Sep 9, 2021 | Blog

Food Systems and Nutrition in Africa

The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people. Although nutrition targets are far from being met, some African countries are working towards improving access to healthy diets. In addition, there are promising innovations under way in the private sector to produce and make available more nutritious foods to the African general public. 

These statistics, coupled with some promise of change currently being accomplished in the continent, led the way to further discussion during the Food Systems & Nutrition session at AGRF 2021 (Thurs 9th Sept). Moderated by Ms. Betty Kibaara, Director, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation, the bullseye to the session was to unearth Africa’s solutions towards safe and nutritious food for all.

To kick it off was a bold keynote address by Mrs. Nane Annan, Board Member & Nutrition Advocate, Kofi Annan Foundation, who stated that it is encouraging to see bio-fortified crops being grown more in Africa.

“Due to the adverse effects of COVID-19, let us not forget that there is a tragedy of a child not reaching their food nutrition potential hence suffering from malnutrition,” she quickly reminded.

As a long-time advocate for the orange-fleshed sweet potato, she added: “Earlier on my husband (Kofi Annan) and I attended seven various interventions in Ghana, where we enjoyed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes savory dishes and love it even more that it is a fortified crop and is non-GMO, hence our interventions in various countries with this crop.”

Mr. Larry Umunna, Regional Director West Africa Technoserve kicked off the first panel discussion.

“Large scale food fortification has had serious challenges with compliance. With support from the Gates Foundation, we focused on providing technical support like skills training and data monitoring supporting food fortification. To date, over 4M tonnes of adequately fortified food has so far been produced in Africa, thanks to such interventions.”

Throwing in a wise African proverb – ‘you cannot tell a hungry child that we ate yesterday’ – was Ms. Patience Mukweza, Operations Executive, Food Solutions, a subsidiary of Beams & Rays Packaging, Zimbabwe.

“People tend to shun away from traditional foods. For example, baked beans are good though not used as breakfast in Africa but used as radish eaten as food with other condiments such as rice, this means we need to be culturally sensitive in food production to maintain highly nutritious foods that are traditional.”

Dr. Dorothy Nakimbugwe, Director, Nutreal Ltd & Associate Professor, Department of Food Technology & Nutrition, Makerere University, Uganda, also contributed to the question of what are effective solutions to lowering the cost of a healthy diet.

She indicated that we have to become efficient in addressing the bottlenecks and leakages that are causing both qualitative and quantitative losses of food as it makes more food available and makes it more affordable. “Supporting farmers to become more efficient in agriculture will boost the quality of food and will improve productivity,” she said.

To be able to ‘persuade’ commercial food companies and retailers to focus on marketing sustainable healthy foods is not a walk in the park. Ms. Tei Mukunya Oundo, Chief Executive Officer, Nature Lock, Kenya, in addressing this, said that Nature Lock is involved in production and marketing of naturally dried food products through preserving fresh produce naturally into tasty, nutritious and affordable foods for all, right at the source.

“The thing that sets us apart is the ability to scale down our drying technology to suit the smallholder farmers and meeting them where they are for produce. We need to challenge retailers to promote  familiarity and acceptance of heathy foods by the consumer enough to earn us a billboard next to KFC,” she said.

“Due to the partnership that we developed with Heifer International, the Hatching Hope Program strengthens a sustainable and fragmented value chain in poultry production, whose demand keeps growing in Kenya,” said Ms. Isabel Dimitrov, Manager, Corporate Responsibility and Community Engagement Lead for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Cargill.

Ms. Lauren Landis, Representative and Country Director, World Food Programme, Kenya Country Office, gave a word of caution that it’s important to understand then inform people on what healthy food is, and how we define that.

Closing remarks came from Nutreal Ltd’s Dr. Dorothy Nakimbugwe: “Once kids in schools are convinced to adopt more nutritious foods, parents follow. Schools serve as pathways for information and help to incorporate more nutritious school feeding.”

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