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It’s time to nourish Africa once and for all

To the Editor — Africa’s food systems are failing to deliver diets that are healthy, affordable, secure and safe for vast swathes of its population. For many in Africa, persistent food shortages mean that they struggle to put food on the table — hunger has become a way of life.

Almost 250 million men, women and children across the continent go on an empty stomach from dawn to dusk1. According to a 2019 study by the African Union, 56 million children under the age of 5 years are chronically undernourished, and 13 million are at risk of starvation2. For too long, African countries have failed to make the investments necessary to provide sustainable, healthy diets for their citizens. We cannot go on in this way. Better nutrition in African countries is the foundation to advance health and well-being, educational attainment, prosperity and equity. It is time to deliver food security at scale and nourish Africa once and for all.

Food security is critical to realizing the objectives of Agenda 2063 to achieve sustainable economic growth and development. For this reason, the African Union recently declared 2022 as the Year of Nutrition. Africa’s leaders must urgently strengthen their commitment to ending hunger in all its forms. The Year of Nutrition offers a unique opportunity to accelerate our collective efforts and turn ambition into reality.

We will not succeed unless we all play our part. Since the start of my first term as President of the African Development Bank Group in 2015, Feed Africa has been one of the bank’s ‘High 5 strategic priorities’. Over the past 6 years, almost 76 million people have benefited from agricultural technologies for food security through our Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation programme. Furthermore, Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZs), which are promoted by the African Development Bank in partnership with other institutions, provide world-class infrastructure to develop competitive value chains and transform rural areas into zones of prosperity. Seven SAPZs have been rolled out in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal and Togo. SAPZs are planned for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. However, much more needs to be done.

African Leaders for Nutrition (a platform founded in 2018 in partnership with fellow nutrition advocates, including several former and current heads of state) proposes three measures to ensure that the African Union’s Year of Nutrition meets expectations. The first is to secure investments for a comprehensive nutrition action plan. The second is to identify cost-effective interventions that can be quickly and easily delivered. The third is to encourage Africa’s leaders to show accountability as they fight hunger in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and targets set by the World Health Assembly.

African Leaders for Nutrition proposes to implement these measures through the Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard — an evidence-based advocacy tool developed by the African Leaders for Nutrition in collaboration with the African Union and other partners. This Scorecard offers a transparent overview of the progress made by Africa’s leaders on main nutrition indicators. Reporting activities will be carried out under the supervision of King Letsie III of Lesotho, Champion for African Union Nutrition and African Leaders for Nutrition.

Calling for a collaborative, cross-government and multi-sectoral response, the Year of Nutrition aims to raise funding for nutrition and urges African countries to allocate a significant proportion of their budgets to this goal. African Leaders for Nutrition will support the development of a cross-continental workplan, linked to specific recommendations for nutrition funding and investments. Our distinguished Nutrition Champions will appeal to the international community to unlock additional resources and advocate for the adoption of policy for ambitious national nutrition funding targets.

Africa is home to 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land and blessed with abundant natural resources3. There is no reason why anyone in the continent should suffer from malnutrition. As we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, let us close ranks and finally defeat this scourge.

The 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit catalysed a sea of change in political thinking, shifting the emphasis from discussions about food supply and productivity, to one that was driven more by the desired end goal — to enable everyone to be able to access sustainable, healthy diets. It also saw 38 African countries make substantial commitments to end hunger. The African Union’s Year of Nutrition will build on this momentum and bolster our determination to deliver on those commitments. With a population set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, failure is not an option.

References

  1. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020: Transforming Food Systems for Affordable Healthy Diets (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, 2020); https://go.nature.com/3IDpAoI

  2. The Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard (African Union, African Development Bank, 2019); https://go.nature.com/3htiDL0

  3. Feed Africa (African Development Bank, 2016); https://go.nature.com/3HCTNTk

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Correspondence to Akinwumi A. Adesina.

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Adesina, A.A. It’s time to nourish Africa once and for all. Nat Food 3, 182 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00480-4

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