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Africa is undermining global effort on malnourishment

Every year the World Food Day is observed across the globe on October 16  with the aim of eliminating malnutrition and hunger. At this year’s World Food Day ceremony themed Our actions are our future. Healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger world which took place in Rome Italy, speakers called for bolder and faster action across sectors to make healthy and sustainable diets available and affordable for all.

The task of eliminating hunger and malnutrition as set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as in the African Union 2025 Malabo Commitments, is actually a race against time towards delivering on the targets.

For decades, the world has been making progress in the fight against hunger. Sadly, the number of undernourished people is on the rise again. More than 820 million people, or roughly one in nine people, globally including Africa are going hungry.  In the fight against hunger, Africa is the world’s last frontier currently, one in three Africans—422 million people—live below the global poverty line this represents more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.

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Thankfully, there is some hope for Africa. According to projections from the World Data Lab, Africa has now reached a milestone in the fight against poverty. For the first time since the start of SDG, more Africans are now escaping extreme poverty than are falling (or being born) below the poverty line. Although the pace of this net poverty reduction is currently very small at only 367 people per day, it is expected to increase to over 3,000 people per day by the end of this year.

Food security in our times isn’t only a matter of quantity, it’s also a question of quality. Unhealthy diets have now become a leading risk factor for disease and death worldwide. This shows that there is an urgent need to make healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible to everyone, according to a report by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A report on the Brookings Institution revealed that the most significant challenges for reducing poverty in Africa are found in just two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The population of both countries represents one-quarter of total poverty in Africa today and they are expected to represent almost half of Africa’s poor by 2030.

Currently, in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritius, and Seychelles already have poverty rates of below 3 percent. Mauritania and Gambia are projected to join this group by 2030. The poverty rates of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Djibouti are expected to reach below five percent. With a slight acceleration of growth, these economies could also make extreme poverty history by 2030.

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Globally, including Africa, Malnutrition affects one in three people and can take the forms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, stunting, wasting, overweight and obesity. And an unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for deaths from non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Health problems linked to obesity are costing national health budgets up to $2 trillion per year.  

According to FAO, this is because we have dramatically changed our diets and eating patterns as a result of globalization, urbanization and income growth. A lot of people have moved from seasonal, mainly plant-based and fibre-rich dishes to high-calorie diets, which are high in refined starches, sugar, fats, salt, processed foods and often marked by excessive consumption of meat.

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People spend less time preparing meals at home, and consumers, especially in urban areas, increasingly rely on supermarkets, fast food outlets, street food vendors and takeaway restaurants. In much of the world, guaranteeing availability and access to healthy diets remains an enormous challenge. This can be true of people with limited financial resources, including smallholder agricultural producers and families in crisis situations caused by conflict, natural disasters and the impact of climate change. Some people, due to where they live, don’t even have the option to purchase fresh and nutritious foods. 

What can countries do?

There are many ways in which governments can help to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and transform food systems by addressing the root causes of malnutrition in all its forms. The governments should increase the availability and affordability of diverse and nutritious foods for healthy diets by setting, enforcing and regularly updating national dietary guidelines and nutrition standards.

They can design and implement nutrition-sensitive policies and programmes in line with national guidelines. Strengthen legal frameworks and strategic capacities to support this. They need to work across sectors to improve food and agricultural policies, including those which support school food and nutrition programmes, food assistance to vulnerable families and individuals, public food procurement standards and regulations on food marketing, labelling and advertising. They should also  Monitor and reinforce the need for agrobiodiversity. Do this not only for dietary health but, also, to protect biodiversity and natural resources, improve productivity and income, and increase the resilience of farmers to challenges such as climate change.


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What can the private sector do? 

Private sector businesses have enormous influence over food systems and people’s access to affordable, healthy diets. As a food manufacturer, retailer or other food-related business, you have numerous opportunities to improve the quality of food and drink products, the information available to consumers and the ways in which products are marketed.

In most Sub-Saharan countries, for instance, inadequate food packaging for fresh and processed foods undermines the competitiveness of local producers. It also contributes to food loss and waste along the food supply chain. 

The private sector needs to phase out advertising, promotion of, and discounts on, foods that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt, especially when targeted at children and adolescents. They need to provide consumers with adequate and easy-to-understand product and nutrition information and avoid nutrient claims (such as “high/low fat” or “enriched”) that are used mainly to boost the competitiveness of a product and which may, instead, mislead consumers about its overall nutritional quality. They should also make it a priority to improve nutrition and food safety along the food chain. 

Contribution of farmers

According to FAO,  Men and women in agriculture, fisheries and forestry are our primary sources for nutritious foods. They also play vital roles in managing natural resources. If you are a farmer or other food producer, you can influence the sustainability and variety of food supplies.

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Farmers need to plant a wider variety of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Where possible, turn to local, smallscale fishery production as a source of income and affordable, vitamin-rich foods for local communities. Fish provides protein, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (which are generally not found in staple crops). They can also reduce food loss and waste from harvest to distribution by taking advantage of processing and storage methods to conserve products, where possible.

What can we all do? 

As consumers and members of households, we can make personal decisions to improve family nutrition by increasing our intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. By consuming fewer foods and drinks which are high in refined sugars, saturated fats and/or salt. We also need to learn or revisit lessons about local, seasonal foods, their nutritional values and how to cook and preserve them. 

Achieving Zero Hunger is not only about feeding the hungry. It’s also about nourishing people with healthy diets that include a sufficient variety of safe and nutritious foods while maintaining the health of the planet on which we all depend. Every year, World Food Day calls on us all to take action across all sectors to achieve Zero Hunger.

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