Improving nutrition in Africa

A new program to help deliver improved nutrition to Africa was designed at a workshop in Nairobi earlier this month.

A new program to help deliver improved nutrition to Africa was designed at a workshop in Nairobi earlier this month.

The workshop aimed to advance progress on what Hilary Clinton and others argue is the issue of our time—food security. More than one billion people remain malnourished, and another billion suffer from hidden hunger due to lack of essential vitamins and minerals in their diets—this while another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese.

A key to achieving lasting food security is meeting the challenge of providing food and adequate daily nutrition to all.

The agricultural sector rarely has ‘enhancing nutrition’ as an articulated objective. Delia Grace, a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, says: “A consensus is growing that the disconnect between agriculture, health and nutrition is at least partly responsible for the disease burden associated with food and farming.”

ILRI and the Australian International Food Security Centre (AIFSC), an initiative announced by the Australian government in October 2011, hosted the one-and-a-half day workshop to help address this disconnect.

Experts from across Africa and the world specialising in nutrition, food policy, food safety, agricultural production and value chains participated in the workshop. Participants discussed gaps between research on food security, agriculture and nutrition, in line with African priorities and how the Australian International Food Security Centre can best complement work being undertaken by other organisations. The centre will use the outcomes of the workshop to shape its nutrition program by identifying where to make its initial investments in African food security.

The Australian centre aims to help bridge existing gaps between agricultural innovations and development so as to speed the adoption of innovations for better food and nutritional security of poor people.

Mellissa Wood, director of the Australian International Food Security Centre, said: “Australia has many similar environments and challenges common to African agriculture. Our expertise in agriculture can help play a role in achieving food security in Africa, including developing more nutritious food.”

Australian agricultural science has experience with climatic variability and extreme climatic events that affect farming, forestry, fisheries and livestock. While eventually planning to work in developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Australian International Food Security Centre is focusing its first efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new Australian centre will work specifically to increase the nutritional quality, safety and diversity of food and reduce food losses after harvest. It will also improve access by the poor to markets and other business opportunities, build the capacity of local institutions and individuals and promote gender equality