From May 16-19, HarvestPlus joined more than 5,700 attendees representing 2,500 organizations from 169 countries who had gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 4th Women Deliver Conference. The objective was to explore solutions that support the health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls. Among those who spoke at the conference were Denmark’s Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister of Norway, the former President of Ireland, the President of the World Bank Group, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Melinda Gates, and multiple heads of UN agencies.

For the first time in the conference’s history, the agenda included nutrition for women and girls. Sessions organized primarily by Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) explored various topics, including nutrition as a gateway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), accountability for women’s and girls’ health, adolescent girls’ nutrition as the second window of opportunity, and women as nutrition champions.

Micronutrient Initiative, with the assistance of $75 million of support from the Canadian Government, launched its “Right Start Initiative”, a multi-faceted plan to reach more than 100 million women and girls with improved nutrition by 2020. Additionally, MI President and CEO Joel Spicer made a powerful “1 Billion Candles” call to action for women’s and girls’ nutrition, elucidating the unrealized potential of the 1 billion women and girls around the globe that are malnourished.

The nutrition-conscious participants were further encouraged when Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank Group, emphasized the “hugely unrecognized problem that 25 percent of children in the world are stunted.” Undernutrition effects physical and cognitive development, and has intergenerational repercussions, as UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake pointed out. Poor nutrition comes at a cost not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.

While not exclusively the case, poor nutrition most often walks hand in hand with poverty. In discussing nutrition as a gateway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one panelist asserted that there cannot be improved nutrition without poverty alleviation. However, biofortification presents a rare opportunity to break this cycle; better nutrition— especially among the most poor and vulnerable— comes first, paving the way for individuals to lead healthy, productive, and prosperous lives. Looking beyond the individual, the business case is also clear. As explained by Phyllis Costanza, CEO of UBS Optimus Foundation, for every $1 we invest in fighting undernutrition, we reap at least $16 in returns.

Eyes are beginning to open to the fact that good health and nutrition underpin nearly all of the SDGs. While health has long held a recognized position, the link between health and nutrition is still slowing being forged. HarvestPlus continues to work to bridge the gap.