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Nutrition must be part of Africa’s quest to produce food

By: Francis Kokutse

It is not just food that Africans need, attention must also be paid to what the people eat and that means the nutritional value must be a concern as well. It is for this reason that measures by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to improve Africa’s agriculture and programmes to improve nutrition across the continent must be applauded.   

It is not just food that Africans need, attention must also be paid to what the people eat and that means the nutritional value must be a concern as well. It is for this reason that measures by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to improve Africa’s agriculture and programmes to improve nutrition across the continent must be applauded.  

Untapped agricultural potential

In a recent report, the AfDB said, “untapped agricultural potential has contributed to persistent poverty and deteriorating food security, resulting in a projected increase in the number of undernourished people from 240 million in 20

Transforming agriculture

If agriculture on the continent must be transformed, it means that other things associated with it must also be changed. This means subsistence farming must give way to commercial farming. It means also that, the use of improved seeds and fertiliser application must be encouraged. Fortunately, African scientists have taken up the task of providing improved seeds to boost farming.

When it comes to fertiliser, the continent cannot say it lacks. The Indian-owned Indorama Corporation, based in Singapore says it has in the past three years invested hundreds of millions of dollars to establish Chimique du Senegal (ICS) which has become the largest producer of polyolefins in West Africa. In addition, the company says its Senegal operation is the largest producer of phosphate fertilisers. It has also added its Nigerian operations to become the largest producer of fertilisers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Clearly put, Africa has the potential to produce enough food. However, this must not be in a vacuum. The AfDB says food imports across the continent represent a diverse set of markets, both in key commodities, as well as processed goods and associated or ‘agro-allied’ industries worth more than $100bn in revenue per annum.  

Significant changes

According to the bank , “capturing these opportunities on the scale required in Africa has occurred elsewhere in the world before, such as in Brazil, Malaysia and Vietnam, and often over a shorter time frame. The conditions for transformation are beginning to materialise in a number of African countries.” This has been demonstrated in small-scale transformations that are taking place in the horticulture and floriculture sectors in Kenya and Ethiopia respectively. In Rwanda, there is the rapid and material reductions in the level of malnutrition and in Nigeria large-scale registration of farmers onto an electronic wallet system to facilitate fertiliser subsidy payments is taking place while there is a transformation of the rice sector in Senegal.

It is thus heart-warming to note that concerns that Africa must not just be producing food, but improving on nutrition as well, has taken centre stage.  Fortunately, the President of the AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina, has taken this as a crusade. The Bank’s “Feed Africa” and “Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa” agendas, to improve nutrition contributes to poverty reduction, improved health and a decrease in mortality rates, especially among the most vulnerable, such as women and children. “African Leaders must commit to Zero Hunger and ensure nutritional security for their population. This can be achieved only by political will and determination,” Adesina has said.

Kicking mulnutrition

The bank has also indicated that malnutrition has two dimensions, namely under-nutrition and overweight/obesity. Under-nutrition is further categorised as being underweight, wasting or stunting. Children who are undernourished in the first 1,000 days of their lives – that is from the start of the pregnancy to age two – are exposed to chronic health conditions and impaired cognitive development. Unlike being underweight and wasting, the effects of stunting are irreversible and include diminished learning potential, poor scholastic success and ultimately reduced adult labour capacity and productivity.

Statistics show that in Africa, the levels of malnutrition are unacceptably high, with 58 million or 36 per cent of children under the age of five chronically undernourished, and 13 million or 8.5 per cent of children acutely undernourished. Chronic malnutrition was identified as the underlying cause of approximately half of child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015.

Analysts say the economic impact of malnutrition on the African continent is estimated to be as high as $25 billion per year, with countries losing between 3 per cent and 16 per cent of their GDP annually. These costs are attributed to infant mortality rates, medical costs, impaired cognitive development and physical under-development caused by malnutrition. That is why experts have said it will be hugely beneficial for Africa to invest in combating under-nutrition, considering that for every dollar invested, the return on investment is $16.

Nutritional prosperity

In line with President Adesina’s vision to lead Africa into nutritional prosperity, the bank has already made strides in promoting better nutrition on the continent. He launched the African Leaders on Nutrition (ALN) on May 23, 2016. Joined by former Ghanaian President John Kufuor and former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, President Adesina called on all African leaders and Ministers of Finance to declare a hunger-free Africa. The bank has also formed exciting partnerships with like-minded institutions, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Dangote Foundation, Big Win Philanthropy, Global Panel and Scale-Up Nutrition Network, in support of the Africa Nutrition agenda with the goal to provide analytical evidence and research on improving nutrition standards across the continent.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the bank has also contributed to establishing effective mechanisms to promote better nutrition in Madagascar through increased access to fortified foods, especially in the southern part of the country. In Zambia, it has invested $30 million through the Skills Development and Entrepreneurship Project: Supporting Women and Youth.

Support for women and youth

The project will support the development of the cassava value chain with a focus on the commercialisation of cassava products through industrial clusters which will equip 17,000 cassava farmers’ associations. This initiative will not only ensure high yields, but will also contribute to the construction of 15 cassava bulking centres, five of which will be equipped for the piloting of the production of fortified “gari” by a cooperative of 500 women.

This issue has been taken over by Nestlé Ghana in collaboration with the Ghana Nutrition Society to address micro-nutrient deficiencies in Ghana. It is estimated that more than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from some degree of micro-nutrient deficiencies, the most prevalent being iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc. Micro-nutrient deficiencies affect maternal, infant and young child health in Ghana.

The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey of 2015 has said the consequences of the micro-nutrient deficiencies can lead to mental impairment, poor health and low productivity, among others. In Ghana, 24 per cent of all child mortality cases are associated with under-nutrition, it added, and gave the annual cost associated with child under-nutrition as about
 GH¢4.6 billion, which is equivalent to 6.4 per cent of the GDP. This affects sustainable development as child mortality associated with under-nutrition has reduced Ghana’s workforce by 7.3 per cent.

At a recent workshop, the President of the Ghana Nutrition Association, Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, said: “Under-nutrition is a major challenge affecting children’s well-being and development. Only 13 per cent of children aged 6-23 months meet the minimum standards set by the three core Infant and Young Feeding, namely Dietary Diversity, Feeding Frequency, and Nutrient Density.”

The Managing Director of Nestlé Ghana, Freda Duplan, said last year, the company provided 175 million servings of fortified foods daily. Those servings included products such as Nido fortified with Vitamin C and Iron, Cerelac  with Iron, and Maggi with Iodine and Iron, just to mention a few. GB