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  • Blog
  • 13 August 2021

The latest data on the UK FCDO’s nutrition spending is out. What does it tell us?

We take a look at what the latest data tells us about the UK FCDO’s nutrition spending, and how the UK government is performing against its Nutrition For Growth commitments.


Jordan Beecher, Anna Hope

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), formerly the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), inherits a strong legacy on nutrition, but cuts in 2020 place doubt on whether all Nutrition For Growth (N4G) commitments will be met. As the UK economy recovers, there is opportunity to renew commitments and demonstrate continued global leadership on ending malnutrition in all its forms. However, the recent vote to keep UK aid spending at 0.5% of gross national income, along with shifting priorities on how that budget is spent, calls into question whether the UK will be able to do so.

The UK has long been considered a champion of global nutrition. At the first N4G Summit held in London in 2013, the UK government committed to tripling spending on nutrition-specific programmes. For the period 2013−2020 it spent a total of £574.8 million on nutrition-specific interventions, and £2.1 billion on nutrition-sensitive interventions. The UK government also committed to match funding for new financial commitments for nutrition made by other actors, up to a value of £280 million, to encourage other donors to pledge funding on top of what was committed at the 2013 N4G Summit. Now, the latest comprehensive review of nutrition commitments and spending by the FCDO is out. So what can the data tell us, and how does this position the UK ahead of the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit 2021 in December?

Overall, in 2019, aid spending for nutrition exceeded US$1 billion

Due to the most recent data on nutrition spending only being available up to 2019, the impacts of the DFID−FCO merger and aid cuts in 2020 and beyond are yet to be seen. However, we can see from available data that consistent and significant progress has been made up to 2019. Spending on nutrition-specific interventions increased by 6.9%, from US$155.9 million in 2018 to US$166.6 million in 2019. Spending on nutrition-sensitive interventions increased by an even greater proportion − 22.6% − from US$711.7 million in 2018 to a record US$872.7 million in 2019. Proportional to its total official development assistance spending, total nutrition spending also increased in 2019, reaching 11.4% (from 10.4% in 2018).

Figure 1: Cumulative nutrition-related spending by DFID, 2013−2019

Figure 1: Cumulative nutrition-related spending by DFID, 2013−2019

Line chart showing nutrition spending. Nutrition sensitive spending increased £596.9 between 2018 and 2019. Nutrition specific spending increased £72.0 million between 2018 and 2019. Matched funding increased £42.0 million between 2018 and 2019.

Source: Development Initiatives calculations based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System data, and OECD National Accounts Statistics: purchasing power parities and exchange rates.

While the FCDO has exceeded its nutrition-sensitive N4G commitment, it is unlikely to meet its target for nutrition-specific spending

Up to 2019, the FCDO has cumulatively disbursed £411.7 million in nutrition-specific funding (excluding matched funding) since 2013, and therefore has not met the UK’s nutrition-specific N4G commitment (£574.8 million). It must disburse £163.1 million in 2020 to do so. Based on its current trajectory, the department is off-track to meet this target and this will almost certainly be exacerbated by aid cuts landing as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

However, the FCDO has significantly exceeded its nutrition-sensitive N4G commitment. The target amount of £2.1 billion was reached three years early (in 2017) and by 2019, a cumulative total of £3.6 billion was disbursed to nutrition-sensitive interventions. This means that by the 2020 deadline, spending will be far higher than the UK’s original commitment on nutrition-sensitive funding.

Lastly, the FCDO has cumulatively disbursed £228.1 million of nutrition-specific matched funding to partner organisations. If 2019 spending levels continue, the FCDO will disburse a total of £270.0 million between 2013 and 2020, just under the £280 million ceiling it had set.

Sub-Saharan Africa gained a relatively higher share of the total, and nutrition-related spending in the Middle East also rose due to increases to Yemen

In line with historic trends, the majority of nutrition-related spending in 2019 was allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, which rose to 53% of the total in 2019. The Middle East received over a quarter of nutrition-sensitive aid spending, a higher proportion than previous years. This was mainly as humanitarian interventions in Yemen, which remained the greatest single country recipient of nutrition aid in 2019, with disbursements up from US$127.8 million in 2018 to US$211.7 million in 2019.

Figure 2: Nutrition-related spending by region, 2010−2019

Figure 2: Nutrition-related spending by region, 2010−2019

Area chart showing region-specific spending from DFID. In 2019, the sub-Saharan Africa region received the most spending.

Source: Development Initiatives calculations based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System data.

Notes: Constant 2019 prices. ‘Unspecified’ refers to funding not allocated to a single region. ‘Others’ includes funding allocated to the West Indies and to Africa with no further specification.

The number of countries receiving nutrition aid from DFID rose to 36 countries in 2019, up from 33 the year before. Twenty-two of these saw nutrition aid volume increases compared to the year before. These geographic allocations largely align with the areas considered to have the most alarming and serious levels of hunger.

Figure 3: Nutrition-related spending by country, 2019

Figure 3: Nutrition-related spending by country, 2019

Bar chart showing that in 2019, Yemen, South Sudan and Bangladesh received the most nutrition related spending from DFID.

Source: Development Initiatives calculations based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System data.

Notes: Excludes regional and global level disbursements. Constant 2019 prices.

Most nutrition-sensitive spending was channeled via the humanitarian sector, which also saw an increased share of the total, while other sectors saw a mixed picture

Aid programming across a range of sectors has a vital role to play in improving nutrition outcomes. Countries affected by conflict or other forms of fragility are at a higher risk of malnutrition, and nutrition-sensitive funding to the humanitarian sector increased by US$136.8 million between 2018 and 2019 to comprise 62.7% of all nutrition-sensitive spending. Nutrition-sensitive spending also increased to agriculture, food security and social services sectors. Nutrition-sensitive spending did, however, decrease in some other sectors: education (−US$11.9 million), environment (−US$15.5 million), WASH (−US$6.3 million), governance and security (−US$3.4 million).

The amount of nutrition-sensitive funding channeled via the humanitarian sector reinforces the likelihood of recent UK cuts impacting nutrition spending, as we know that large cuts landed on humanitarian aid in particular. It is also important to highlight the vital importance of nutrition-sensitive spending to support longer-term development, and acknowledge its role in improving education outcomes and reducing the disease burden in a population.

A record proportion of nutrition-related spending had gender equality objectives

Since 2015, when gender-marked data was introduced, the proportion of the FCDO’s nutrition spending with gender equality objectives has remained steady, and reached a high of US$747.8 million, 72% of total nutrition spending in 2019.

Figure 4: Proportion of nutrition-related spending with gender equality objectives, 2019

Inner ring shows nutrition-specific spending; outer ring shows nutrition-sensitive spending.

Figure 4: Proportion of nutrition-related spending with gender equality objectives, 2019

Pie chart showing that in 2019, 68% of DFID's nutrition-specific spending went to projects with gender-equity objectives. For nutrition-sensitive spending, the figure was 73%.

Source: Development Initiatives calculations based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System data.

Notes: ‘Gender-relevant’ refers to commitments reported as having a significant or principal gender equality policy objective. Constant 2019 prices.

In this, the Nutrition Year of Action, the FCDO has an opportunity to take a stance and remain a much-needed leader in tackling global malnutrition

In 2019, a quarter of the world’s population were affected by moderate or severe food insecurity, and stunting impacted 21% of children under 5 years of age. The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have exacerbated these figures. It is a time where we cannot afford to turn away from ambitious commitments on nutrition.

The UK is already supporting the Government of Japan in organising the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit 2021. While the UK’s decision not to renew its commitment to 0.7% of GNI in 2021 significantly reduces available funds, nutrition must remain a priority. This is a key opportunity for the UK to position itself as a continued leader on tackling global malnutrition; not only to directly contribute to vital progress, but also to drive much needed action from others.

You can read more about recent spending on nutrition from DFID and FCDO in the PDF report we prepared as part of the Technical Assistance to Strengthen Capabilities (TASC) consortium.