Why nutrition should top the pan-African agenda

As we gather in Dakar for the Initiative for Food and Nutrition in Africa (IFNA), I would like to state the utmost importance of nutrition for Africa. Without optimum nutrition there will be no engine for growth and development.

IFNA is an initiative that resonates with what I believe can be a “business unusual” for real contribution to improved nutrition in Africa. Finally the shocking statistics can start and continue to decline significantly and sustainably.

I would like to re-affirm NEPAD’s commitment to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, and further confirm our continued political and technical support through dedicated policy and programme instruments.

Hunger and malnutrition is one of the most urgent development challenges and most countries are burdened by more than one form of malnutrition – stunting, wasting, underweight, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight or obesity. These forms may co-exist within the same country, household or individual. Nutrition is one of the high priority areas for NEPAD and the African Union.

The joint focus by the AU and NEPAD on the nutrition agenda dates back several decades ago. At the AU, the Department of Social Affairs, the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, and the Department of Economic Affairs there remains palpable urgency to address the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. To this end, key policy and strategic instruments include the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy (ARNS), the Pan African Nutrition Initiative (PANI), the Framework for African Food Security (FAFS under CAADP), and the Ten Year Strategy for the Reduction of Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies.

NEPAD has also since 2005, had a strategic implementation framework with flagship programmes that include for example Home Grown School Feeding, Food Fortification including Biofortification, and Maternal and Child Nutrition. Of course policy advocacy and capacity building are important cross cutting areas that NEPAD addresses in support of the core programmatic and project focus.

I am delighted to share that NEPAD this past week, kick started the process to revise and revamp its Food Systems and Nutrition Security Strategy in support of integrated regional approaches while paying particular attention to national contexts. The revised strategy will be pragmatic in terms of the ever elusive “how” to deliver effective actions in a multisectoral fashion, with coherence, speed and sustained momentum. This effort is also in recognition that the CAADP agenda which enshrines nutrition, is now since Malabo, more about agricultural transformation and strengthened food systems – which goes beyond just the National Agriculture Investment Plans (NAIPs).

On another note, we in Africa, across all the countries here represented have excellent biodiversity, and a rich heritage to adequately feed and nourish ourselves and even the world. Our indigenous and traditional foods are amazing and valuable nutritionally. The potential is immense. However as we are constantly reminded, people do not eat potential, but rather they need real nutritious food, in real time to solve real current problems.

In many ways, I trust that IFNA will help us make a dent in changing the current dismal nutrition situation and fill the wide nutrition gap. Undeniably, we need a “people centered nutrition” where those afflicted are also active participants in seeking and delivering solutions.

Ending poverty, hunger and malnutrition must become the basis of a new social contract in which no one is left behind as per the aspirations of Agenda 2063. It is also an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

We urgently need a rethinking of our agriculture, food systems and governance for meeting current and future food and nutrition challenges in Africa.

The food systems and nutrition challenges faced by countries are complex, and their solutions require multi-pronged approaches plus a strong and sustained political leadership.

I am convinced that through IFNA this is the right moment for working harder and smarter than ever before towards important nutrition objectives.

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