The 2021 World Children’s Day was marked on November 20 under the theme A Better Future for Every Child and called on leaders to listen to the ideas and demands of children. Since 1990, World Children’s Day also marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and the Convention on children’s rights. The day is a moment for all of us to advocate, promote, and celebrate children’s rights and translate them into dialogues and actions to build a better world for children. As we continue to take bold actions to transform our food systems, we must ensure this transformation contributes to the welfare of children. Sustainable food systems must improve the nutritional status of children, particularly in the first 1000 days of their lives when proper nutrition is critical to children’s early development and impacts their future health and potential.
Ensuring proper nutrition in the first 1000 days requires concerted efforts between policy-makers, healthcare providers, and mothers. Policy-makers must ensure social protection measures are in place to support pregnant women and infants access proper nutrition. Healthcare providers have a critical role in educating mothers on proper nutrition while mothers are directly responsible for ensuring children get the required nutrients. More action is required in this area as the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2021 report indicates the “current rate of progress on child stunting, exclusive breastfeeding and low birthweight is insufficient.” Malnutrition in all its forms is still a challenge and SOFI 2021 estimates that stunting affected 22% (149.2 million) of children under 5 years, while 6.7% (45.4 million) were suffering from wasting and 5.7% (38.9 million) were overweight.
School feeding programmes are another means of ensuring children have access to proper nutrition. The School Meals Coalition emanating from the United Nations Food Systems Summit is a step in the right direction. The coalition will support governments and their partners to improve or restore national, sustainable school meal programmes, and strive for every child to have the opportunity to receive a healthy, nutritious meal in school by 2030. It is important that these programmes are also accompanied by nutrition education so that children can learn to make informed dietary choices as they grow up and have more autonomy on their feeding choices.
In addition to 12school feeding programmes, schools are an important access point in bringing children on board as key actors in food systems’ transformation. Agricultural education from an early age will help young people develop a more positive attitude towards agriculture and be proactive in developing solutions for food systems. School-based agricultural education (SBAE) is taking root in Sub-Saharan Africa and has enormous potential to empower young people as change agents in food systems as they are exposed to agricultural innovations from an early age.
We must harness these opportunities and heighten action to ensure the current efforts in food systems transformation are responsive to the needs of children and deliver healthy, affordable, and accessible diets. This requires greater collaboration, coordination and strengthening synergies by all actors at the local, national, regional and global levels. Together, we can ensure a better future for every child through agriculture and proper nutrition. Let us develop nurturing food and agricultural systems for our future leaders to enjoy a brighter tomorrow today.