Nourishing Africa: driving a nutrition-led agricultural transformation

AGRF 2020

Friday 6th September 2019

With Africa’s population set to reach 2 billion by 2050, it’s critical that nutrition is placed at the heart of interventions, policies, and strategies to drive agricultural transformation. In addition to enhancing dietary health and wellbeing, the integration of nutrition into Africa’s green revolution presents opportunities to boost yields, increase value-adding activities, and generate jobs. 

The importance of nutrition cannot be overstated. According to Professor Sandy Thomas, Director at the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, adults who are well nourished as children earn more than 20% more income than those who are not able to access healthy diets. 

Given that Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world, with the number of young people set to double to 350 million by 2050, the issue of nutrition has a major bearing on the continent’s future. As Professor Sandy Thomas remarked, Africa’s youth, whether under five or adolescents, won’t be able to achieve their potential if they’re not able to access healthy diets.

Some African countries, such as Ghana, have made strides to address the issue of nutrition by leveraging economic growth and agricultural development to reduce poverty and achieve food and nutrition security. 

Agricultural transformation can help to achieve these goals by boosting farm income through increased demand for agricultural products. It can also positively impact off-farm income by creating employment along the value chain and improving market access. This in turn enables rural consumers to overcome seasonal food shortages and diversify their diets. 

But the linkages between agricultural transformation and nutrition at household level are not well understood. What’s more, agricultural commercialization and farm production specialization, especially into non-food cash crops, can lead to reduced diet diversity if home-grown food is not supplemented with market purchases. And in many cases, a lack of diversity creates micronutrient deficiencies. 

To achieve nutrition-led agricultural transformation, governments need to ensure their programs deliver across a broad range of needs and align the activities and investments of different actors. As ever, private sector investment and involvement will be key, while SMEs will need to be supported to deliver innovative, nutrition-focused interventions at local level. 

Ms Khadija Mohammed, Founder and CEO of Kwanza Tukule Foods, offered an example of one such intervention. Kwanza Tukule Foods is a cashless Kenyan B2B that uses technology, green energy, economies of scale, and last mile distribution to ensure nutritious food is affordable and accessible. 

Street food stalls and vendors feed 84% of the Kenyan working population. Kwanza Tukule enables an easy, reliable, consistent, and affordable supply of pre-prepared staple foods, sourced from local farmers, to these street vendors. The vendors are then able to feed the community with healthy, nutritious food. 

It’s a model that puts nutrition, food health, and hygiene at the heart of the local food economy. But more support is needed for similar initiatives to thrive. “What’s needed,” said Mohammed, “is more capital investment on the table. We need look at the existing nature of investments for start-ups.”

At the other end of the scale, in Nigeria HarvestPlus is working with Nestle to improve nutrition and public health by promoting cassava and maize that provides increased levels of Vitamin A. HarvestPlus works with over 60 partners across government, business and civil society, highlighting the cross-sector, multi-stakeholder collaborations required to achieve a nutrition-led green revolution in Africa.