20 Nov 2023

Sir Chris Hohn at the Global Food Security Summit

Full text of Chris Hohn's speech at the opening plenary

Thank you to the UK Government and Minister Mitchell for bringing us together today.

I founded the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) 20 years ago to serve the world’s most impoverished children.

Malnutrition is the biggest and most deadly condition which these children suffer from.

45% or nearly one in two under 5 child deaths are directly and indirectly due to malnutrition. Deaths attributed to many other illnesses would not occur except due to weakened immune systems due to malnutrition.  A study by the Gates Foundation showed that a 30% case fatality rate for pneumonia fell to 0.3% when cases of malnutrition and pneumonia were excluded. So the true scale of the impact of malnutrition is massively underestimated.

More than 45 million children worldwide suffer from wasting  – a deadly form of malnutrition.  In addition, chronic malnutrition also leads to widespread stunting in low income countries where as much as a third or a half of children are physically and mentally stunted harming them for life.

Climate change is making the problem of malnutrition worse every year. In many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East (as well as in higher income countries) the soils are drying out due to structural drought exacerbated by extreme weather and unpredictable seasons. This is continuously driving up the price of food so that often in Africa people are forced to barely survive by eating only one meal per day.

In low income countries this is creating millions of desperate climate change migrants and refugees which are being displaced and suffer malnutrition as their lands become less and less capable of supporting agriculture.  So supporting aggressive action against climate change is one of the most important long term strategies against malnutrition.  This is why CIFF is one of the world’s largest funders on climate change – spending $250 m each year on climate change related grants -but governments everywhere need to step up now and do more to tackle the climate emergency before it is too late.

To address malnutrition there are proven solutions which are very cheap and save lives. We must both treat and prevent malnutrition – it is not either or.

On prevention we must go to the root causes of malnutrition, key strategies include making contraceptives available for all unmet need – there are an estimated 1 in 2 or 30 m unplanned pregnancies each year in Africa alone.  In addition for prevention of malnutrition we need to stop the scourge of child marriage through keeping girls in secondary school, ensure that  pregnant mothers have adequate nutrition and micronutrients, and support agricultural productivity.

For treatment therapeutic food (RUTF) – think of it as a fortified protein bar with micronutrients – is a proven intervention for severe acute malnutrition.  At a cost of only $50 for the product for a course of treatment it will cure severe malnutrition and save a child’s life.  A variation of this product called SQLNS is a game changing product that recent evidence has proven that it works very effectively for children with moderate malnutrition for a cost of treatment of only $20 of product cost to stop moderate malnutrition developing into severe malnutrition.  It needs to be deployed now.

In order to motivate developing countries to address the child wasting crisis and crowd in donors the Child Nutrition Fund was created one year ago.  The anchor partners are UNICEF, FCDO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and CIFF.  CIFF and myself personally have committed over $100 m to the fund and its precursor of which I have personally already funded $25 m.

The implementing partner for the fund is UNICEF which has extensive and successful experience in managing these programmes.  For example, CIFF has partnered with UNICEF in the past on a $50 m  RUTF program helping to save the lives of more than 1 m children in Nigeria.

The fund works by low income countries submitting to UNICEF costed plans for prevention and treatment of child wasting.  23 countries have already submitted plans and $17 m of RUTF has been mobilised in 10 countries through a dollar for dollar match funding mechanism because wherever they have capacity low income countries themselves must also take some of the responsibility for treating and preventing child wasting.

Last year we worked with USAID, UNICEF, The Gates Foundation and many countries and philanthropies to mobilize over $500 m for prevention and treatment of child wasting.  US Aid invested $200m directly to UNICEF and much thanks is due to Sam Powers and her team for their leadership. This was a historic and critical collaboration that will certainly save millions of children’s lives, but we need such funds and more on a multi year basis.

I am announcing today that I am personally committing $50 m towards a target $500 m deal for new money into the Child Nutrition Fund to prevent and treat child wasting.   My commitment will be contributed to the Child Nutrition Fund pro rata as commitments are funded. I am asking all those here today or listening who have capacity to give to come together again and repeat the amazing commitment which was made last year.  I have already received a $25 m commitment from one philanthropist for this deal.  In addition, I have personally committed over $100 m to build and equip facilities to manufacture RUTF and SQLNS more than half of which has been disbursed.

None of us here today would allow our own children to die of wasting.  And I am sure we would all agree that all lives have equal value.  So if we come out of our minds and intellect just for a moment and go into our intuition and the deepest part of our souls we all know that it is wrong to allow a child to starve to death whatever that country they happen to have been borne into.  Together we can make something beautiful happen today.

Thank you.