Food security has long been a development goal in Africa south of the Sahara, as well as in other developing regions. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly recognized that basic food security – simply having enough food to eat – is not enough to ensure long-term, sustainable growth and development. Rather, nutrition security – having enough high-quality, nutrient-dense food to eat – is needed to improve health outcomes, drive economic growth, and end hunger in all its forms.
In February, leaders from the African Union formally launched the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative. This initiative, supported by the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, commits countries to overcoming malnutrition and to using nutrition as a driver of overall economic growth and sustainable development.
According to Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, as many as 59 million children in the region suffer from stunting and 14 million suffer from wasting. This malnutrition does not only impact the children affected; it also has long-lasting economic repercussions for countries and the region as a whole. The AfDB estimates that malnutrition’s effects – including infant mortality, medical costs, and impaired cognitive and physical development – cost Africa as a whole USD 25 billion annually and can cause individual countries to lose between 3 and 16 percent of their annual GDP.
According to President Adesina, the ALN initiative will include an Africa Nutrition Accountability Score Card, which will help countries track their progress in addressing malnutrition and in building “gray matter infrastructure” – essentially populations’ cognitive abilities and countries’ human capital. This scorecard will provide an incentive for governments to prioritize investments in nutrition-sensitive programs.
The initiative will also support the Malabo Declaration’s target of reducing the rate of child stunting to 10 percent and the rate of child underweight to 5 percent by 2025.