Lesotho, African Union Commission, African Development Bank, and partners call for renewed commitment to boost nutrition for Africa’s children

“We have a duty and a responsibility to reduce malnutrition and stunting in Africa by 40% by 2025 – just one year from now” – Adesina

Africa’s children are paying a huge price for malnutrition, a high-level round table convened by the African Union and African Leaders for Nutrition Champion heard Friday evening.

Some 86 million children below five face various forms of malnutrition, 63 million are stunted, 10 million are overweight and three million are wasted – that is they have low weight for their height.

Heads of state and government, vice presidents, ministers and heads of development and partner organizations said this posed enormous development challenges for Africa. They were attending on Friday a headlining event termed “African Union high-level round table: Addressing Malnutrition, Catalysing Africa’s Transformation through Enhanced Multi-sectoral Investments” on the sidelines of the 37thOrdinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Speaking on behalf of King Letsie III of Lesotho, the Kingdom’s Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, National Security, and Environment Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane called on African Union Member States to present policy and programme solutions for scaling up nutrition through multisector investments.

“Our commitment as leaders remains a pivotal pillar in driving policy and legislative actions to tackle malnutrition.  Member States need to adopt stronger policies and increase financing for nutrition to turn the tide of malnutrition and secure the future of our children,” Prime Minister Matekane said. He commended the commitment of African Leaders for Nutrition towards engaging African leaders to do more to enhance nutrition for the continent’s overall well-being and economic development.

Speaking during one of the panel discussions, the President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde, highlighted the Seqota Declaration made by the Government of Ethiopia in 2015 as a renewed commitment to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The Seqota Declaration is the Ethiopian government’s high-level commitment to end stunting in children under the age of two by 2030.

“The African Development Bank’s support for the Seqota Declaration has had a dramatic impact in terms of [preventing] illness and death, educational performance and inadequate labour productivity,” she said.

President of the African Development Bank Group Dr Akinwumi Adesina said, “We have a duty and responsibility to reduce malnutrition and stunting in Africa by 40% by 2025—that is just one year from now,” and declared, “It is therefore critical that strong political will be deployed by Heads of State and Government to tackle malnutrition.”

Adesina said poor nutrition keeps school-age children from realising their educational potential, diminishes work productivity and hinders much-needed contributions to society as well as negatively impacting economic growth.

As a co-founder of African Leaders for Nutrition, a platform for high-level political engagement that aims to influence innovative investments towards nutrition and food security, the Bank Group president warned the situation could deteriorate further unless action is taken.

“The number of undernourished people in Africa is projected to increase to 51.5%. Transforming food systems is an urgent priority,” Adesina said. He pointed to the findings of the World Food Programme’s Cost of Hunger Studies in Africa that showed malnutrition had far-reaching implications on societal progress.

Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, said the country has created a dedicated budget line for nutrition that multilateral agencies can support.

Re-emphasizing the importance of political leadership and collaboration in the fight against malnutrition, the African Union’s Commissioner for Health Minata Samate Cessouma, speaking on behalf of the African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, called on all Member States to unite their efforts in the fight against malnutrition.

The round table event, also co-organized or supported by development partners Big Win Philanthropy, Nutrition International and the Food and Agricultural Organization, highlighted nutrition leaders aligning the national strategic objectives of African countries with continental and global nutrition agendas.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Representative in Ethiopia, Farayi Zimudzi, remarked that there are more stunted children today than 20 years ago and that Africa’s stunting statistics are on the rise.

“Every dollar invested in nutrition can yield a return of 16 dollars. Tackling malnutrition makes economic sense,” she added.

The discussions were moderated by Dr Victor Oladokun, Senior Advisor to the President of the African Development Bank Group.

Ministers, development partners and other speakers reviewed the progress made toward achieving nutrition targets for the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme-CAADP, the Malabo Declaration, the World Health Assembly, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through sustained and increased investment in nutrition.