The battle against hunger and malnutrition in Africa is heading in a positive direction, with impressive gains made across the continent in recent decades. But governments and the private sector still have many obstacles and opportunities to definitively bring an end to these issues that affect many millions of people.

Ahead of World Food Day, which this year is promoting the goal of #ZeroHunger by 2030, experts from CIAT discussed some of the urgent actions needed to help attain this goal.

“Between 2000 and 2015, nearly every African country improved childhood malnutrition, measured as stunting. There is measurable, steady progress on an issue long thought intractable,” said Mercy Lung’aho, CIAT’s nutrition lead in Africa.

“However, in conflict-affected areas or areas experiencing climate shocks, high rates of stunting persist with no hint of improvement. As a result, the data indicate that no African country is currently on track to reach all the targets associated with ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition,” she said during a Twitter chat before #WorldFoodDay.

Hosted by Devex, a media platform for the global development community, participants in the #InvestinNutrition chat discussed how greater investment flows can help resolve these issues. They discussed the role of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and barriers to finance.

Lung’aho emphasized the central role governments need to assume, while Steve Beebe, CIAT’s Bean Program leader, pointed at initiatives already happening thanks to partnerships with SMEs. Still, there are no easy solutions to these highly complex problems facing the continent – and market-based mechanisms are not necessarily the whole answer.

“The greatest challenge is reaching the hard-to-reach, those who are isolated from the mainstream, either socially, geographically or economically,” said Beebe. “I would like to see social justice recover its role as an explicit central priority. Many goals have become monetized or reduced to technical criteria.”

The following is a selection of answers to the six questions posed to CIAT’s experts during the chat.

Steve Beebe: The greatest challenge is reaching the hard-to-reach, those who are isolated from the mainstream, either socially, geographically, or economically.

Mercy Lung’aho: Between 2000 and 2015, nearly every African country improved childhood malnutrition, measured as stunting. There is measurable, steady progress on an issue long thought intractable. However, in conflict-affected areas or areas experiencing climate shocks, high rates of stunting persist with no hint of improvement. As a result, the data indicate that no African country is currently on track to reach all the targets associated with ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition.

 

SB: Agri-food SMEs are already adopting biofortified crops to develop food options.

ML: The private sector (agri-food SMEs) plays a role in improving the availability, affordability and appeal of healthier foods to vulnerable populations. They could help tilt food systems toward higher-quality diets, and could respond innovatively to nutrition targets and regulations. We need to understand what incentives enable them to process, distribute and retail healthier foods.

 

SB: Extension by definition requires an “extensive” approach and is often a limitation. It has emerged as an option. Do countries have an integrated approach for IT?

ML: 1a. Resource shortages; 2a. Inefficient use of resources; 3a. Inequitable use of resources. 1b. Prioritize budget quotas for nutrition actions; 2b&3b. End corruption by enhancing responsibility, traceability and accountability.

 

ML: Africa has to self-fund the end of malnutrition! But donors and philanthropists can help by working with the African Gov. to set priorities and targets then advocating and ensuring for impact, accountability, transparency and equity!

 

ML: Research on improving diets and nutrition outcomes. We need better mechanisms for public-private dialogue to shape and implement research priorities.

SB: From a purely economic standpoint, nutritious foods are also more expensive. Might these not have a better profit margin?

 

SB: I would like to see social justice recover its role as an explicit central priority. Many goals have become monetized or reduced to technical criteria.

ML: There is no one thing; we actually need a toolkit. But if I was to prioritize the ‘what’ in the toolkit; it would be data. Because without it, we are flying blind. We need to use data to define the problem of malnutrition, diagnose its root causes, design interventions that work, and track progress. We must use @CGIAR_Data and its networks to standardize the collection and monitoring of nutrition data and use emerging evidence to spread best practices, develop effective policies and guidelines.

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