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Africa has the capacity to end malnutrition

BY JOSEPH MUTHAMA

Governments should create favourable environments for improved input and young child feeding, improved water supplies and sanitation, and offer healthier foods in schools.

Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy. In fact, many people in Africa depend on agriculture for their livelihood.  Agriculture, for example, is the mainstay of Kenya’s economy and provides livelihood to 75 per cent of the population.  Sadly, this sector continues to face a myriad of challenges, some of which are beyond the control of the farmer. These challenges range from the vagaries of weather, invasion of pest and diseases, improper ploughing of land, lack of soil testing laboratories, out-dated farming technologies to poor marketing strategies. 

No access to quality food

Fourteen per cent of Kenyan households in rural areas and nine per cent of urban households lack access to quality food. This is according to the United Nation’s public report titled Zero Hunger Strategic Review Report released on 16 October 2018. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one out of every four children in sub-Saharan Africa is malnourished and 39 per cent of children in Kenya suffer from chronic malnutrition due to poverty. This is more than double the emergency threshold.  Often, children are more vulnerable to malnutrition.  

According to the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) 2018 report, “about 30 per cent of children countrywide are stunted, 13 per cent moderately wasted while 7 per cent are moderately underweight.” The report further notes that 20 per cent of the Kenyan population does not attain the minimum dietary requirements to sustain a healthy and productive life. In 2016, FAO reported that about 815 million of the 7 billion people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment. 

Stretched food, health budgets

The introduction of 8 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on petroleum and agricultural products last September dealt a further blow to many Kenyan farmers as well as the Food security and nutrition agenda in President Uhuru’s Big 4. 

According to the Route to Food Initiative project lead, Layia Liebetrau, “The VAT on fuel exacerbates the situation by further stretching food and health budgets, particularly among vulnerable Kenyans which makes it hard for them to afford and access adequate food to meet their basic dietary requirements.”  Lack of proper dietary nourishment in many parts of Africa has contributed to malnutrition and host diseases. According to Lawrence Haddad, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition’s (GAIN) Director, “One in three people in the world suffers from some form of malnutrition. Moreover, poor diet is the number one risk factor in the global burden of disease. We believe in the enormous potential of national food businesses in Africa to address this challenge by producing more affordable, nutritious foods. However, for this to happen, new private investments must be unlocked for SMEs along with new policy and lending instruments. We are aiming to help bridge this gap.” 

Rising global food demand 

With the high rate of population growth, food demand is also set to rise immensely. Africa’s population stands at 1.2 billion people and is projected to increase to 2.5 billion by 2050. FAO predicts that the world population will hit 9 billion by 2050, and that the global food demand will increase by at least 60 per cent above 2006 levels.

Africa Governments can, and should, take, measures to prevent and reduce under nutrition.  Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Nutrition Department at WHO Headquarters in Geneva says this can be achieved by measures such as creating favourable environments for improved input and young child feeding, improved water supplies and sanitation, and offering healthier foods in schools. 

The time is ripe enough for African Governments to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 – which seeks to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” 

Africa has the capacity to become a global agricultural powerhouse. However, for this to become a reality, the top leadership must be ready to mitigate the current agriculturally debilitating practices like corruption, poor leadership, civil wars, ill-conceived policies, food insecurity, population explosion, poverty and mismanagement of public resources.  Without this, malnutrition and child mortality will remain a mirage is Africa. 

Joseph Muthama is a Member of KIM, lecturer and is the author of Leadership Defined and Excellent in Leadership books. Email: josephmuthama05@gmail.com 

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