Africa is facing a triple burden of malnutrition that includes highly prevalent chronic malnutrition characterised by stunting, widespread micronutrient deficiencies and rapidly increasing prevalence of overweight, obesity and related non-communicable diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. The theme of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) Conference of October 2016, “Achieving a Nutrition Revolution for Africa: The Road to Healthier Diets and Optimal Nutrition” was therefore very timely. This theme which is also that of the Annual Trends and Outlooks Report (ATOR-2015) of the African Union, led by IFPRI, strongly calls for a nutrition revolution for Africa and emphasizes the need for Agriculture to become more nutrition sensitive to play a greater role in promoting better diets towards better nutrition and health. Different aspects and pathways need attention for agriculture to make this important contribution to nutrition some of which were discussed at the 2016 ReSAKSS Conference and highlighted in the Chapters of the ATOR-2015 that was launched at the conference.
The scaffolding of the needed change for a nutrition revolution is in having a conducive policy environment to enable the necessary change. The Maputo Declarations (AU, 2003); Malabo Declarations (AU, 2014); Agenda 2063 (AU, 2014); and the African Regional Nutrition Strategy 2015-2025 contribute to this scaffolding at continental level. But more needs to be done and there is also a need for nutrition sensitive agricultural policies with specific nutrition objectives and activities at national level. Chapter 5 of the ATOR 2015 by Gillespie & Dafour (2016) on “Making African Agriculture and Food Systems Work for Nutrition: What Has Been Done, and What Needs To Be Done?“ gives the following key requirements for agriculture to impact nutrition:
Nutrition objectives and indicators must be explicitly incorporated into the design of agriculture policies and programs and it is important to put in place mechanisms not only to track progress but also mitigate potential harms from related developments in agriculture. Recent work by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), FAO and other development partners to make National Agricultural Investment Plans (NAIPs) more nutrition sensitive should be better leveraged to foster a nutrition revolution. The activities planned within NAIPs must take into account local context at a sub-regional and community level to ensure relevance of activities intended to address the types and causes of malnutrition more effectively. The levels of vulnerability of different sectors of the population are different. It is therefore important to have deliberate targeting to bring about more equitable employment of the more vulnerable groups such as women and youth while at the same time bringing about more positive nutrition impact for women and children. The pathways through which agriculture has been found to have its impact on nutrition all need attention. These include through production of more diverse food, through economic access to better and more diverse foods, economic access to health care and other services such as education, water and sanitation and women’s health, well-being and empowerment. The pathways clearly reflect the multisectoral nature of nutrition. Therefore, whatever the planned activities in NAIPs and Regional Agriculture Investment Plans (ReIPs) (for Regional Economic Communities (RECs) of the Africa Union), it is critical to take into account this multisectoral nature of nutrition and the agriculture sector must work in an integrated approach with other sectors and programs related to health, water and sanitation, social protection etc.. Health issues related to food contamination and safety form part of this critical mix and should include mitigation of mycotoxin contamination such as aflatoxin contamination of foods along the food value chain from production to consumption. It is also important to maintain or improve the natural resource base to avoid land and water degradation that threatens future nutrition security.
Is a nutrition revolution for Africa possible? Chapter 12 of the ATOR 2015 focuses on tracking trends for the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Porgramme (CAADP). In this chapter, Bahiigwa et al. (2016) provide evidence suggesting that those countries that have gone the furthest in the CAADP implementation process tend to reflect better progress on different nutrition related indicators including undernourishment and stunting. This is cause for optimism. However we also know that the progress on stunting and micronutrient deficiencies is too slow to meet current global and continental targets (Haddad et al., 2016) and much of the increase in food production on the continent has focussed on staple foods with little diversification. For a nutrition revolution to be realized, agricultural production must diversify significantly to provide not just affordable but also more diverse diets. Biofortified staple crops should be considered part of addressing selected nutrient deficiencies. Both NAIPs and ReIPs must make adequate provision for dietary diversification. CAADP is indeed a key strategy for agricultural development both at continental and national levels with at least 44 countries at varying levels of CAADP implementation. The programme is therefore well positioned for leveraging African agriculture to promote a nutrition revolution on the continent. But for this to happen deliberate attention to nutrition objectives and activities within agriculture is critical and the developments that take place must mitigate against land and other natural resource degradation not to threaten future food and nutrition security. This leads to an important aspect that is called for in the Conclusions and Recommendations chapter of the ATOR 2015. That CAADP needs to evolve into a deliberate food systems approach in order to effectively address not only the triple burden of malnutrition faced by the continent but at the same time to adopt adequate resource management strategies that will promote sustained food and nutrition security in the long term. Finally capacity and transformational leadership for nutrition is needed across the board and Chapter 11 focuses on three areas of capacity need including, multisectoral nutrition systems, technical capacity for programmes, research, monitoring and evaluation and transformational leadership. It is important to have both institutional and human resource capacity to propel a sustained nutrition revolution. As we move towards the 2017 CAADP Partnership Platform, all relevant stakeholders are called upon to set in motion actions that will make Africa’s agriculture more nutrition sensitive to promote the much needed nutrition revolution on the continent, by adequately addressing the issues that have been raised in the ATOR 2015.
Namukolo Covic is a Research Coordinator at IFPRI Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division