By Friday Phiri, NAIS
23rd May 2017
The African Development Bank (AfDB) says the cost of malnutrition is too huge for Africa to ignore.
Speaking at a side event on Developing Africa’s Grey Matter Infrastructure: Addressing Africa’s Nutrition Challenges at the African Development Bank Group’s 52nd Annual Meetings in Ahmedabad, India, AfDB Group President Akinwumi Adesina disclosed that stunting alone costs Africa 25 billion dollars per year.
“We have way above 280 million people in Africa that are malnuorished and it doesn’t make sense really, and when you take a look at the amount of kids that are actually stunted, it is even more mind boggling,” Adesina said. “We have 58 million kids that are stunted…stunting alone costs Africa 25 billion dollars per year.”
The AfDB President observed the need for African leaders to realise that if the continent has stunted kids today, it would have stunted economies tomorrow, and therefore called for a change of approach on how to deal with nutritonal issues because there are huge economic conséquences for the future.
“We can repair a bridge, we know how to do that, we can fix a port, we know how to do it, we can fix a rail, we know how to do that, but we don’t know how to fix brain cells once they are gone, that’s why we need to change our approach to dealing with nutrition matters in Africa,” Adesina added, highlighting the impact of poor nutrition on a child’s cognitive ability.
Contextually, Dr. Adesina said African countries are losing 11 percent of their GDP due to poor nutrition. And Zambia could be no stranger to these statistics.
According to the 2013/14 Zambia Demographic and Health survey, 40 per cent of children were stunted. While this was improvement from the 2007 figure of 45 per cent, the country’s nutrition status seems to be by almost all means still in dire straits, calling for multi-sectoral approaches to deal with the challenge.
While several measures such as the First 1000 Most Critical Days campaign and an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Secretary to the Cabinet are in place, Zambia could add impetus to its fight against malnutrition through some of the strategies discussed by experts here.
One such strategy is to leave no woman behind. According to the President of the World Food Prize Foundation, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, no progress would be made without the involvement of women in the fight against malnutrition in Africa.
“The world Food Prize is in full support of your efforts as AfDB but we advise that we should not leave women behind,” said Ambassador Quinn. “Unless we involve women, we will not succeed.”
Dding to this argument was Baffour Agyeman-Duah, CEO of the John Kufuor Foundation, who believes that the debate and awareness on nutrition should not end at the high level but be taken to the grassroots.
“In Ghana, just like the case is in most African countries, we have realised that poor nutrition is may not be due to lack of food but the cultural belief that the purpose of eating is just to fill one’s belly,” said Agyeman-Duah. “Therefore, awareness should be taken to communities.”
Meanwhile, Muhammad Ali Pate, CEO of Big Win Philanthropy said “we can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted,” adding that the Africa’s rising story should be matched with tangible results through improved livelihood and nutrition for over 58 million stunted children in Africa.
Other panelists and discussants included Shawn Baker, Director of Nutrition of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lauren Landis, Director for Nutrition, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and Gerda Verburg, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement who all acknowledged Africa’s nutritional challenges and the need for collaborative efforts to safeguard the economic future of the continent.
However, African Ministers from Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar and Sierra Leone noted the need for development partners to fit into governments’ plans and avoid imposing their priorities.
The Ministers observed that some initiatives fail to yield desired results because development partners tend to impose their priorities ignoring the real needs and wishes of the local people as presented by host governments.
On its part, the African Development Bank (AfDB), nutrition is part of the larger Feed Africa strategy—one of the bank’s High five priority areas for Africa’s transformation which were launched last year in Lusaka at the bank’s Annual Meetings.
With support from the host President, Edgar Lungu, the Bank also launched the African Leaders for Nutrition Initiative (ALN) spearheaded by former Ghanaian President, John Kufor.
The initiative is aimed at mobilising high level African Leadership to make nutrion an investment priority for inclusive, transformative and sustainable growth on the continent.