Proper nutrition is key to Africa’s economic success, says report

Africa’s struggle with malnutrition remains a major hindrance to its success, with one in five people chronically undernourished.

A nutrition report titled Nourished: How Africa Can Build a Future Free from Hunger and Malnutrition, released by the Malabo Montpellier Panel confirmed that the growing burden of undernutrition continues to threaten the improvement of Africa’s progress towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

The report, released at the 2017 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2017), showed that the proportion of people struggling with hunger dropped from 28 per cent to 20 per cent between 1990 and 2015. However, the total number has continued to increase due to a rapidly growing population.

Some countries, such as Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda, have, nonetheless, made remarkable progress in reducing undernourishment, more than halving stunting in children.  This success has been credited to the dedication of the leaders in these countries.

“Governments are successful in combating malnutrition when they put it at the top of their agenda and implement programmes across departments in close collaboration with partners. However, more investment is needed in crisis prevention and programmes that build resilience against climate stresses,” said Joachim von Braun, Co-Chair of the panel.

Nor is malnutrition the only health worry for African countries. Obesity is gradually becoming a major concern, and one which the Panel recommends need urgent attention.

“It is not uncommon to find undernutrition and obesity coexisting within the same country, the same community, or even the same household. In such situations, child stunting coexists alongside overweight adults (particularly women), as well as in stunted, but overweight children,” reported the panel.

A driver of this parallel trend has been Africa’s rising population of middle-income households, who now prefer highly processed foods, which lack nutrients, and are increasingly engaged in a sedentary lifestyle and desk jobs.

“The estimated prevalence of childhood (7–11 years of age) overweight increased from 4 per cent in 1990 to 7 per cent in 2011, and is expected to reach 11 per cent in 2025, while the percentage of children under five who are overweight varies between 4 per cent in West Africa and 15 per cent in Southern Africa,” warned the Malabo Montpellier Panel report.

The panel recommended drastic measures to tackle the continent’s nutrition problems. “To successfully address the multiple forms of malnutrition, governments and the private sector need to work together to reshape the food system in a way that will ensure healthier diets for all,” said the report.

This was aligned with policy commitments said Panel Co-Chair, Ousmane Badiane. “To achieve the aims set out in the Malabo Declaration and African Union’s Agenda 2063, governments need to learn from past successes and redouble their efforts to tackle the triple scourge of hunger, malnutrition and obesity on the continent,” he said.

Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete’s expressed his confidence that African leaders will continue to push for more success.

“Our continent is the last frontier in humanity’s struggle and quest for better living standards.  Fortunately, the people of Africa and their leaders have always been proactive in conceiving social-economic policies and taking measures and actions to implement those policies,” said Kikwete in his keynote address at AGRF 2017.

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