Africa Union Commission calls for acceleration of efforts towards malnutrition-free Africa

Experts at the meeting called to strengthen school feeding programmes to alleviate hunger, reap psychological benefits like increased concentration and learning

The Africa Union Commission (AUC) has called upon member countries to ramp up efforts to address the interlinked challenges of food security, nutrition and educational development.

The appeal was made at the 14th Meeting of the African Task Force on Food and Nutrition Development (ATFFND) and the Regional Economic Communities’ (REC) consultation held in Kenya from April 2-5, 2024.

AUC reiterated its commitment to working with member states to improve the nutritional status across the continent in a statement to the media. 

“The AU has been working with member states to improve nutrition on the continent and has undertaken certain key activities such as the Cost of Hunger in Africa Study (COHA). The research has enhanced knowledge about the social and economic impact of child undernutrition in Africa and the interventions that countries need to make to address the challenge,” read the communique in part.

Factors contributing to poor nutrition, such as inadequate or nutrient-deficient agricultural outputs, were also highlighted by AUC. 

The two meetings were attended by representatives from African Union Member States, the African Union Commission Departments, the African Union Development Agency as well as the Regional Economic Communities. Others were the African Development Bank, United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organisations, civil society organisations and members of academia.

Enhancing school feeding programmes

The commission also stressed the need to enhance the implementation of school feeding programmes to help boost learning as well as the health and nutrition of school-going children.

“The COHA study showed the feeding programmes have a high effect on the school attendance and retention, which reduces the drop-out rate of the pupils. In addition to the psychological benefits, these initiatives improve learning, cognitive functions, in-class behaviour, academic performance and ability to concentrate,” the statement further read.

In her keynote address, the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Representative of the Government of Kenya Mary Muriuki, reiterated the challenge of stunting in Africa and thanked stakeholders such as the AUC and the World Food Programme for prioritising nutrition-related issues, resulting in improved outcomes in some countries.

“Kenya has shown remarkable progress in combatting malnutrition, reducing stunting from 26 per cent to 18 per cent between 2014 and 2022, thanks to global partnerships. The nation’s dedication to eradicating malnutrition is evident in its leadership role in developing the Kenya Nutrition Action Plan (2023-27) and hosting the 14th African Task Force on Food and Nutrition Development Meeting,” said Muriuki.

Muriuki stressed the urgency of implementing sustainable, locally-driven solutions to meet SDG2 targets by 2030, given that malnutrition imposes significant economic burdens across Africa. 

ATFFND reviewed the implementation of the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy (2016-25). The meeting also provided a unique opportunity to explore, discuss and formulate collaborative measures to integrate education and nutrition strategies to foster sustainable development in Africa.

Key documents discussed, adopted

The participants discussed and validated the Africa Advocacy and Communication Strategy for Nutrition and the AU Strategic Framework for the Prevention and Management of Anaemia in Africa to guide the continent toward comprehensive and sustainable progress.

They also discussed and validated the plan for the new Africa Regional Nutrition strategy (2026-35) and the Status Report on the Multi-sectoral Policy Framework and Financing Target for Nutrition.

The convening was also an opportunity to review the implementation of key initiatives and provide technical guidance on the African Union Nutrition Champion Work plan (2024-26), African Leaders for Nutrition Initiative and Continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard. The participants also reviewed the Cost of Hunger in Africa Study, Cost of Food and Nutrition in Africa Studies, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programs, the Post Malabo Agenda and others.

Professor Ismael Teta, chief nutritionist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Kenya, called upon nutrition stakeholders to use recommendations from research such as the ‘Cost of Hunger Study’ and positive outcomes from ongoing initiatives like the school feeding programs to address the situation.

“Together with the African Union Nutrition taskforce we visited Kenya’s Kilifi County and saw the impact of the Nutrition Improvement through Cash & Health Education (NICHE) programme that supports families to provide nutritious and diverse diets in early childhood and reduce malnutrition,” said Teta.

Key highlights from the 14th ATFFND include ongoing challenges with overweight and obesity, compounded by factors such as climate change, conflicts, and the lingering impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s food and nutrition agenda. Participants voiced the importance of adopting a bottom-up approach, implementing a multi-sectoral strategy, and embracing a life-cycle approach to address these challenges effectively. Alignment with AU commitments emerged as a critical factor for success in tackling these issues.

At the end of the meeting, members of the ATFFND adopted two key documents: the Report of the 14th African Task Force for Food and Nutrition Development and the recommendations for the 5th Specialised Technical Committee for Health, Population and Drug Control.

Meanwhile, the RECs consultative meeting on adolescent nutrition discussed the challenges of anaemia in women, children, and adolescents in Africa. Participants also engaged with REC representatives on the key ongoing initiatives at the AUC to discuss adolescent nutrition, health, and well-being.

Some of the initiatives include She’ll Grow Into It (SGII), an adolescent nutrition advocacy campaign, the draft concept note for development of Continental Adolescent Nutrition Strategy, as well as the Strategic Framework of Prevention and Management of Anaemia.

The RECs Consultative meeting raised awareness of adolescents’ unmet nutritional needs and built consensus on the need for a Continental Adolescent Nutrition Strategy and negative effects of anaemia on children, adolescents and women.

RECs also discussed the best methods to support adolescent nutrition and anaemia interventions at the country level and build momentum and a roadmap to engage governments, policymakers and donors on prioritisation of investment in teenage nutrition and anaemia prevention.

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