Panafrican News Agency

Rwanda: Food expert urges appropriate strategies to address 'hidden hunger' in Sub-Sahara Africa

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) - Sub-Sahara Africa needs to address the challenge of stopping food losses that occur mostly at the processing and storage stage, in order to cut down alarming rates of hunger and under-nutrition, the Director General of the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Shenggen Fan, told PANA in an exclusive interview here on Tuesday.

In his view, hunger and widespread cases of malnutrition in the region are a result of poor policy-making in addressing the two closely associated problems.

According to the food expert, the dominance of ideology over evidence, emphasis on short-term agricultural investments such as subsidies over long-term investments, and limited participation of the private sector in agriculture are some examples explaining why some parts in sub-Saharan Africa still face a number of challenges to address the chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that affects millions of the population across the continent.

"Currently, hidden hunger impairs physical growth and learning in children, and is associated with lower school attainment and lower wages later in life," Dr. Fan said, noting that progress was also hindered by the lack of social safety nets to protect vulnerable populations.

He said safety nets are vital when considering the increase of frequent and intense climate shocks that put vulnerable households at even greater risk.

In the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI) issued early October, the IFPRI estimated that countries like Rwanda that have improved their scores in terms of prevalence of undernourishment, child underweight, and child mortality, must still work towards improving nutrition, which will help in reducing poverty.

However, researchers argue that while poverty limits access to nutritious foods, hunger and under-nutrition are also major causes of poverty, resulting in a two-way relationship.

"This is because eliminating hunger and under-nutrition means putting more money in poor people’s pockets and allowing them to lead healthy lives, thereby contributing directly to ending extreme poverty," Fan said.

Diets mostly based on staple crops such as maize, wheat, and rice, with little diversity from animal-sourced foods, fruits, or vegetables were common causes of hidden hunger, he pointed out.

"One way to reduce food losses and re-prioritize investment to end hunger and under-nutrition is for governments to reduce subsidies on the production of staple grains as well as water, electricity, and fertilizers," Fan suggested.

In order to ensure an economical and sustainable way to prevent hidden hunger in children, he said that a key alternative lies in best practices of breastfeeding combined with nutritious complementary food.

"Policymakers should work towards promoting diverse diets, commercial food fortification, bio-fortification, and supplementation as avenues to reduce hidden hunger," Fan emphasised.
-0- PANA TWA/AR 21Oct2014