The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu today called for a collective sustained effort, political will and renewed commitment across the African continent, and globally, to transform agrifood systems and deliver better nutrition.
Qu was speaking at a High-Level event on addressing malnutrition in Africa during the 36th ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“It is now more crucial than ever to support vulnerable communities with multiple and innovative solutions to build their resilience and transform agrifood systems to deliver better nutrition,” he told the gathering attended by over a dozen of African heads of state and government, and high-level officials from international organizations including UN agencies and development banks.
The event, co-hosted by FAO, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank, and the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN), aimed to evaluate the progress and achievements in addressing malnutrition in Africa.
According to the last joint report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, led by FAO, 281 million people in Africa are undernourished, nearly 60 million African children under 5 suffer from stunting and 14 million suffer from wasting.
The FAO Director-General further warned that 1 billion people in Africa could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, and the impacts of the climate crisis, conflicts, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are raising levels of malnutrition and hunger.
Key actions needed
Qu explained that a series of key actions should be put in place to address Africa’s nutrition challenges.
One of them is to promote nutrition-sensitive agrifood systems making sure they deliver safe, nutritious, and diverse food to all people.
“Agriculture has the potential to improve nutrition outcomes, and we need to ensure that agricultural policies and programmes prioritize nutrition,” he explained.
For Qu, it is also necessary to scale up interventions that address the underlying causes of malnutrition such as promoting breastfeeding, improving access to safe drinking water and improving hygiene and sanitation.
The FAO Director-General asked African leaders to promote accountability for results by setting targets, tracking progress and being transparent about achievements and challenges, as well as to strengthen the capacity of national nutrition systems to collect, analyze and use data.
“Addressing malnutrition requires a multi-sectoral approach, and we need to work together to achieve our collective targets by leveraging the expertise, resources, and networks of all stakeholders to make effective progress in addressing malnutrition”, he underscored, urging to strengthen partnerships and collaboration.
Behind the Malabo Targets
At the African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in June 2014, Heads of State and Government adopted a set of concrete agricultural goals to be attained by 2025, including ending hunger and halving poverty through agriculture.
At today’s event in Addis Ababa, African Union officials as well as Heads of State and Government including King Letsie III of the Kingdom of Lesotho and FAO Special Ambassador for Nutrition, evaluated the progress towards the Malabo goals.
Josefa Sacko, AU’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment, informed during today’s event that with only two years remaining to 2025, at the current pace, the continent will not meet the Malabo goals and targets related to nutrition.
She underscored how hunger and malnutrition are major causes of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa by causing poor health, low levels of energy, and mental impairment, all leading to low productivity impacting negatively on education.
Sacko called on all Member States and Regional Economic Communities to double or triple efforts to accelerate the pace of implementation of strategies and programs improving the nutrition outcomes of the African population.
FAO’s nutrition work in Africa
FAO has supported the development of several policies and strategies in Africa on nutrition including the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy, the Sustainable School Food and Nutrition Strategy, the Africa Renewed Initiative for Stunting Elimination and the AU Initiative for Nutrition in Drought and Conflict Countries.
FAO also supports countries to strengthen data and information systems, and to train experts about hunger and nutrition indicators to align them with the SDGs.
Meanwhile, FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative supports the implementation of nationally-led programmes to accelerate agrifood systems transformations by eradicating poverty, ending hunger and malnutrition, and reducing inequalities.
“Together, we must continue to invest and innovate in diversified nutrition-sensitive agriculture that nourishes people and nurtures our planet,” the FAO Director-General underscored.