A balanced meal, three times a day, a basic need few in Africa can afford. A three-course meal, a luxury most of the rest of the world enjoys, on a regular basis.
Did you know, Africa has a 50 year plan of what the continent will become half a century from now? It’s called Agenda 2063. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union
To achieve this vision, the AU Assembly recognizes that its true power is in its people, the 1.4 plus billion people. The AU central focus on this Africa Day is how best to utilize its top resource. The AU admits that for the continent to achieve its Vision 2063 then it must focus on it’s people; “…the potential of its populations, in particular, a human capital well-nourished citizens and in good health with a particular emphasis on women, adolescents and children.”
“Human capital is key for development as it leads to improved lives for individuals, higher earnings and improved incomes for countries,” AU.
It is a worthy ambition especially considering the fact that most of its population are youth or what the AU refers to as “… a potential demographic dividend that, if adequately leveraged with the right investments, could contribute to accelerating sustainable and equitable development.”
So how is Africa going to make the most of its youth when malnutrition persist in children and is responsible for almost half of child deaths that occur on the continent every year. Worse still, with globalization and a growing middle class, Africa is now suffering what were previously considered health issues of the west, a growing spread of non-communicable diseases caused by lifestyle changes.
“Overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases related to the quality of diets are increasing rapidly, worsening morbidity and mortality rates,” warns the AU.
According to the AU, malnutrition is not only one of the worst killers of children under five years of age but prevents children and adolescents from reaching their full potential, and traps entire populations in vulnerability.
That been the case, it is not corruption nor poor infrastructure neither neo-colonialisam that is hampering Africa’s much south development, it is malnutrition. The lack of access to regular balanced meals is the main cause of retarded development in African countries.
“New evidence has shown that the persistence of the burden of malnutrition has very significant consequences for physical, mental, cognitive and physiological development of African children; hence it has become a critical human rights issue that goes far beyond the already existing volatile public health impact,” and this will be the central discourse on Africa Day come May 25 2022.
With this recognition, malnutrition is the lead cause to decreased social and economic development of nations, makes the question of improving nutrition on the continent, a very important political and economic development issue, admits the AU.
Consider this research finding. A study by the Cost of Hunger in Africa, estimates that African countries are losing the equivalent of between 1.9 and 16.5 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to child under-nutrition.
“It is also estimated that malnourished children are at risk of losing more than 10 percent of their lifetime earning potential,” reads the report.
It must be noted that the global health crisis of Covid-19 has worsened the malnutrition crisis in Africa. Covid-19 restrictions and its grave effect on economic activities has made the fight against malnutrition close to impossible.
This Africa Day, it is imperative that the AU leaders place emphasis on country leaders to divert their Covid-19 funding to improving nutrition in their countries. The AU has already placed it in its agendas to urge African leaders to above all, increase allocation of national resources towards the nutritional well-being of populations in their respective countries.
Way Forward: Africa’s Strategy To Improve Nutrition
- Building Resilience:Food and nutrition security within countries is at the top of the agenda. This year will see African leaders commit to improving food security within their countries. However it can be argued that these are no more than over ambitious words since many countries have already passed their financial year budgets yet few, if any have lived up to the Maputo Declaration to dedicate at least 10 percent of their national annual budget to agriculture.
Without increased investment in agricultural development, how does the continent hope to build nutrition resilience?
- Multisectoral and interdisciplinary approach: Secondly, if Africa is to improve nutrition, then the matter of food security cannot be left to the mercy of ministry of agriculture alone, it must be handled through a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach.
Malnutrition is a complex problem caused by various factors starting from the farm. Despite high annual rainfall and presence of huge water resources in inland lakes and large networks of year long rivers, Africa ironically suffers from unsuitable water provision.
Overall, the lack of water for irrigation is a basic cause for Africa’s great food insecurity. While this maybe a matter for the ministry of agriculture directly, but to tap water from rivers and lakes needs modern technology, improved water infrastructures are need for distribution and that is the work of a whole different ministry.
Even when water and food are available, there is the matter of poor sanitation and hygiene which in turn affects the quality of nutrition and overall health of the people and particularly children. Then there is the matter of low per capita income or shall we just say household poverty. The lack of of reliable family income causes a lack of nutrition even when food is available but cannot be afforded.
“These complex multidimensional and interdependent determinants, intervening at different levels of society, require concerted and synergistic efforts across several sectors to reduce this scourge rapidly and sustainably,” writes the AU.
- Investments in nutrition: The AU is expected to push for strengthening of existing financing mechanisms and to scale up innovative and sustainable resource mobilization. To do this, there is need for public and private sector participation to mobilize and utilize the available financial instruments.
- Commitments to actions: Above all else is the need for political will. As pointed out, even in the face of worsening malnutrition and even with admission of human resource as the key to achieving Vision 2063, however few countries in Africa are dedicating the minimum required funding to agroculture.
The lack of policy commitment is at the core root of malnutrition in Africa, policy, regulation and laws could easily save water catchment areas, increase investment in irrigation and access to water among other things, but Africa continues to divide its annual budget to other sectors with but minimum commitment to agriculture and nutrition.
The AU asserts: “African Member states need to clearly review and exert effort in order to improve the translation of political commitments and declarations into effective programs on the ground, particularly in the context of the ambitious targets set in the African Union’s Malabo Declaration for 2025, World Health Assembly targets and Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030.”