Blog Post

Political Commitment to Improved Nutrition Grows in Africa But Significant Challenges Remain: 2024 GFPR Released

The transformation of African food systems to support healthy, sustainable diets presents a significant challenge, according to the 2024 Global Food Policy Report released in May. Cereal production remains the key driver of the region’s domestic food systems, while more nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, pulses, meat, and dairy remain unaffordable for much of the region’s population. Africa also faces a double burden of malnutrition, with both undernutrition and overnutrition (overweight/obesity) rates increasing.

Addressing these challenges will require a deeper understanding of the local, national, and regional contexts behind nutrition conditions and evidence-based, multi-sectoral interventions and policies to sustainably increase the availability, accessibility, and affordability of nutritious foods and reduce demand for unhealthy foods.

One-fifth of Africa’s population is undernourished, the GFPR finds, while millions more lack the nutritional diversity needed to achieve a healthy diet. This undernutrition is a driving factor in mortality and morbidity across the region; it also carries high economic costs, with billions of dollars lost annually as a result of reduced labor productivity and rising healthcare costs.

At the same time, rates of both child overweight and adult obesity have increased in recent years to reach averages matching global rates. The GFPR finds that northern and southern Africa, where incomes are generally higher and populations more urban, have overall lower levels of undernutrition and higher levels of overnutrition, while the opposite trend is seen in other regions with poorer, more rural populations.

The report looked at household consumption of several key micronutrients (calcium, folate, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and zinc) in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda and identified several key trends in both the level of micronutrient deficiencies and their causes. The most serious gaps in all studied households were in calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and zinc; these gaps are likely due to low domestic production of micronutrient-rich foods as well as the loss of nutrients often seen in perishable foods between harvest and market. These latter losses appeared higher in Burkina Faso and Ghana.

The report also found that there is less demand for foods rich in folate, vitamin A, and vitamin B-12. Affordability may play a big role in this finding: Animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs) are an important source of vitamin B-12 but are often unaffordable for poor, rural households. In addition, the report suggests the need for both better nutritional education in order to encourage uptake of folate- and vitamin A-rich foods.

As efforts to improve food security and nutrition throughout the region have grown over the past few decades, multiple success stories have emerged of policies and interventions that have been effective in promoting the production and consumption of nutritious foods and in making those foods more accessible and affordable. These include nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs, such as an intervention conducted in four countries that provides inputs and training to help women farmers produce more diverse, nutrient-dense crops and livestock, as well as education about nutrition, health, and sanitation. The program has had positive impacts on child dietary diversity, nutrition, and health outcomes, as well as on women’s nutritional status and empowerment.

Other successful interventions have centered on nutrition-sensitive social protection programs, such as school feeding programs. The report cites Ghana’s School Feeding Program, which has had measurable positive impacts on children’s nutrition status and cognition, particularly among girls and children from poorer households. Such interventions require more consistent funding, however, the report says, as well as greater attention to food quality and safety.

Biofortification and industrial food fortification have provided another effective pathway to improve nutrition outcomes in Africa. There is a long history of crops biofortified with vitamin A having positive impacts on nutritional status in women and children, and newer interventions are studying similar zinc and iron biofortification strategies. Biofortification in Africa continues to face challenges of low producer and consumer uptake of new crops and decreasing economies of scale.

Government regulations may also be useful in improving nutrition in the region by enhancing availability and affordability of nutrient-dense foods and discouraging consumption of unhealthy foods. Several countries have tested out bans on the sale of sugary or ultra-processed foods near schools, as well as heightened requirements for food labeling. These policies have shown to be effective at shifting consumption patterns, although further research is needed into their ultimate impact on overall health and nutrition outcomes.

Political will to address the double burden of malnutrition continues to grow in Africa, with many countries joining in global and regional efforts to achieve nutrition targets and improve the affordability, accessibility, and availability of nutritious foods. Doing so successfully will require appropriate attention to local contexts, as well as a multi-sectoral approach involving agriculture, nutrition, health, education, and social protection programs and policies. The challenges to agriculture and livelihoods presented by climate change and conflict shocks also need to be addressed through policies to strengthen populations’ resilience.


Sara Gustafson is a freelance communications consultant.