Harare – A joint United Nations and African Union study says Africa must radically transform agri-food systems at a time three-quarters of the continent’s citizens cannot afford fruits, vegetable and animal proteins.
The study – published by the AU and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Economic Commission for Africa on Wednesday – says more than 50 percent of Africans lack a nutrient-adequate diet that provides the right a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
It also says around 10 percent of Africans have an energy-deficient diet.
The organisations said the situation was particularly dire in Southern Africa, where only Lesotho and eSwatini were on course to meet four of the five World Health Assembly nutrition targets.
The study (“Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition”), says: “Nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and animal proteins, are relatively expensive when compared to staples such as cereals and starchy roots and some of the reasons for this are systemic.
“The picture that emerges is that the agri-food systems in Africa do not provide food at a cost that makes healthy diets affordable to the majority of the population, and this is reflected in the high disease burden associated with maternal and child malnutrition, high body-mass, micronutrient deficiencies and dietary risk factors.”
UNECA director (private sector development and finance) said, “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.”
Overall progress in meeting global nutrition targets remains unacceptably slow in Africa, according to the report.
The report ominously indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children continues to rise.
“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.”
It goes on: “Rebalancing diets to include more plant-based foods would reduce the cost of diets and lower health and environmental costs. Compared to current average diets, diets that are more plant-based would reduce the full cost of diets, including health and environmental costs, by 11–21 percent in low-income countries.”
Recommended interventions include increased investment in research and extension services to improve yields, of nutritious foods, and investment in modern farming technologies.
“Production must be intensified in a sustainable manner 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.”