Experts: Africa must invest more in education to end malnutrition

Delegates during a visit to the exhibition stand of Entreprise Urwibutso of local agri-businessman Gérard Sina at Kigali Marriott Hotel on August 26. The exhibition has been organised on the sidelines of the 11th African Potato Association (APA) that is underway in Kigali. Emmanuel Kwizera.

Increasing investment in education as well as the capacity to collect, analyse and use data will help African countries end malnutrition, experts have said, in the midst of a rise in cases of malnutrition.

The proposal comes at a time statistics show a rise in the numbers of undernourished people, rates of stunting and cases of food wastage on the continent.

According to a recent joint report by the World Bank, World Health Organisation (WTO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Africa is the only region where the number of stunted children under five years old has risen between 2000 and 2018.

During that period, stunting on the continent increased from 50.3 to 58.8 million children, the report says.

Delegates during the Africa Nutrition Summit in Kigali on August 26. Emmanuel Kwizera.

In addition to the problem of under-nutrition, some African regions have recently seen a considerable increase in the rates of overweight children.

The report states that the percentage of overweight children has increased from 10.4 per cent to 13 per cent in Southern Africa and from 8.1 per cent to 10.6 per cent in Northern Africa.

This, according to experts, calls for special attention of countries to turn around the situation.

Experts from research institutes, academia and members of Governments have said that this will require increased investment in nutrition educational programmes and awareness as well as using data to track progress.

Jacqueline Landman, a Professor at the University of Southampton, says that using schools as systems of promoting healthy feeding would be one of the greatest tools to fight malnutrition.

“Investing in schools that would act as systems to promote nutrition is critical. This can be done particularly through school feeding programmes and integrating nutrition educational content into school systems,” she said.

Landman who was speaking at the General Assembly of the Federation of African Nutrition Societies, cited Nigeria as one of the countries with a success story when it comes to promoting school feeding programmes, a domestically funded programme.

Such programmes have also been initiated in other countries like Rwanda.

Rwanda has been implementing the national food and nutrition policy since 2013.

Part of that included investing in school feeding and a host of other programmes that provide highly nutritious fortified food to mothers and children.

Such initiatives have seen the country make some improvements. For instance, the rate of stunting among under-five children dropped from 51 per cent to 38 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

Paul Amuna, a Professor the Ghana based at the University of Health and Allied Sciences, said there were gaps in nutrition research, making the case for building capabilities for data collection.

“Reliable data is important and without it, it is hard to convince governments to invest in nutrition. And without measuring what we are doing, we cannot achieve results we want,” he said.

In Ghana, Amuna said, he established a school health education programme and he has been monitoring its progress, highlighting that more than 150 villages have now been able to adopt it.

The programme provides health and nutrition education and related support services in schools to equip children with basic life skills for healthy living, which will lead to improvements in child survival and educational outcomes.

Ghana, just like Kenya, Liberia, Zambia, Namibia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, among others, has now made considerable progress, especially when it comes to reducing stunting.

Experts also laid out more suggestions, from re-orienting agricultural priorities from producing high quantities to producing healthy foods, and sustainably intensifying food production to strong coordinated governance of land and oceans, among other things.

Andrew Prentice indicated that it was equally important for countries to halve food losses and waste, arguing that Africa had immense opportunities to work with global communities to resolve nutritional deficiencies.

However, to achieve all that, Dr Anita Asiimwe, the National Coordinator of National Early Childhood Development Program (NECDP) noted that it requires coordinated, sustained evidence-based multi-sectoral nutrition programmes.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com