2016 ReSAKSS Conference Focuses on Nutrition

ReSAKSS:  Achieving a Nutrition Revolution for Africa

The 2016 ReSAKSS Conference , which took place from October 18-20 in Accra, Ghana, focused on healthier diets and nutrition in Africa.  The first day of the conference included a number of side events, including a panel session on Research Gaps on Food Security and Nutrition under CAADP .  The panel began with a discussion by Maximo Torero (IFPRI) of the results of a poll conducted by the Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal and how these results link up with actual research gaps that continue to exist under the CAADP initiative.

The most important gaps identified in the poll include mapping trade across regions and tracking price distortions; these topics are in line with the types of information needed to successfully track the Malabo commitments.  Dr. Torero’s presentation highlighted the fact that the Food Security Portal project tracks a number of indicators that are directly linked to CAADP (including staple crop production, staple crop imports and exports, population undernourished, children undernourished, under 5 mortality rate, national poverty rates, the Global Hunger Index, and the Global Nutrition Report).  In addition, efforts to calculate post-harvest losses and price volatility, as well as potential drivers of volatility, were discussed. Dr. Torero reiterated that accountability to the Malabo commitments depends on having good baseline measures of indicators such as post-harvest loss.

Dr. Richmond Ayreetey from the University of Ghana also emphasized the need for evidence and quality data to show progress on food security and nutrition targets.  He expressed concern that research needs to better link to local priorities rather than being purely driven by external demands and goals.  Dr. Ayreetey also discussed the Nutrition Links project that focused on increasing incomes and providing access to microfinance, but mentioned that these types of programs are very location-specific and often cannot be broadly applied with the same nutrition results.

Karen Mukuka, the Chief Food and Nutrition Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia, provided a background and overview of Zambia’s programs to target nutrition and food security, as well as the country’s efforts to track indicators such as food consumption. Ms. Mukuka noted that additional information is needed regarding the nutritional content of local foods and the consumption of other nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Dr. Namukolo Covic of IFPRI provided an overview of the CAADP Research Framework and the specific data needs for each CAADP indicator.  She discussed the inclusion of minimum diet diversity for women and children under CAADP and the goal to use agriculture as a key strategy to end hunger by 2025.  Dr. Covic expressed concern that data collection on food consumption is not done frequently enough to drive policy changes.

The session wrapped up with a number of questions for the panel regarding the most critical indicators that need to be tracked, how to share those indicators, the best mechanisms for tracking indicators, and the need to track private sector investments as well as government expenditures.

The second day of the ReSAKSS conference included an overview of the current state of nutrition in Africa and current progress toward meeting the region’s nutrition targets. The discussion centered on ReSAKSS’s Annual Trend and Outlook Report 2015. A discussion on emerging opportunities and challenges for healthier diets in Africa included a presentation on work by IFPRI, in partnership with Helen Keller International (HKI), to evaluate several projects, including: efforts to increase nutritious food consumption in Burkina Faso, tracking economic growth and food consumption patterns in Ghana, and the role that mycotoxins play in nutrition.

An expert panel, led by Rajul Pandya-Lorch of IFPRI, discussed the need to look to the private sector to provide nutritious foods, as well as the need to increase inter-regional trade and to account for heterogeneity in tariff structures and infrastructure to increase mobility of nutritious foods.  Education was also mentioned as critical for shaping diets.

The panel also discussed what can be learned from Latin America in terms of taxing sugar to address obesity and diabetes.  Dr. Torero concluded that the evidence on the sugar taxes is not clear and that more information is needed regarding food composition, the price and cross-price elasticities of sugar, and substitution effects.  He reiterated the importance of educating children (perhaps rather than imposing taxes) in promoting nutrition in Africa.  Continuing the discussion on dietary transitions, Lucy Mwangi from the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda highlighted the benefits of the adoption of insect consumption on a broader level.

In terms of the role of ICTs in promoting improved nutrition, Dr. Torero emphasized that these technologies are not a solution in and of themselves but rather a means to transfer information; the three C’s - content, capability, and connectivity - are critical for ICTs to be effective. While connectivity has improved in the region, ICT capability and content remain challenges for Africa.

By: Summer Allen, IFPRI