Judith Francis, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Science and Technology Policy, outlines why concerted action is needed to combat malnutrition
CTA’s mission is to advance food and nutrition security, resilience and inclusive economic growth in ACP regions through innovations in sustainable agriculture. Judith Francis discusses why ensuring sustainability of agri-food systems is core to the Centre’s 2020 vision and strategy for improving nutrition outcomes.
Malnutrition is not a new global problem but 2016, in particular, has seen the launch of many nutrition initiatives. Why now?
I agree with you; it is not new. It is disheartening to know that we are still confronted with protein energy malnutrition, stunting and wasting in children, and that micronutrient deficiencies, obesity and non-communicable diseases are increasing. The evidence of the impending storm has triggered alarm in the international community. The momentum has been building since the Second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014, which was followed by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Recently, further evidence has emerged on the direct costs of treating nutrition-related diseases (e.g. obesity, cancers, micro-nutrient deficiency, severe wasting and stunting), which are estimated at between €1-3 trillion globally per year. It is projected that if Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Uganda were to reduce stunting by 40% by 2025, this alone could result in a gain of €75.5 billion between 2030 and 2060. This is assuming that improving agricultural performance, reducing poverty and tackling malnutrition can be easily realised. To achieve the desired targets will require innovative approaches and coordinated action of multiple actors motivated to work across different sectors to achieve impact, at scale.
What is CTA’s role in contributing to these global efforts on nutrition?
CTA has considered the ambitious global goals in crafting our agriculture and nutrition agenda. We have taken cognisance of the EC’s commitment to invest at least €3.5 billion by 2020 towards improving nutrition in the world’s poorest countries. And also to meeting the 2025 World Health Assembly target of achieving a 40% reduction in stunting and less than 5% wasting in children under 5 years and SDG 2 - ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, doubling agricultural productivity and ensuring sustainable food systems. However, our work over the years points to the need to reflect on the diverse agriculture, food and nutrition challenges across CTA’s 79 ACP target countries. For example, Haiti has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world (23.4% are chronically malnourished) whilst Samoa has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. In addition, Africa is grappling with aflatoxins, a major food safety challenge which is linked to kwashiorkor, stunting and liver cancers. By working strategically with national and regional public and private partners across domains, and by forging alliances with continental and global partners to mobilise resources, CTA can contribute to strengthening public-private- producer innovation networks for improving governance and performance of agri-food systems.
How do you see nutrition outcomes being addressed at national level in ACP countries?
The barriers between agriculture, health and nutrition, education, science and innovation, trade and economic performance need to be broken. The links between agriculture and nutrition are not fully appreciated, and approaches to overcoming systemic constraints need to be piloted and evaluated at local level, integrated in national programmes and the lessons widely communicated. Enhancing smallholder farmers, especially women’s productivity and income potential to enable them to fulfil their role as primary caregivers in providing diversified diets for their families is mandatory. For the short-term, CTA will prioritise interventions that provide quick wins and contribute to improving governance and performance of agri-food systems and increasing dietary diversity at household level.