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close this bookReaching Mothers and Children at Critical Times of their Lives (WFP)
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View the documentAssessment of critical food needs
View the documentProgramme objectives
View the documentTargeting
View the documentFood strategy
View the documentCosts and benefits
View the documentCommitment and partnership
View the documentSustainability and phasing out
View the documentCritical food needs during crisis and rehabilitation

Assessment of critical food needs

14. There are critical times in human life when the potential to break the inter-generational cycle of hunger is greatest. Many poor women cannot meet their additional food needs during pregnancy and nursing. Infants require nutritionally adequate and safe foods to complement breast milk after some six months. The critical food needs for women and children include nutrients such as protein and micronutrients (especially vitamin A and minerals such as iron and iodine) in addition to energy.

15. The key indicators to assess the magnitude of critical food needs of these groups include: incidence of low birth weight (LBW) and rates of maternal mortality (MMR), infant mortality (IMR), under five mortality (U5MR) and under five malnutrition. Nutrition and health indicators (including data on micronutrient deficiencies) are usually available from sources such as WHO, UNICEF or the national ministry of health.

16. To assess the need and scope for supplementary feeding in meeting critical food needs, food assistance must be considered in light of other possible interventions. Basic choices within the life-cycle of vulnerable groups include:

  • addressing women's undernutrition at the pre-pregnancy stage;
  • focusing on the higher nutritional requirements of expectant and nursing mothers;
  • targeting small children, particularly during the weaning period; and
  • promoting girls' primary school education, as a long-term investment in their reproductive health and caring practices as mothers.

17. The nexus of causes underlying nutritional problems in any one country or region can be quite different from that in another. For supplementary feeding to be truly effective and food aid to be justified, the food security situation must be analysed. Levels of poverty and food production are important determinants of household food security. Data on household food insecurity are less frequently available and major efforts have been initiated in recent years to fill this gap, in particular through WFP-supported Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) exercises. As a follow-up to the World Food Summit, FAO and WFP are coordinating the development of a worldwide Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS).

18. The Common Country Assessment and United Nations Development Assistance Framework processes and the formulation of the WFP Country Strategy Outlines provide the framework for WFP to engage in a dialogue with national partners and to define and communicate its focus on reaching malnourished children and mothers. Small investments in advocacy (expenses for meetings, workshops, publications, reports and educational posters) can do much to highlight the importance of food assistance in addressing early malnutrition and to identify potential complementary relationships with partners.

  • WFP will identify those women and children whose nutritional vulnerability is directly linked to a lack of sufficient and appropriate food intake. Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping techniques will be used to support the identification of target groups.
  • WFP will act as an advocate for the groups recognized as suffering from early malnutrition.