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International Congress of Nutrition '09

The International Congress of Nutrition (ICN 09) was held in Bangkok from October 4 - 9. The theme this year was Nutrition Security for All, which is why WFP sent a delegation of experts to contribute our ideas and experience in this field. Delegation member Tanuja Rastogi sent the following reports from the congress.

10/09/2009 - 11:11
Students And Teachers, Nutrition
WFP Nutrition Coordinator Tanuja Rastogi reporting from the International Congress of Nutrition (ICN 09) in Bangkok.

Moderated by Tufts University Professor Patrick Webb, the session’s panelists  (WFP’s Martin Bloem, IFPRI’s Marie Ruel and Lesley Drake of Deworm the World) heralded new energy and fresh perspective on social safety net programs as integral parts of the solution - while helping to bridge the fields of nutrition and school feeding. 

Sparked by the current financial crisis, safety net programs are gaining global attention and featured prominently in the G8 and G20 Summits. They can be unique opportunities to impact child undernutrition.   

Nutritionally Energized 

As the week wound down, WFP reps gathered in a loud but comfortable café across from the exhibition hall to share knowledge and reflect on new opportunities. Mihoko Tamamura, WFP India Country Director knows about child undernutrition.   One-third of the world’s undernourished children live in India and she’s actively involved in the country’s efforts to reduce the burden. 

Energized by sessions, she reflected on WFP’s nutrition agenda, “ I feel we are on the right track on nutrition and, also, feel validated that the India CO is not alone in our approaches.”   Understanding the importance of partnerships, Mihoko developed new connections with civil society, leading Indian experts and several potential private sector partners this week.    

Strengthen work

Similarly Monira Parveen, Head of nutrition in WFP’s Bangladesh country office, connected with many of her nutrition counterparts to “clarify understanding over targeting beneficiary populations”.   She came to the ICN to share findings from Bangladesh on the impact of high food prices on the nutritional status of under-five children to the global community.  Tapping into the international network of leading nutrition experts, she goes away immensely excited on how she can strengthen her work. 

After leaving the café, I reflected on how to expand what we have learned beyond that table – sharing this common understanding on nutrition and renewed energy is a priority.   

Nutritionists stand with WFP 

In a touching moment of silence, ICN coordinator, Dr. Kraisid Tontisirin asked the audience of a nearly 2000 nutritionists to stand in solidarity with WFP as we mourn the loss of our colleagues in Pakistan.  

The enormous plenary hall fell silent as the audience who gathered for the ICN closing session rose up.   Dr. Tontinsirin's  words resonated across the hall, “this was not only a loss for WFP.”  It was quite clear that this was one family who shared a belief in the need to improve the lives of millions less fortunate than ourselves.   


Leading minds in nutrition and school feeding took center stage at WFP’s spotlight session to ask, "How do we ensure children's access to quality foods?" Social safety net programs are part of the answer.

10/07/2009 - 08:34
WFP Nutrition Coordinator Tanuja Rastogi reporting from ICN 09 in Bangkok.

The nutrition community knows the science of “what” causes malnutrition.  It is now beginning to shift some of its focus onto the “how” - the science of delivering the best possible nutrition to those most in need.

Logistics and nutrition

Two years ago I sat in a land cruiser crossing the barren landscape of western Sudan, with WFP’s Darfur coordinator Pablo Recalde.   As we drove, he told me about the daily challenges of providing food to people in dire need and living in refugee camps. 

Today, I am sitting with the same person, a leading logistician, who is now Country Director in Zambia. We’re talking about nutrition.  Pablo said that WFP is “retooling” and, as it changes the way it does business, it needs to adapt and use new approaches to address hunger and nutrition challenges. 

Enter WFP

A group of WFP staff from around the globe - India, Sudan, Senegal, Rome, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and Egypt – gathered this morning in an empty side-room. They were eager to discuss the latest global thinking on nutrition. They all want one thing - to translate knowledge from the world’s leading nutrition experts into actions that improve their work and have a real impact.

They also bring invaluable field perspectives and “reverse-lens approaches” that are so essential in developing effective nutrition programs on the ground.  Perhaps, together, these groups can strengthen the budding new field of nutrition delivery science.  

Centre of gravity

This week, the WFP booth in the ICN exhibit hall has become the centre of gravity for the WFP family, our colleagues and friends.  We use this small space to regroup, connect, network, and share what we are learning.  Some stop by for information on what we do and how we do it, while others come to see old friends.  Many have passed by to pay their respects to our colleagues killed earlier this week in Islamabad and to express outrage and sadness for what has happened.  

Thanks to everyone who has supported us during this tragic moment.

WFP, today, is crossing paths with the international nutrition community that urgently needs to hear our voice, understand our challenges, and know our requirements.

10/06/2009 - 19:18
Aid professionals, Nutrition
WFP Nutrition Coordinator Tanuja Rastogi reporting from ICN 09 in Bangkok.

A nutrition economist with over 30 years of experience, Bea's response summarized the theme of this year’s ICN perfectly, “the focus is now on the how”.

In session after session I attended today, the same “how” questions were being discussed, vetted and dissected.  How do we make an impact?  For example, “MANA” - a multi-sector food and nutrition program in Columbia - found that strong leadership and good management were essential factors in the program’s success and, therefore, real levers to impact child undernutrition. 

Sachets of protein

Dr. Tina van den Briel, Chief of WFP Nutrition Programs, described how new nutritionally fortified food products are being used more and more to reduce child undernutrition.  She recounted a presentation by researchers from China who distributed small sachets of soy protein and micronutrient fortified powders to children after last year’s devastating earthquake.  The results were  “spectacular”,  she said,  with dramatic reductions in anemia over a three-month period.   

Exciting news, indeed, particularly as Tina has worked so hard over the past few years to enrich the nutrition quality of WFP’s food basket.  WFP’s nutrition improvement strategy affirms the organization's commitment to “feed better foods” particularly to children under two.  It emphasizes the importance of providing the right foods to the right people – which includes products such as ready-to-use foods and micronutrient sprinkles, similar to the ones used in China. 

Huge strides with the private sector 

By looking inside the very large ICN Exhibit hall, it's clear the private sector has made huge strides in the nutrition world.  Less than 20 years ago, nutritionists boycotted the ICN in Adelaide, Australia over the presence of multinational firms.  Today, you are greeted by lively “stations” straight out of an industry fair hosted by Unilever, Pepsico, DSM, Danone, to name a few.  

The participation of many of these private sector companies at the ICN however is not limited to the exhibit hall. Many are increasingly being viewed and - view themselves - as real players in the global fight against malnutrition.  Paulus Verschuren, Director of Partnerships at Unilever, expressed his group's interest in early child nutrition and in exploring “how our brands can help child health”.   As well, just this morning, Pepsico hosted a breakfast symposium on undernutrition with leading experts from the Gates Foundation, Save the Children, GAIN and Valid International, all sitting along side Pepsi reseachers and discussing new approaches to address global child undernutrition. 

Sophisticated dialogue

What has emerged in recent years, according to international nutrition expert Professor Ian Darnton-Hill, is a “far more civil and sophisticated dialogue” between the nutrition world and private sector companies.  Ian cites the success of fortification efforts as helping foster this change and the recognition of the importance of partnerships.   A “new paradigm is needed and welcomed”, he concludes, as he reflects on the minuscule  reduction of global child undernutrition over the past 20 years. 

What makes you feel optimistic about the field of nutrition today? I asked this question to a few people today. Bea Rogers, Professor at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, leaned over to discuss her thoughts as we sat in a session on “building better nutrition programs”.

Yes We Will!
10/05/2009 - 16:07
WFP Nutrition Coordinator Tanuja Rastogi reporting from ICN 09 in Bangkok.

Gathered in the modern BITEC conference facility on the outskirts of Bangkok, and clearly inspired by another President many oceans away, his words reflected the spirit of most conversations I heard today.   His call to action was clear – translate knowledge into action and go beyond the science of "what to do" to fight child malnutrition to focus on the “how to do (it)” .  The “how”, he said, requires joining forces with those outside the nutrition community – economists, leaders, politicians.

Seize the moment

“Seize the moment to take the world down a path where undernutrition does not exist.” In a particularly impassioned plea, Dr. Tadataka Yamada, President of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recalled holding a baby breathing an astonishing 150 breaths minutes in a rural Mozambique hospital. 

A physician, Yamada briefly imitated the rapid breathing, explaining how it was the biological response of severely malnourished baby also afflicted with malaria attempting to obtain enough oxygen to survive.   Though millions suffer from malaria, those who are malnourished, like the child he held, are the ones who are least likely to survive.   Adequate nutrition is essential.

Reduced malnutrition

After the morning session, Martin Bloem, Chief of WFP Nutrition Policy, and I sat in the corridors and talked about how symbolic it is that this year’s ICN - which focuses on “Nutrition Security for All”  - is being held in Thailand.   This is a country, he said, that dramatically reduced malnutrition rates in the 1980s to 1990s as a result of leadership that helped transform a nation.  He was referring to the leadership of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who also attended the ICN, in addressing child nutrition. 

The determined efforts of a generation of nutrition scientists trained in the 1970s, such as the ICN Chair Professor Kraisid Tontisirin, helped change history for the better in this country.   How interesting that the overriding message from this ICN comes from outside the BITEC conference center as well as inside.

Tragic news

Though the ICN was what we came here for today, it was the tragic news of the bombing of the WFP offices in Pakistan and the death of our colleagues that remains most on our minds tonight. Shocked and saddened, we poured over our Blackberries and news reports to hear the latest reports. 

One WFP staff member attending the Congress – Pablo Recalde from the Zambia country office – had an inspiring and touching message for the rest of us. He said we must continue our meetings here despite the shocking news. “Let us not forget that many have paid a huge price for what we have now,” he said. 


Ricardo Uauy, President of the International Union of Nutrition Sciences, urged over 4,000 of the world's leading nutrition experts from 100 nations attending the Congress to move one step further in their battle against global malnutrition today with a 'Yes we can' and 'Yes we will' attitude.