In a most significant development at the recently concluded 30th Session of the AU Summit of Heads of State in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, African leaders resolved to eliminate malnutrition from the continent. This initiative, named African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN), is in collaboration with the African Development Bank (AfDB). The African Union Commission committed itself to overcoming malnutrition and elevating nutrition as the primary driver of economic growth and sustainable development on the continent.
This commitment could not have come at a better time. The continent has for long suffered a food crisis which left many of its children severely malnourished and prone to serious diseases. At the auspicious occasion, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the AfDB, drew a nexus between poor nutrition and holistic/sustainable development when he said that “stunted children would lead to stunted economies tomorrow.”
In 2016 alone, 59 million African children reportedly suffered stunted growth while another 14 million suffered from wasting diseases. These are very frightening figures. Inadequate nutrition is a serious problem in Africa. The fact that our future generations are being consumed by it should worry all Africans, especially our leaders.
It is gladdening, however, that this depressing picture may change with the latest AU initiative. The political leaders of the continent should not take their commitment to eradicating nutrition as just another conference talk. They should commit the much-needed resources and manpower to effectively walk the talk. It is reassuring that the AfDB is involved this time and we call on all our other development partners to support the initiative.
Bill Clinton, as President of America, promoted the one-meal-per-day school feeding programme on the continent, but he could not effectively get it off the ground before his term ran out. Now, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has keyed into the programme and successfully introduced it in 20 states, with six more to join before the end of the first quarter of 2018.
The school feeding programme, if properly executed, is a veritable platform to reach children in the critical age brackets who are vulnerable to the scourge of poor nutrition in the country. Our hope is that the remaining 10 states of the federation will quickly sign onto the laudable initiative so that no child in the affected category is cheated of its benefits.
Food, ordinarily, should not be a problem in Africa, given the abundant human and agricultural resources available to it. However, a failure of leadership has disposed the continent to famine and the odium of starving and malnourished children. Incessant wars and avoidable conflicts have not helped the cause of children on the continent, either.
The images of starving and dying children from different trouble spots in Africa rankle. In Nigeria, the insurgency in the North-East and the fast receding Lake Chad Basin have exacerbated the food crisis. The recent avoidable wars in DR Congo, the Sudan, Mali and Libya have only helped to make the crisis worse.
This is the time for our leaders to put a real accent on agriculture with a view to optimising the continent’s vast potential in it. That is the best way out of this food crisis. To nourish a healthy and well-developed future generation of citizens, our children must be fed not only sufficient but also nutritionally-balanced meals. This is a task that requires the best of planning and application of the abundant resources on the continent to bring about the needed change. As a first step, Nigeria after faithfully implementing the school feeding programme, should recommend it to other African countries where it is currently non-existent.
Agriculture, including aqua-culture, must be rigorously and sustainably financed with adequate provisions in the national budgets of all African states. Many countries still have financial outlays of less than 10 per cent of their annual budgets for agriculture. This cannot take the continent to where it needs to be on the food question. There must also be serious and strategic collaborations among multilateral sectors across the continent if the nutrition deficit on the continent is to be adequately redressed and the people’s future secured.