Synergizing global, regional and national strategies to tackle Africa’s malnutrition
The quest to tackle Africa’s malnutrition challenges and ensure that households across the continent have access to affordable nutritious food would require synergizing global, regional, and national strategies. Almost half of all child deaths in Africa are caused by inadequate nutrition and it is the underlying cause of many diseases.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), malnutrition is a direct or underlying cause of most deaths of under-five children across the continent.
Malnutrition is a multifaceted, multifactorial and multisectoral problem that requires a systemic change of both food and health systems as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), supply and protection systems.
More importantly, it is a complex problem that requires a synergetic approach, as only a collaborative drive at large-scale food fortification would ensure a wider compliance level.
This is because fortified foods, which contain the right micronutrient requirement, are critical to building immunity, fighting diseases, and achieving balanced growth among children and young people globally.
A balanced dietary intake doesn’t just ensure children grow healthy; it also ensures countries can tap into the mental richness of young people to raise national productivity level with great implications on the economy.
In line with the foregoing, the realization that regular consumption of diets that are fortified with essential micronutrients stimulates economic productivity has often spurred nutritionists and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to advise parents to include meals that are rich in vitamin D, vitamin B-12, magnesium, calcium, zinc, folate, and iron, amongst others, in every child food mix.
However, achieving balanced nutrition management globally is a herculean task. Factors such as poor household income level and low level of education weigh heavily against the global attainment of healthy human mental and physiological growth through sound dietary management.
Data from the World Health Organisation underscore the gruesome effects of poor feeding standards on the global population.
The global health body revealed, “Globally in 2020, 149 million children under 5 were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), and 38.9 million were overweight or obese.”
BioMed Central Limited (BMC), a United Kingdom-based for-profit scientific research journal publisher, also captured the effects of poor micronutrient intake on children’s mental health development.
It pointed out that micro-nutrient deficiency results in lower IQ development, behavioural misalignment, and inept social skill levels among children.
Broadly, most experts believe that the growth potential and socioeconomic contributions of children whose dietary mix is poorly managed, especially in the first 1, 000 days of their lives, are pitiably vitiated.
Hence the imperative for concerted consolidated global, regional, and national actions to curbing malnutrition and eliminating its socio-economic impact.
As a result, the United Nations World Food Programme, through the Regional Centre of Excellence against Hunger and Malnutrition (CERFAM), and the government of Côte d’Ivoire recently held a high-level consultation webinar themed ‘Food Fortification: Which Dietary Approach to Reduce Micronutrient Deficiencies in Africa?”.
The consultation brought together representatives from governments, regional and sub-regional organisations, the African Union, development partners, regulatory agencies, the private sector, academia, civil society organisations, food systems’ experts, and key players working across the nutrition value chain to proffer solutions on how to improve nutrition in Africa.
The forum sought to stimulate a synergetic approach to the eradication of malnutrition on the African continent by collating actionable interventions to propose to governments, development partners, and other key stakeholders on the continent.
It presented a veritable platform to exchange thoughts and share experiences and good practices among the different nations’ representatives and stakeholders involved in food fortification at the global, regional, and national levels to accompany and support the efforts of African countries to eliminate malnutrition in all its forms on the continent.
Throughout the two-day high-level consultation, the participants examined the context of micronutrient deficiencies, their scale, causes, and gaps/needs.
Also discussed is the role of food systems in addressing the problem, implications of this public health problem for Africa, the current state of food fortification in Africa in terms of regulatory frameworks, standards, monitoring, results, and impacts. As well as how food fortification can contribute to our food system, improve food and nutrition security.
The nutrition actions adopted by food fortification advocates in recent times include lobbying for more nutrition indicators.
Others are campaigns to make unhealthy food expensive, build resilience to climate change, advocate for better data, wider policy emphasis on the link between nutrition and society, a shift to a country-led approach, monitoring of food fortification compliance as well as the pursuit of deeper private-public partnerships.
Amongst all the nutrition actions pursued by food fortification advocates, harnessing the creative power of private-public partnership seems to offer a sound solution to the cases of malnutrition at the global and local levels.
The logic behind this strategic pivot is simple: the global footprint and local capacities of most 21st-century food manufacturers are largely unrivalled.
Divya Mehra, policy officer at the World Food Program (WFP), described how private-public partnerships could invigorate the campaigns to bring lasting solutions to the issues of malnutrition.
“We have to look at innovative solutions and important actors in the food systems. We will not address malnutrition unless we can harness the creative power of the private sector,” Mehra said.
“International and domestic public finance must develop critical infrastructure, provide access to innovative technologies, and build skills and capacities to engage the private sector responsibly.”
One key actor that is pioneering innovation in food systems in Nigeria is Crown Flour Mill (CFM) Limited, a subsidiary of Olam, an agribusiness conglomerate, which recently acquired a state-of-the-art vitamin premix facility to provide a wide range of micronutrient fortified food products to help consumers achieve a balanced mental and physiological growth by eating quality foods.
CFM produces the richly fortified and affordable Mama Gold Flour that is being used daily by a larger percentage of local bakers serving bread, a staple food, to the teeming Nigerian production. The food manufacturer also produces various semolina and pasta brands that are equally well fortified with vital micronutrients.
As a sign of the flour milling firm’s importance to the achievement of wider consumption fortified diets in Africa, the firm was invited to participate in a high-level consultation webinar.
Speaking about the roles of technological and financial partners in deepening the food fortification efforts in Africa, Ashish Pande, managing director of Crown Flour Limited, said essential food fortification actions that involve investment in food processing technology infrastructure, precise and reinforced communication efforts, and wider consumer education are key to reducing micronutrient deficiencies in Africa.
Elaborating on the approach deployed by Crown Flour Mill Limited to ensure healthy meals are served to consumers, Pande revealed, “Crown Flour Mill Limited has invested massively in a fully automated premix facility.”
“Our premix facility ensures the right quantity and quality of micronutrients that conform to the required standards of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) are put in foods at the factory processing levels,” he said.
“In addition to ensuring our food processing standards match regulatory prescriptions,
we conduct extensive consumer education initiatives, while also regularly working with bakers to familiarize them with food fortification technology for the nutritional benefit of the end consumers, via our Baking School initiative.”
,” he added.
He explained that CFM works with top international partners to continuously improve its food processing methodologies in line with global best practices and the various international food fortification and affordability agendas such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy 2015-2025, and the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, particularly the Sustainable Development Goal 2, amongst others.
CFM’s innovative approach to serving fortified foods to consumers in its local market underlines Mehra’s view on harnessing the creative power of the private sector to drive the global food fortification agenda.
Top participants at the high-level consultation event also aligned with this strategic approach to enriching the dietary mix of the local population through private sector participation.
Rolf Klemm, vice president of Nutrition at the Helen Keller International, who was a moderator in one of the key sessions; Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry at the African Development Bank; Shawn Baker, the chief nutritionist at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and Yannick Foing, global director of leading science-based health and nutrition company, DSM’s Nutrition Improvement Unit almost unequivocally admitted that ensuring dietary fortification, diversification, and supplementation, in addition to implementing wider advocacy and partnership strategies, on a national and regional level, are necessary to eliminating dietary deficiencies across all levels.