Poor diets are the number one risk factor for morbidity and mortality globally. Furthermore, food systems now account for more than 30% of greenhouse gases. For those working in international development there is consensus that we must make food systems more nutritious and sustainable in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is also now well understood that focusing on improving access to nutritious foods for women, mothers, and girls is one of the most effective ways to transform communities and entire nations.
Despite this understanding on the need to improve the consumption of nutritious foods among women, mothers and girls, there remains a lack of relevant impact investments. In fact, investments to make food systems more nutritious in frontier markets are virtually non-existent – Less than 2% of the world’s impact investments are being channelled to improve food and nutrition in the countries which need them most and even fewer are being directed towards investments in foods which would improve the health of women and girls.
So why is there such a disconnect between a known need and the financing required to address it?
Over the last month, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has organised/co-organized four sessions aiming to address this question alongside diverse stakeholders, including high-impact nutrition entrepreneurs, key actors in the investment community, private sector leaders, and policy actors from government, civil society and international organisations.
Our primary takeaway from all sessions is that while the idea of investing in nutritious, sustainable foods for women and girls in frontier markets is well received by all audiences, translating this into practical action and investment requires at least four specific components.
What needs to be done to increase impact investing for nutrition?
1. To attract the capital needed to make a difference, we need a more compelling way to tell the ‘nutrition story’ and explain why healthy diets and nutrition are absolutely critical to both human and planetary health. Nicholas Kristof summarised the problem quite well explaining “Alas, the most boring word in the English language may be micronutrients.”
2. We need to define what is meant by ‘nutritious food’ and change the narrative from ‘quantity’ of food towards ‘quality.’ So often, impact investment metrics around agriculture are focused on volume, income generation and livelihoods. Where are the metrics for investing in nutritious, sustainable foods which will improve both agriculture and the health of women? At GAIN we are building a framework to identify food categories by three simple characterizations: 1) those that should be prioritized; 2) those that should be included only if they meet a specific set of criteria; and 3) those that should be fully excluded. Additionally, we are proposing new indicators to translate company outputs into nutrition outcomes. The results of this work can serve as a ‘toolkit’ for investors to adopt a nutrition-sensitive lens that will improve the health outcomes for girls and women.
3. We need a pipeline of nutritious, sustainable food system investment opportunities. One way to address this is by regularly engaging and surveying the drivers of the food systems in frontier markets, mainly agri-food small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This group produces, processes, packages and delivers more than 70% of food consumed. At GAIN, we work with over 500 SMEs in Africa. In 2018, we assessed the financing needs of 52 of them in Kenya and Tanzania. This is only a very small fraction of the total agri-food businesses in those two countries, but the preliminary estimates of investments needed to improve the delivery of nutritious foods from national companies in both countries could be around USD 5.7 billion.
4. We need more innovative financing instruments for deals that improve nutrition among women and girls in frontier markets. At GAIN we are currently raising a Nutritious Foods Financing Facility (N3F) which aims to invest $50 – 60M in SMEs in the Global South over the coming years. While this fund will only supply a fraction of the required investments needed globally, the N3F will demonstrate the impact this type of investment in nutritious foods can make.
Together, these four elements have the ability to make nutrition a more compelling theme for impact investors. This in turn will have a ripple effect, helping to attract significant new resources for a currently neglected area , leading to more nutritious, sustainable foods consumed by the women and girls who need them most.