FAO, AUC, UNECA call for transformation of Africa’s agri-food systems to make healthy diets more accessible, affordable

AFRICA – With Africa boasting of having 60% of the world’s arable land and diverse agro- ecological zones, it is a sceptical paradox that is genuinely disturbing, that nearly three-quarters of Africans cannot afford a healthy diet of fruits, vegetable and animal proteins.

This is according to the latest Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition launched by FAO, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union Commission (AUC), further indicating that, over half of all Africans (51%), cannot afford a nutrient-adequate diet which provides a mix of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and essential vitamins and minerals to maintain basic health.

Even an energy-sufficient diet, which supplies a bare minimum of energy and little else, is out of reach for over 10 percent of the continent’s population.

In comparison to other regions, the vast majority i.e., 80% of the 185.5 million people globally who cannot afford an energy-sufficient diet, live in Africa.

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The ripple effect of the dire situation is high disease burden associated with maternal and child malnutrition, high body-mass, micronutrient deficiencies and dietary risk factors.

Africa yet to meet global nutrition standards

The development organizations have highlighted that Africa has set out strategies in meeting global nutrition targets but progress remains unacceptably slow.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children continues to rise.

The vast majority i.e., 80% of the 185.5 million people globally who cannot afford an energy-sufficient diet, live in Africa

Although the prevalence of stunting is declining, it is falling only very slowly and despite progress, nearly a third of the children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted.

Only three countries, Eswatini, Kenya and Sao Tome and Principe, are on course to meet four of the five World Health Assembly nutrition targets. Three other countries, Ghana, Lesotho and Rwanda, are on track to meet three of the targets.

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Way forward

The report argues that, some of the contributors for the devastating statistics are systemic and that a common vision, strong political leadership and effective cross-sectoral collaboration, including the private sector, are essential to agree on trade-offs and identify and implement sustainable solutions to transform agri-food systems for healthy, affordable diets.

Also, it hinted that rebalancing diets to include more plant-based foods would reduce the cost of diets and lower health and environmental costs.

Meanwhile the findings have highlighted the importance of prioritizing the transformation of agri-food systems to ensure access to affordable and healthy diets for all, produced in a sustainable manner.

“Smart policies and interventions throughout agri-food systems are needed to raise yields, lower costs, promote nutritious foods, and reduce health and environmental costs,” states the report.

As part of the essential interventions include increased investment in research and extension to improve yields, especially of nutritious foods, and greater efforts to adopt modern farming technologies.

“Production must be intensified in a sustainable manner,” the report argues, “along with interventions to improve land governance, empower women farmers, reduce post-harvest losses and improve market access.”

Other efforts required include micronutrient fortification of staple foods, better food safety, improved maternal and child nutrition and care, nutrition education, and government policies that promote access to nutritious food through social protection, poverty reduction and income inequality.

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