Taking stock of Africa’s nutrition challenges at GLAST

Despite impressive economic growth and other gains in Africa over the past two decades, the prevalence of malnutrition has risen on the continent. CIP Director General Barbara H Wells addressed this problem and highlighted opportunities for solving it in her keynote presentation at the 6th Global Forum of Leaders for Agricultural Science and Technology (GLAST), in Chengdu, China.

Dr. Wells based her presentation on the Continental Accountability Scorecard for Nutrition, launched last February by the African Union and African Development Bank. While some African countries have made important progress in reducing micronutrient malnutrition, its prevalence has risen in most sub-Saharan African countries, especially those in West and Central Africa. Micronutrient malnutrition increases the likelihood of death, hinders healthy child development and costs African countries between 2 and 11 percent of annual GDP

Dr. Wells thus outlined opportunities for improving nutrition outcomes, such as food fortification – adding vitamin and nutrients to processed food – and biofortification, which involves crop breeding to produce varieties with higher micronutrient content. She highlighted the potential of biofortification, combined with nutrition education, to enable diet improvements for families at risk of malnutrition. CGIAR centers have partnered with governments, NGOs and civil society organizations to facilitate the development and delivery of biofortified crops to nearly 40 million people in smallholder farm households across Africa and Asia.

“Biofortified crops can save lives, but their introduction and promotion needs to be part of a holistic approach that extends from breeding and seed system development to agronomic training and market interventions,” Dr. Wells said.

She suggested that nutrition education be mainstreamed in developing countries, including in interventions aimed at improving smallholder farm production to develop value chains.

“Whatever the chosen strategy for delivering essential vitamins and minerals, raising awareness and educating people about nutrition issues is extremely important,” she said.

The GLAST forum is a biennial event organized by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in partnership with CGIAR and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It brought together leaders in agricultural research and development from around the world in Chengdu, China from November 12 to 14, 2019.