The 35th Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government and Africa’s Nutritional nightmare


The 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government will soon convene from February 5-6, 2022 with a theme “Building Resilience in Nutrition in African Continent, Accelerate the Human Capital, Social and Economic Development.”

The ordinary summit was interrupted due to the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus in Africa and across the world. It properly stands to reason that the current summit focuses on issues related to nutritional challenges in the continent.

In general terms, the issue of nutrition is a component of food security and lack of it is also invariably linked to food insecurity with its all forms of ramifications.

The concept of food security is in several cases mixed up with food self-sufficiency. There is a practical linkage between the two concepts but food security is not limited to food self-sufficiency. Food security implies food production, distribution, availability of food and marketing food products. Diversity of food items for healthy eating and preservation to close the gap in areas with recurrent food stress and drought is also linked with the efforts to ascertain food security.

Being food secured is also not limited to stowing away enough food to meet the nutritional needs of a community or a country. It is also linked with sustained food supply and the creation of assets that will help to avail food and other personal and family needs related to livelihood.

Among other things, food security is also related to food habits, religious and cultural outlooks that could have a stronger bearing on either enhancing or discouraging the promotion of food self-sufficiency and security.

Attaining food security cannot be measured only through the volume of food produced and distributed. Diversity in food production targeting disease-preventing varieties and cash-based production areas is also an important factor.

Some relate food security solely to agricultural production. However, farmers in rural areas are usually engaged in off-farm income-generating activities to supplement their household incomes. The challenge of food insecurity has already become a global and regional cause of concern. Climate change, ethnic conflicts and its aftermath of displacement skyrocketing food prices across the world, the effects of the global spread of the COVID-19 virus and other pandemics have complicated efforts underway by many African countries to become food secured. In this context, nutrition is not only about the availability of food but also its quality in contributing to the wellbeing and health of humanity in Africa. The bleak situation is that 98% of the global population affected by food insecurity lives in developing countries and the African region is part of that.

The general definition of nutrition denotes that it is the process of taking in food and using it for growth, metabolism, and repair. Nutritional stages are ingestion, digestion, absorption, transport, assimilation, and excretion. A nourishing substance, such as nutritional solutions delivered to hospitalized patients via an IV or NG tube.

Nutrients are substances required by the body to perform their basic functions. Most nutrients must be obtained from our diet since the human body does not synthesize or produce them. Nutrients have one or more of three basic functions: they provide energy, contribute to body structure, and/ or regulate chemical processes in the body. These basic functions allow us to detect and respond to environmental surroundings, move, excrete wastes, respire (breathe), grow, and reproduce.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control CDC Good nutrition, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle are essential for good health. A well-established body of research links poor diet and inactivity to a wide range of preventable diseases and premature death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks data about the leading causes of death and disease and provides a wide range of resources for health professionals and the public to support healthier lifestyles.

Studies quoted by a recent AU report entitled “Promoting Health and Nutrition” show that prolonged malnutrition, stunting and poor health contribute to increased school absenteeism and dropout rates, lower attendance rates, and overall decreases in cognition. This has brought to the fore the potential health and nutritional outcomes from school feeding programs as complementary to education and learning outcomes. The AU works with member states to improve nutrition levels on the continent and has undertaken specific activities such as the Cost of Hunger in Africa Study (CoHA), which has enhanced knowledge about the social and economic impact of child under nutrition in Africa and the interventions that countries need to take to address and remedy the issues identified as contributing to poor nutrition such as inadequate/nutrient deficient agricultural outputs.

In addition, to support learning and improved health and nutrition amongst school-age children, The AU School Feeding initiative recognizes that School Feeding Programs have a significant impact on access and retention, and attendance, and in reducing drop-out rates among school-age children. In addition to the psychological benefits, these initiatives improve learning, cognitive functions, in-class behavior, academic performance and ability to concentrate; and for marginalized and food-insecure families, School Feeding Programs improve household food security by increasing the food baskets of families in food-deficit areas.

AU is working with members states to implement School Feeding Programs which in addition to the benefits mentioned above, create revenue transfers to beneficiary families and social safety nets for poor households benefiting entire communities through stimulating local markets, enabling households to invest in productive assets and impacting the wider economy by facilitating agricultural transformation through linkages with smallholder farmers. 1st of March is the official African Day of School Feeding, in recognition of these programs that are implemented daily in different African countries.

According to the USAID Famine Early Warning Systems Report, from October 2021 to May 2022, severe food insecurity in the East Africa region is anticipated to persist well into 2022, driven primarily by the impacts of conflict, multi-season drought, floods, and economic shocks on household food and income sources. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are expected across much of the region, with the most severe outcomes anticipated in conflict-affected areas of northern Ethiopia, conflict- and flood-affected areas of South Sudan, and drought-affected areas of southern Ethiopia and south-central Somalia.

Other areas of high concern include Yemen and Sudan, where ongoing conflict and civil unrest continue to fuel protracted economic crises and drought-affected areas of Kenya. Many of those affected by the above humanitarian emergencies are recently or protractedly displaced, including an estimated 16 million internally displaced people located across East Africa and Yemen and approximately 4.7 million refugees hosted within the region.

The Report further notes that Conflict-affected areas of northern Ethiopia remain of the highest concern, where households face displacement and limited access to harvests, markets, or humanitarian assistance. Most of Tigray and some neighboring areas of Afar and Amhara are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) with populations likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). High levels of Global Acute Malnutrition remain very concerning, with proxy estimates assessed by find-and-treat campaigns reaching over 14 percent in central Tigray and over 28 per cent in Afar.

Multi-season drought is expected to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in southern and southeastern Ethiopia, Somalia, and eastern and northern Kenya. Crop failure, excess livestock mortality, and plummeting household purchasing power are increasingly likely.

As of late November, cumulative livestock mortalities already exceeded 220,500 in Borena, Guji, and Dawa zones in Ethiopia and there were multiple reports of cattle and sheep deaths in pastoral areas of southern Somalia and eastern Kenya. In Somalia, cereal prices have already approached levels last observed during the 2016/2017 and 2010/2011 droughts.

Economic shocks, often inter-related or exacerbated by ongoing conflict and weather shocks, are widespread but most pronounced in Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, and South Sudan. In Sudan, for example, high production and fuel costs continued to push sorghum and millet prices to levels ranging from 4.6 to 5.7 times the five-year average in September, despite the availability of the local harvest. In Ethiopia, the depreciation of the Ethiopian Birr coupled with poor harvests similarly pushed staple food prices up by 2.4 to 2.5 times the five-year average in September. Such historically high food and non-food prices are significantly limiting household food access and contributing to high food assistance needs.

The above-mentioned nutrition situation in East Africa can be taken to represent the situation in most African countries. Despite the unfathomable food generating resources in the continent, why is Africa still going malnourished and food insecure? In the first place, famine proofing and upgrading the nutritional status in African countries cannot be achieved overnight and by isolated efforts of each AU member country.

It requires sharing resources to boost agricultural productivity and modern technologies employed in food production. Each African country is endowed with huge natural resources and potentials which if tapped can make Africa the breadbasket of the world.

Some African countries have huge arable land that can be developed through joint ventures among African entrepreneurs. Ethiopia is blessed with immense water resources that can be used for irrigation and hydroelectric power development. Other countries have huge mineral resources and port access to the sea while in some parts of Africa, forest resources have remained untapped.

The efforts underway by AU to coordinate the development of food security, health and nutrition need to be supported by coming up with economic integration schemes which among other things include improving the nutritional status of the most vulnerable sections of African society, and the AU Ordinary Assembly of Heads of State and Government need to come up with workable resolutions that must be swiftly implemented by member countries. Africa has all the resources; it is a matter of coordinating the efforts by African countries to reduce the level of malnutrition over the coming years.

 Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The

 The January 29/2022

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