Unlocking the potential of investments across nutrition relevant sectors
In response to a “Call of Interest” in January 2015, which sought to identify countries interested in accelerating their efforts to report on nutrition relevant budget allocations, there was an overwhelming response by SUN countries. Having reliable data is critical for policy makers to prioritise, plan and make informed decisions on resource allocation for nutrition in national budgets. It is here that governments make fundamental choices about spending for improved nutrition, which can lay the groundwork for the nation’s future.
Tracking nutrition relevant investments is not an end in itself but can help to bring stakeholders together to increase the performance and efficiency of budget allocations and spending. It can empower governments to make evidence based decisions on nutrition spending, inform the public and allow civil society advocates to engage in meaningful debate. However, the tremendous ongoing efforts in the SUN Movement related to coordination, development of policies and legislation and mobilisation of resources, are yet to fully translate into properly managed and monitored investments for scaling up nutrition.
Discussions on nutrition sensitive spending date back to the beginning of the SUN Movement, but it was acknowledged in 2012 that there was little knowledge of costing and tracking nutrition spending in national budgets. Throughout 2013, a literature review examined what could be done to track spending in countries and in 2014, online budget reviews were undertaken of 28 countries in the SUN Movement (from a total of then, 51 countries). It was acknowledged that the information would be limited but would provide a useful starting point.
The three step approach to budget analysis
A 3-step approach was identified as a quick and practical way to report on nutrition relevant allocations in national budgets.
The process includes:
- Step one – identifying nutrition relevant budget allocations through a key word search
- Step two – clearly assessing which budget allocations are specific to nutrition, which allocations are related to nutrition and those which are unrelated to nutrition
- Step three – attributing a weighting of the allocated budget to programs that are specific to nutrition (100%), such as a national nutrition program in the budget; and a reasonable allocation to programs that are related to nutrition (e.g. 25%), such as social safety net and early child development programs.
The method has limitations in that it is a useful exercise in transparency and a good starting point for looking at the weighting of nutrition sensitive programmes in the national budget, however, it is not a complete picture and cannot be used as a basis of comparison from country to country.
At the 2014 SUN Global Gathering, during a group session, Lawrence Haddad said: “This is the bedrock of accountability. This is also about guidance. Governments need to be able to see where money is being spent. Countries need comparable numbers over time. Don’t worry about cross-national comparisons – be transparent and put the information out publicly. Start somewhere.”
Ultimately, the exercise aims to:
- reach an estimate of the total budget relevant to nutrition across key sectors
- understand with key ministries how investments can improve their effectiveness and reach
- discuss how the findings can be used for advocacy
- and how this forms part of a wider effort to track financial resources.
Translating evidence in action
In order for SUN countries to have the right mix of interventions and programmes, all stakeholders must work together to build and sustain an enabling environment. In the absence of effective nutrition advocacy there is less impetus for stakeholders to ensure that nutrition-related services are provided – especially when there is a lack of political momentum and demand for action.
This initial budget analysis can help pave the way for Ministries that have identified investments related to nutrition in their portfolios to look at where investment can be improved. For those Ministries without nutrition investments, it can help to develop activities that will be complementary to their existing mandate. Parliamentarians can also play a key role in ensuring Ministries implementing pro-nutrition programmes receive their fair share of the budget and in monitoring the usage of funds. Civil Society can also better identify key opportunities to engage in budget processes, and where possible, take part in formal budget submissions and monitor spending.
- The capacity to track public financial resources depends on the country’s own Public Financial Management System (PFM)
- Start with something – don’t worry about perfection. Be transparent and put the information out publicly
- Look everywhere for nutrition spending: use this as an opportunity to dialogue with other sectors on their programmes
- Look at country-specific causes of malnutrition to see what should be included and tracked for nutrition-sensitive approaches
- It is important for countries to be able to look at comparable analyses over time in their own countries, and not worry about comparing with other countries
For further information on methodology, key milestones and upcoming budget analysis workshops in April, visit the budget analysis homepage.