Experts: Learn lessons from success to beat malnutrition in Africa

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A farmer weeds her maize garden. A report on global hunger says malnutrition in sub-Saharan African children could be reduced if women were given equal chances in agriculture. Photo/FILE

Abijdan: Several African countries, including Senegal, Ghana, and Ethiopia, have shown success in reducing malnutrition over the last 15 years. This progress, driven in part by policy actions and interventions, shows that the battle against malnutrition in Africa can be won, according to a new report launched today by the Malabo Montpellier Panel at the Africa Green Revolution Forum in Cote d’Ivoire.

This report from the group of noted African and international food security experts, analyses the policy decisions and actions that contributed to this achievement and draws out the lessons that policymakers, donors and other stakeholders can learn.

Panel Co-Chair, Ousmane Badiane, said: “Much progress has been made, which is heartening. However, significant challenges remain. 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. The report clearly demonstrates that progress is possible”

Across Africa, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger dropped from 28% to 20% between 1990 and 2015, although the total number continues to increase due to a rapidly growing population. Some countries have made remarkable progress. Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda have all reduced the number of undernourished people and wasted and stunted children by more than 50%. Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Togo have achieved reductions of more than 40%.

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There is still a lot of work to do. Demographic changes and urbanization are adding pressure on food systems to increase yields, at the same time as producing more diverse and nutritious foods. Critical threats include conflict and climate change - which delay progress or even reverse gains in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. The consumption of cheap, nutrient-poor food and reduced physical activity among the middle class is driving up obesity levels. The estimated prevalence of childhood obesity is expected to reach 11% in 2025.

Joachim von Braun, Co-Chair of the Panel said: “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. Investment is needed in crisis prevention and programmes that build resilience against climate stresses.”

The recommendations in the report, drawn from the example set by successful countries include:
• Adopt a comprehensive policy on nutrition as a top priority
• Set up mechanism to coordinate coherent agenda on nutrition across government
• Invest in crises prevention and emergency intervention capacities to address the threat of conflict to malnutrition reduction
• Strengthen national agricultural and nutrition research to expand biofortification and other nutrient enrichment programmes
• Empower women’s groups
• Capture synergies between agriculture, water, health and sanitation