International Literacy Day: Nutrition and Literacy, Two Lanes on the Same Highway to Sustained Development

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Reading and writing—they seem like very simple skills, don’t they? If you are reading this you have probably answered yes but 775 million people will disagree with you. These are the people that according to current global statistics lack minimum literacy skills.

September 8th is international day of literacy. It is a day that serves to remind the world about the importance of literacy, its status today and how that consequently affects our society.

Today there are 775 million adults in the world who cannot read or write and just one internet search will inform you of the detrimental consequences of this, and most will highlight the negative impact this has on sustainable development.

As of 2010 Malawi’s adult literacy rate was at 61.3% and the country has in the past few decades invested in adult literacy in hopes of increasing literacy figures and some progress has been made here and there. The sustainability of this progress is under threat and I will give the reasons in a moment.

First let me talk about the 2015 international literacy day theme which is “literacy and sustainable societies”. The aim of this theme as has been indicated on the UNESCO website is to show that ‘literacy is a key driver of sustainable development’. The key word here is ‘key’ just to re-emphasise the point.

This is what inspired me to express my thought on this subject matter and align it to another important subject matter: health and nutrition.

To sustain the progress we have made in Malawi towards increasing literacy, we must look at all angles but to go straight to my point I will say we must not neglect the role of nutrition in child literacy.

Photo taken by Krista Borja/Freelance Photographer

47% of children in Malawi are stunted due to malnutrition, and only one out of every three children with undernutrition are estimated to be receiving proper health attention.

Stunted children are more likely to drop out of school due to either frequent illness or inability to grasp class content as a result of poor intellectual comprehension which is also linked to malnutrition.

It is therefore critical to increase our attention on this issue. It is pleasing to note that Malawi is already heading into the right direction on the nutrition agenda. For Instance the scaling up nutrition movement was officially launched in Malawi in 2011 and the theme for the launch called for unity to end stunting.

Of course to promote child literacy in our context it is uncontestable that availability of teaching and learning resources is vital but addressing these alone is insufficient. Scaling up nutrition is also of utmost importance.

To scale up nutrition we must invest more. More of our effort and more of our resources both political and financial to ensure that nutrition is recognised as a powerful accelerator of children’s literacy.

Recently a group of Members of Parliament (MP’s) signed pledges to officially declare their commitment towards nutrition in their constituencies and also to champion nutrition nationally. This was a move initiated by the Civil Society Organisation Nutrition Alliance (CSONA).

The MP’s pledged to lobby for increased funding to nutrition to accelerate progress. This is also a step in the right direction.

What remains now is the sustained will and actions of everyone especially those in positions of influence to champion nutrition i.e. the media, health workers, local leaders etc.

At the Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013 Malawi promised to increase the allocation to nutrition in the national budget from 0.1% of total budget in 2013 to 0.3% by 2020. My question to all of us is: are we watching?


Written by Lindiwe Bandazi, Global Health Corps Advocacy Fellow-Health and Nutrition