Blog Post

Battling Micronutrient Deficiencies in Senegal and Rwanda: Evidence from 2023 ATOR

Africa’s progress toward hunger and poverty reduction has faced significant setbacks in recent years. Multiple shocks, including global and regional conflicts and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased the prevalence of undernutrition and child malnutrition; in addition, significant micronutrient deficiencies persist in the region. While food systems have the potential to help improve these conditions, Chapter Five of the 2023 ReSAKSS ATOR report states that lack of political will, economic and cultural barriers, and lack of critical infrastructure and up-to-date knowledge pose challenges to the development of nutrition-smart systems.

The chapter focuses on the issue of micronutrient deficiencies and assesses multiple stages of food systems in Senegal and Rwanda in order to identify where along value chains nutrition can best be enhanced. It examines overall energy and protein consumption, as well as  10 key micronutrients (calcium, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin,

and thiamine). The study utilizes household surveys to measure household nutrient adequacy and market adequacy and compare them to nutritional requirements; it also uses agricultural production data to determine country-level and level of nutrient production in each country. These data sets allow the study authors to compare nutrient production adequacy with consumption adequacy at both the household and country levels.

Senegal produces an adequate average level of most studied nutrients; the exceptions are calcium and riboflavin, production of which falls short of national requirements. At the market and household levels, however, nutritional adequacy is much lower for most analyzed micronutrients, suggesting that produced nutrients do not actually reach households. The authors posit this could be due to limited purchasing power, higher levels of food exports, post-harvest losses, and loss of nutrients in cooking. The study also found large disparities in nutrient consumption among households and among markets in different geographical areas.

Peanuts play a significant role in nutrient production in Senegal. The crop represents nearly 40 percent of all energy produced within the country; peanuts also account for a large share of calcium produced. Cereal crops, including millet, rice, and maize, account for significant levels of energy, protein, and micronutrients, particularly iron. The authors posit that calcium production in Senegal could be further increased by augmenting milk production and encouraging sesame production. Iron deficiencies could be reduced by encouraging production and consumption of both millet and cowpeas.

In Rwanda, national production is adequate for protein and several key nutrients, with particularly high surpluses for vitamin C, folate, and protein. However, production of the remaining nutrients is not adequate to meet daily minimum requirements. Vitamin A adequacy at the national level is less than 50 percent of required levels.

The study found evidence of significant nutrient loss in Rwanda between production and household-level consumption for most nutrients. While vitamin C has market adequacy of 100 percent or higher, that high level does not translate into adequacy at the household level. Overall, the study finds that micronutrient deficiency poses a significant challenge for Rwanda.

Roots and tubers make up the largest share of overall energy production and consumption in Rwanda. Because these crops make up a high share of household food baskets, they also account for a large share of nutrient consumption, despite not being particularly rich in any of the key nutrients studied. Encouraging amaranth production and consumption could help increase calcium consumption, the report suggests. Similarly, increasing production and consumption of beans and sweet potatoes could reduce deficiency in a number of key nutrients.

The report emphasizes that addressing micronutrient deficiencies through national and regional food systems will come with important trade-offs that need to be taken into account. These include environmental impacts of intensifying crop and livestock production, economic impacts of lower prices for both consumers and producers, and potential imbalances in nutrient consumption and the need for better education regarding healthy diets. Local contexts and cultural traditions also need to be taken into account.

Domestic and regional trade, biofortification, and social protection programs all have the capacity to improve adequate nutritional at both the market and the household level.