29/05/2013 05:48 BST | Updated 28/07/2013 06:12 BST

If We Want Smarter Aid, Start With Nutrition

Earlier this year Britain became the first G8 nation to meet the pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid. If you need a reminder of what benefits aid brings to the world, this remake of a classic Monty Python scene is worth a watch. I believe the Prime Minister deserves real credit for sticking to this commitment despite tough times at home. This leadership on international development gives Britain influence and leverage in our relations with other developed and developing countries. I believe now is the time to use this international standing to guide the world towards a smarter aid policy.

At a time when across the developed world public finances are under pressure, we must ensure our aid investments are cost-effective. Our aid must help boost the global economy rather than encourage dependency. Research from the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign shows that tackling child malnutrition could add $125 billion to the global economy each year by 2030. Yet only 0.37 per cent of aid globally is spent directly on tackling the problem. This is clearly a missed opportunity.

It makes economic sense to invest in preventing malnutrition rather than spending far higher sums of money treating the various social ills which it causes - poor educational attainment, ill health, unemployment to name but three. Chronically malnourished children are on average almost 20% less literate than those who have a nutritious diet, according to new research published today by Save the Children.

Their earning potential is then reduced by up to a quarter. People who don't get the right nutrients struggle to fight off illness, creating an enormous burden on health services and increasing unemployment. Targeted nutrition interventions that boost public health will help to reduce demand for health services, benefiting developing countries and donors alike.

David Cameron and Justine Greening recognise that tackling malnutrition is smart aid, and are hosting a summit on 8 June as part of the UK's G8 Presidency to encourage global investment. Our message to international partners should be clear - nutrition must be a new global priority. With the right investment, children who currently face a life sentence of poor mental and physical development could be free to learn and work productively and to help build their countries' economies.

This is smart aid - it increases the capacity of people to support themselves and of countries to increase their productivity. It also pays dividends for the UK and other developed countries. As developing countries' economies grow, they will emerge as the sort of trading partners Britain needs to boost its own economy.

I am joining the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign in calling for global donors to attend the Prime Minister's summit on 8 June ready to boost their investment in nutrition. But the campaign is rightly also calling on countries that suffer a high burden of malnutrition to make their own commitments to invest more of their domestic budgets in tackling this problem. This would be exactly the kind of cost-effective, results-driven partnership that we need to see more of. As we look for smarter ways to target our aid spending, this is the place to start.