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Nutrition Insecurity Impedes Food Security in Africa

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By Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI (ACP-IDN) – Due to a rapid increase in population in African countries, boosting food production through increasing crops yields and livestock production to eliminate hunger is attracting the attention of governments.

However it is emerging that as Africa tackles food security challenges, it must also fight poor nutrition. Stakeholders in the agriculture observe that food and nutrition security issues require a multi-pronged approach that brings on board farmers, policy makers and researchers.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) for instance notes that for Africa to attain food and nutrition security, local production of seeds of better quality high yielding food crop varieties must be increased. The seeds, says the Alliance’s president Agness Kalibata, should be tailored for specific ecological conditions to adapt to the changing climate and nutritional needs as well as peoples tastes.

“Seeds of improved varieties are important in raising yields and ensuring food security, proper nutrition and prosperity for not only smallholder farmers but also the general population,” says Kalibata. 

Kalibata says the irony of the seed industry globally is that smallholder farmers who need seeds the most to make more from their small pieces of land have the least access to these seeds.

AGRA is an African-led alliance that advances solutions to sustainably raise farmers’ productivity and connect them to markets.

Speaking in Nairobi on October 24, 2016, Kalibata decried the disconnect between African agriculture research institutions and farmers. She said African governments should ensure that research outcomes reach farmers.

Jasper Nkanya, Chief Agricultural Engineer at Kenya’s ministry of Agriculture said the government of Kenya is supporting production of orphan crops, which are nutritious and drought resistant but have been ignored. He said Africa imports food worth USD 35 billion despite availability of farmland and labour. “If only we doubled production we could be having a surplus. We need improved good quality seeds,” he said.  Governments he said should put in place the infrastructure to support the seed industry.

Moreover, a Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition that brings together an independent group of experts to tackle global challenges in food and nutrition security recently decried the high level of nutrition insecurity in Africa.

Participants in a meeting of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition membership noted that although malnutrition is a major issue across the world the situation is dire in Africa. It emerged that approximately 58 million children under the age of five years on the continent are stunted.

The meeting took place on September 6 during the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum organised by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Nairobi. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union, said decreasing stunting by 40 percent could save Africa some of 83 billion U.S. dollars.

Aptly capturing the challenge of nutrition in Africa was former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete who said nutrition education is particularly critical in Africa. “It is not that food is not there; feeding stomachs is not the same as providing nutritious food,” he said adding that nutrition issues are not given much attention by governments.

Nutrition experts paint a picture of a huge challenge that can however be surmounted. Marian Amaka Odenigbo, Special Adviser on Nutrition in East and Southern Africa Division at international Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) told IDN that although African governments have demonstrated political will to improve food and nutrition security, transformation of political commitment into action is fraught with challenges.

She observed that main impediments to address nutrition issues are lack of appropriate resources and capacity for nutrition-sensitive agriculture. Others are limited capacity to promote government strategies for scaling up nutrition and unavailability of convincing data on evidence-based policy for advocacy on nutrition-smart agri-food systems.

According to Marian Amaka Odenigbo, there are various cost-effective nutrition initiatives that can be pursued by African countries to achieve nutrition security. First, nutrition sensitisation and awareness campaigns at grassroots levels. Another option is capacity building on nutrition-sensitive agriculture for extension officers.

She noted that value addition on food commodities through production of nutrient enriched food, improved processing and handling of food is vital to fight malnutrition.

In her opinion, value addition on farm produce is low in Africa, hence food insecurity. She suggested that capacity building on innovative approaches and strategies to improve the nutritional quality and safety in the food supply chain of the selected foods should be given priority.

Patrick Webb, Technical Adviser of the Global Panel and Deirdre MacMahon, a researcher, observes that invasion of ‘junk’ food especially in urban areas of Africa has an effect on food security.

The number of people with obesity is growing in every African country. “By 2030, sub-Saharan Africa’s rate of overweight and obesity is expected to reach 17.5 percent double that of 2005,” they noted.

According to the duo, the sales of junk of food are expected to grow substantially, as a result of growing urbanization. They however noted that junk food can be countered through use of existing opportunities in the preservation of perishable nutritious food such as fruit and vegetables, fortification and biofortification.

They also lauded the collaborative research initiatives between agriculture experts and nutritionists bringing together various African countries. For instance, they said in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, an African indigenous vegetables project aimed at increasing income and enhance the nutrition of women and children by addressing critical production and marketing constraints for underutilised, nutritious vegetables is being supported by USAID and other partners among them the World Vegetable Centre.

Webb and MacMahon   observe that mobile technology and videos are untapped resource yet can be effective tools in promoting healthy diets and behaviours, as well as improved food safety and hygiene. “One example is Digital Green, a not-for-profit international development organisation that uses videos for community engagement in Asia sub-Saharan Africa, including parts of Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger and Tanzania,” they added.

 Andre Vornic of the World Food Programme, (WFP) is however of the opinion that food security is dependent on various dynamics such as the weather and social economic factors.

Vornic said a WFP analysis had shown that societies that are largely reliant on rain-fed/subsistence agriculture, food and nutrition security oscillates depending on weather and seasons. “To a large extent food security is correlated with peace, economic growth and broader development policies. I don’t think one can argue that food insecurity has increased, say, in Senegal or Tanzania. The reality is that food insecurity has increased in some regions and countries, but decreased in others,” he said.

He argues that African countries can address under nutrition through national school meals programmes, with support from partners such as WFP. “Children require sufficient nutrition to think, learn and grow intellectually. So school meals are the bedrock of educational opportunity for the poorest children, ensuring they are healthy and able to learn,” he said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 October 2016]

Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, a flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: An assortment of fruits on sale at a market in Busia town, Western Kenya, near the Kenya-Uganda border. Credit: Justus Wanzala | IDN-INPS





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