“Nutrition Sensitive” Investments: Assessing Donor Commitments to Address Malnutrition

An inside look at AidData and the Canadian government's efforts to develop a methodology to assess nutrition spending across all aid sectors.

October 9, 2013

Rachel Trichler

Effectively combatting under-nutrition requires moving beyond basic nutrition programs to addressing underlying causes related to deficiencies in agriculture, basic health, education, or social protection. This complexity has frustrated efforts to identify the full spectrum of development projects that seek to mitigate under-nutrition. In this post, I give a behind-the-scenes look at AidData’s recently announced partnership with the Canadian government which aims to remedy this identification gap and develop a methodology to assess nutrition spending across all aid sectors.

The OECD-DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS) enables users to classify aid projects primarily focused on basic nutrition, as the CRS requires donors to assign a code to each project that best reflects its overall purpose (i.e., a purpose code). The basic nutrition purpose code captures aid for direct feeding programs, monitoring of nutritional status, provision of supplements, and other nutrition specific work.  It is difficult, however, to use the same big-picture system to capture the nutrition components of projects that fall within other sectors, often called “nutrition sensitive” work.

Developed in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) and the ScalingUp Nutrition (SUN) Movement, AidData’s methodology includes an activity coding scheme to provide additional project-level information that will help construct a more accurate estimate of nutrition spending by donor countries. The coding scheme utilizes descriptive information on projects from the CRS to assign a code foreach activity funded by a project, rather than its overall purpose. With this new granularity, it is now possible to capture a school feeding program that is one component of an education project or micronutrients offered to pregnant women as part of a reproductive health program – nutrition sensitive activities that would have be missed if relying on CRS codes alone.

  Detecting nutrition sensitive activities is only the first step.  How does AidData translate these activities into an estimate of donor spending? Using the available CRS data, it is not possible to tie a specific amount of project funding to each activity. AidData's methodology calculates an estimate of a project’s nutrition spending in which the total amount is weighted by the percentage of project activities that qualify as nutrition sensitive. The sum of the weighted commitment amounts yields an estimate of spending on nutrition activities within projects that fall outside of the basic nutrition sector. AidData has already calculated initial estimates of 2010 donor commitments for three categories of nutrition spending which will be available as part of a final report forthcoming in the spring of 2014.

The use of activity-level, rather than project-level, information allows for more precise classification of what is considered nutrition sensitive, while still maintaining a standardized system across sectors and donors. AidData will continue to develop this methodology to more accurately capture investments in nutrition, relying on donor feedback and statistical analysis for further enhancements. These efforts will culminate in a set of recommendations for future tracking of nutrition investments. It is my hope that this work substantively strengthens the capacity of donors and civil society groups to better capture the full picture of nutrition sensitive investments and support future allocation decisions.

Rachel Trichler is a Senior Research Analyst and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at AidData.

Rachel Trichler is a Senior Program Manager for AidData based at the College of William and Mary.

The views expressed here are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions to which the authors belong.