© Pierre Holtz | UNICEF
© Pierre Holtz | UNICEF

This blog has been written by Tena Nevidal, a Volunteer Intern at RESULTS UK who is spending her time looking at the nutrition aid architecture.

Today, a study that evaluates DFID’s Contribution to Improving Nutrition was published by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). It focuses on DFID’s overall strategy in targeting undernutrition and the coherence of its nutrition portfolio, which currently consists of 114 projects. The report took account of all of these, but focused specifically on DFID’s programmes in Zambia and India, which ICAI researchers visited.

The main objective was to see whether DFID’s efforts are on the track to bring meaningful impact and improve the lives and future opportunities of children under the age of five that are under the threat of malnutrition.

ICAI used traffic lights to indicate its judgement of DFID’s objectives, delivery, impact, learning and overall success in its nutrition agenda.

Green: The programme performs well overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Some improvements are needed.

Green Amber: The programme performs relatively well overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Improvements should be made.

Amber Red: The programme performs relatively poorly overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Significant improvements should be made.

Red: The programme performs poorly overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money. Immediate and major changes need to be made.

Overall, DFID’s actions have been rated Green-Amber, with its objectives, delivery and learning falling into this category. However, the closest indicator of how these projects affect people on the ground – impact, is lagging behind on Amber-Red. This grade leaves more than enough room for recommendations and ICAI presented the following five:

1: “DFID should make long-term commitments to maintain the pace and scale of its nutrition investments through its country programmes.”

DFID has been a leading figure in generating a focus on nutrition aid among global donors, as well as one of the biggest contributors to nutrition aid funding. However, the funding gap in nutrition sector is still estimated to be at 9.6 billion dollars annually (The Lancet 2013).

2: “DFID should implement nutrition interventions which will have the greatest impact on stunting and cognitive development.”

During their visits to India and Zambia, ICAI researches noted that “although DFID’s work is generally based on sound evidence, its projects do not always focus on the mix of interventions for the greatest impact on stunting.” Since stunting is a symptom of malnutrition with the most severe consequences for physical and cognitive development of a child, DFID should review its approach to prioritize targeting it.

3: “DFID should ensure that its interventions target better the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable mothers and children.”

Although the distribution of nutrients considerably relies on the efforts of domestic governments, more needs to be done to ensure that the most vulnerable parts of population, such as those that often migrate for work and those that live in remote areas, also get the nutrients they need for a healthy and active life.

4: “DFID should work with partners globally and in developing countries to ensure systems are in place to measure the impacts of its programmes.”

This recommendation takes into account the difficulty of measuring the impact of tackling stunting, as measuring children under two years of age is difficult without special training. It is in the same time necessary to have those evaluations as there can always be better interventions developed if there is a base of data to draw from.

5: “DFID should actively explore ways in which to engage the private sector in reducing undernutrition.”

Considering the daunting funding gap that nutrition is looking at, attracting new funds remains at the top of the list of priorities.

Finally, DFID has been a leading figure in generating focus on nutrition aid among global donors, as well as one of the biggest contributors to nutrition aid funding. DFID’s objectives are informed by sound research and its scale of action is good and consists of a balanced proportion of nutrition specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. ICAI researchers expect DFID to “exceed its target of reaching 20 million under-five children by 2015.”

Even with completing that target, there is still a long way to go. But with a better monitoring system that would help identify more effective stunting interventions and with overcoming obstacles of delivering nutrients to the most vulnerable, DFID would certainly keep making meaningful steps on the way from attacking malnutrition, to controlling it and finally overcoming.