Nutrition: A Necessity for Africa’s Development

Dr. Isatou Jallow
Dr. Isatou Jallow

Dr. Isatou Jallow, an International Nutritionist from Gambia, speaking at the 2nd African Youth SDGs Summit made a great call for the inclusion of nutrition as an important agenda in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In her opening statement, she expressed gratitude to Emmanuel Ametepey,the Convener of the summit for the invitation and excitement to speak at the 2nd African Youth SDGs Summit on an important subject of nutrition. She emphasised that one cannot talk about the SDGs and Africa`s development without talking about the role of nutrition in development because nutrition is the foundation for development.

Dr. Isatou explained that, the malnutrition cycle is a serious health issues because it is a life-long cycle which starts from infancy to the end of life. She goes on to demonstrates the severity of the malnutrition cycle by giving a scenario:

Imagine a pregnant woman who is malnourished. She does not have quality food to eat so eats whatever she can lay her hands on, and lives in an area where environmental sanitation is poor which makes her prone to infections and when she gets to eat, she loses its nutrients through diarrhoea. Imagine the pregnant woman is not excused from her workload as we know in our rural communities, pregnancy does not excuse women from working on the farm. Some women work until they have one week to deliver, and they go back to the field.

Imagine that the pregnant woman enters into pregnancy malnourished with a foetus (a living being) also depending on her for nutrients which she does not have herself, let alone feeding the foetus. She delivers and her baby has low birthweight which is a disadvantage right from the start. This child goes through childhood and if the food is still inadequate, with inadequate care and poor sanitation, this child gets an infection and goes through childhood malnourished which affects her mental development as the brain cells are not able to develop when they lack the necessary nutrients. This is why adequate nutrition is necessary for cognitive mental development, she emphasised.

“This child goes to school and performs poorly. How many of us can say we have never sat in class with a child that looked tired, listless and does not pay attention, yet we think this child is stupid and dumb”? She quizzed. This child, she said, probably might be malnourished. This same child goes into adolescent and if the same conditions remain, this child continues to be affected mentally with low productivity. If this adolescent girl gets married early and gets pregnant, she has to feed her child when in actual fact she needs the nutrients for her own growth more than ever. The vicious cycle then continues from generation to generation hence the name the malnutrition cycle, explained.

This situation is the current story in Africa now. Looking at statistics, there are about 59 million children under age five with stunted growth, she indicated. In Africa, people talk about malnutrition with a focus on low nutrition which is only one part of the picture, this is not all malnutrition is about, she reiterated. We now have what we call the triple burden of malnutrition. The reality in Africa now is that we have malnutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiency which is called hidden hunger.

“Some might say there are so many priority areas which need to be tackled and nutrition is the least of these priority areas.This is an error because nutrition is the central part of the whole developmental agenda”, she said. Let us not forget that Africa is developing but at a lower space because of the heavy burden of malnutrition. If a country has a lot of malnourished children going into the numerous schools being built, they at the end of the day come out and are unable to deliver as one expects of them. This is a waste of resources and as such the critical issues such as nutrition must be addressed when we think of Africa rising.

‘‘If one has a priority, you do not expect anyone to give you money to solve your priority, if this happens then it ceases to be a priority. It is your priority to find the resources within to use for your priority’ ’Africa has what it takes to meet the basic needs of its people, however, the major question is how come we claim we have potential to feed ourselves and the entire world, yet we import about 35 billion dollars’ worth of food yearly, with Nigeria alone importing 5 billion food products yearly.

We talk of Agriculture and African revolution, yet we don’t see any young people going into Agriculture. Many young people are refusing to go into Agriculture because they do not see it as profitable and with good returns. Some young people ask: Why should I go into Agriculture when my grandparents who were farmers are still poor?

In her concluding remarks,Dr Isatou challenged policy makers to make the subject of nutrition a cross-cutting agenda and create opportunity for youth participation in changing the narrative on agriculture and its contributions to food security,nutrition and end hunger because nutrition is the foundation for development.

By: Brenda Adiaba Sefakor: Policy and Advocacy Manager, Youth Advocates Ghana-YAG

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