generate interest at different levels. The first viewers of the film were the community film makers themselves: one of them said, “This shows our everything, our reality”. At a screening to a large group of Joint Secretaries across government ministries, one of them said, “This gets to the core of our society.” After most screenings, good discussion follows around how to build action for more partnership and effective collaboration on undernutrition.


We welcome any comments and feedback on the film, as well as any information about PV being used elsewhere in the field of nutrition.

We also hope that this film can contribute to keeping it real for those soon making their way to global events in Rome.

Mary Manandhar is the International Facilitator for UN REACH in Bangladesh. This personal reflection is not intended as a comprehensive statement of UN REACH’s agreed policies or position. This post does not reflect the views or opinions of the United Nations, UN Secretary-General, or Zero Hunger Challenge.