Keynote address by His Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, former President of the Republic of Tanzania and Nutrition International board member.
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It is a great honour to address the 11th Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security. I would like to echo the event’s rallying call: ‘Africa must feed itself. No child should go to bed hungry.’
I commend the African Union Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture, the African Union Development Agency and partners for making this commemoration possible, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike the previous years, the spread of COVID-19 globally is preventing us from coming together face to face. With over 40 million cases worldwide, the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are widespread, disrupting supply chains, crippling economies and straining health systems around the world.
In Africa, the impacts could be even more devastating. Straining health systems that in some cases were already overburdened and impacting people whose health and nutrition status already made them more vulnerable.
That is why this gathering is happening at a most important time. The global burden of malnutrition was shifting to Africa before COVID-19. Africa is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children has increased in the last 20 years. Today, close to 60 million children in Africa are stunted and by 2030, over half of the world’s undernourished people will live in Africa.
The impacts of malnutrition are far broader than just people’s health. This is why nutrition investments and investments in our food systems are fundamental to sustainable progress in Africa.
Well-nourished women are healthier and have safer pregnancies. Well-nourished children have stronger immune systems which makes them more resistant to sickness and disease.
Good nutrition improves young children’s brain development, increasing their ability to learn. Well-nourished adolescents are more likely to stay in school which helps them succeed in their studies. This means they can get better jobs and increase their lifetime earnings.
A healthy and better-educated population underpins economic growth and drives economic development. Which helps break a cycle of poverty and allow us to reach our potential.
I believe Africa has diverse resources, innovative and creative potential and knowledge needed to harness real improvements in the health and nutrition of our people.
The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme Framework for African Food Security that was launched in 2009 provides a roadmap to address chronically food-insecure and vulnerable populations affected by various crises and emergencies. I believe your Technical Dialogue meetings yesterday enabled you to understand how to adopt lessons from our success stories, in order to curb hunger and malnutrition.
As a continent, we need to develop resilient food systems that produce adequate nutritious foods. This will ultimately improve the nutritional status of our populations, especially children.
Africa still relies on very limited staple crops. It is time for change in the region’s food systems. Africa must invest in application of science and evidence-base innovations in agricultural, livestock and aquaculture production that lead to improved nutrition and health outcomes.
While we are reimagining our food systems, we must address the malnutrition that is impacting our people today, because prevention is more effective and less expensive than treatment. We need to reach people before they are sick, before they are malnourished, before they are stunted and their potential is cut short.
This means prioritizing essential, life-saving nutrition interventions that have the greatest impact at the lowest cost. This includes the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, which often acts as a baby’s first vaccine. It means ensuring every child under five that needs it gets two doses of lifesaving vitamin A. And that adolescent girls and pregnant women get the iron they need to combat anaemia and ensure healthier and safer pregnancies.
We also need to look at the nexus of food and nutrition, areas like biofortification and staple food fortification. While ensuring those enriched foods are used in programs that target people who cannot get or afford nutritious diets.
All of these are essential to safeguarding the immunity and health of our people and they are among the easiest for governments to afford. Yet we still have significant proportions of our populations that need them and don’t receive them. We can change this on the entire continent of Africa if we put our minds to it.
Now more than ever, investments in both food systems as well as nutrition actions are so critical. Our leaders and decision-makers need to pursue both in tandem. Because we cannot only fill our children’s stomachs. We need to nourish their brains. We need to build their immune systems. And we need to fuel their growth. Only then will we be able to secure their futures.
Because investments in nutrition and food are investments in our health, our education and our economy.
That is why, on this special commemoration of the Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security, I call upon the 55 Member States of the African Union to address contemporary challenges facing implementation of food and nutrition security interventions in Africa with concrete and immediate action.
The government, development partners and private sector, have important roles to ensure nutritious food is accessible, affordable and sustainable and that lifesaving nutrition interventions are getting to those who need them most.
I call upon the governments of the AU to:
Develop “policies and investments to diversify food production away from the staple food cereals and towards more diversified non-staple crop production, and to improve value chains to increase incomes of small-scale farmers.”1 We need regulatory and policy frameworks, as well as fiscal instruments to ensure healthier diets. In addition, governments should put in place adequate and sustainable monitoring and accountability systems.
Ensure nutrition, preventive and curative services, are fully integrated into national health sector plans, supported by a strengthened multisectoral approach. Essential nutrition services should be part of the standard package of available healthcare services, universally available to all.2
I call upon the private sector to promote healthy eating and prevent unhealthy diets that are detrimental to lives of our people. The food industries should strive to make nutritious foods more accessible and affordable to consumers, and thereby contribute to improved diets and health. We must also reduce food wastage especially by supermarkets and groceries, for example, by connecting soup kitchens and feeding centres with supermarkets and groceries.
I call upon donors and development partners to finance, monitor and track progress in tackling malnutrition in African countries. This includes delivering life-saving nutrition interventions and achieving healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems.
Ladies and gentlemen, access to adequate nutrition should not be a privilege in this century. We need to work together to end hunger and malnutrition. This is the right time to embrace the nutrition agenda as the solution and answer to Africa’s development. To embark on a decade of action on nutrition in Africa.
We need to prioritize nutrition and modernize our food systems in Africa if we are to meet our shared goals; be they the Sustainable Development Goals or those we laid out for ourselves in the Malabo Declaration.
I look forward to the communique from this event and implementation of recommendations from various thematic groups.
I thank you all for your participation and for listening to me.
1 Global Nutrition Report 2020
2 Global Nutrition Report 2020