Panafrican News Agency

Tanzania: Expert panel suggests ways to improve nutrition in Africa

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - While hunger and malnutrition are still clearly a major problem in Africa, research from the Malabo Montpellier Panel has shown that several countries are starting to win the battle for better nutrition outcomes.

Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda, Angola, Cameroon, Togo and Ethiopia have all reduced malnutrition levels significantly over the past 15 years, some by as much as 50 percent, the panel said in a new report on Tuesday.

The Malabo Montpellier Panel is a group of international agriculture experts who guide policy choices that accelerate progress towards food and nutritional security in Africa.

Its report, ‘Nourished: How Africa Can Buuild A Future Free From Hunger and Malnutrition’, has analysed what lies behind the success of these countries.

In each case, it said, the government has developed ways of spotting nutrition problems early on and is implementing cutting edge programmes, at scale, to prevent people reaching the point of crisis. Many are also developing policies that mean their health, nutrition and agriculture ministries have to work closely together — and this is yielding results.

“While there is still much to do, especially in drought and conflict-affected areas, this progress — driven by a systematic combination of political, policy and programmatic actions — shows that the goals laid out in the Malabo Declaration of the African Union (AU) are achievable,” the report affirmed.

The AU Heads of State and Government adopted the ‘Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth And Transformation for Shared Prosperity And Improved Livelihoods’ during their 23rd Ordinary Session, held from 26-27 June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The same summit also marked the climax of the 2014 AU Year of Agriculture and Food Security.

The Malabo Montpellier Panel’s report has drawn five key lessons from the seven countries, which it said “can teach all of us working on agriculture and food security.”

On the first lesson, it said that anticipating and acting to prevent food crises before they occur is vital for reducing malnutrition. After years of crisis responses in Angola, efforts to get ahead of the malnutrition curve are starting to bear fruit: 2,000 community health workers have been trained to detect and respond to early signs of malnutrition.

“If a health worker comes across a child with an arm circumference below the safe measurement, they get them supplementary food before they become severely malnourished. The health workers also have access to vitamins and supplements for children and pregnant women, and training in breast-feeding support for new mothers. The country’s HIV/AIDS programmes also now include a nutrition element: provision of food supplements to orphans.

On the second lesson, it suggests easier access for people to more nutritious food since malnutrition can be caused by eating poor-quality food that is low in nutrients. It said that policies that encourage people to grow and eat more nutritious foods can help.

For example, a mandatory food-fortification programme in Cameroon resulted in a lower prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies in women and children. Togo also has fortification legislation, which has ensured that more nutrient-rich foods, such as oils enriched with vitamin A, are made available to consumers.

Over 130 varieties of bio-fortified crops have been released in more than 30 African countries, including zinc-rich rice and wheat, and lentils and sorghum fortified with iron. “This could be scaled up for greater results,” the panel emphasized.

On the third lesson, it said that governments need to take a multi-pronged approach to tackling malnutrition, with clear high-level leadership and the involvement of a range of ministries, including agriculture, health, education, and water and sanitation.

“In Senegal, the Cellule de Lutte Contre la Malnutrition (CLM) sits within the Prime Minister’s Office and provides technical assistance to define, coordinate and implement the national nutrition policy, while in Ghana the ministries of health, education and agriculture work closely together on programmes that have seen stunting rates plummet, breast-feeding increase and children’s protein intakes grow,” the panel noted in the repot.

In the fourth lesson, the panel has suggested promotion of broad partnerships to pursue shared goals, noting that strong public, private partnerships and cooperation with civil society organizations are needed to deliver on government nutrition targets.

It said that the committee that implements and coordinates Rwanda’s National Food and Nutrition Policy includes government ministries, NGOs, the Rwanda Bureau of Standards, the Rwandan Consumers Association, the Private Sector Federation, and the national nutri¬tion technical working group. Similarly, the National Nutrition Coordination Body in Ethiopia includes government sec¬tors, development partners, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector.

The fifth lesson pointed to the power of technology, including the boom, of mobile phone coverage and ownership in Africa, which “offers immense opportunities for tracking, monitoring and interacting with people who are tackling, or at risk of experiencing, malnutrition.”

“Innovative projects such as the Nutrition Early Warning System, being developed by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, and the mobile apps that enable community health workers to register and refer patients, remind people of check-ups, and or send them information, have the potential to be low cost and high impact.

“Overall, the lesson these countries teach us is that with concerted effort and a commitment to learning from each other and sharing best practice, reducing malnutrition and achieving the Malabo targets and other sustainable development goals is possible. That should be an inspiration to us all,” the panel concluded.
-0- PANA AR 12Sept2017