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King vindicates the importance of nutrition in Africa

By T’soloane Mohlomi

His Majesty King Letsie III has highlighted the significance of government in prioritising and implementing good nutrition on the African continent, this in order to eradicate the scourge of malnutrition in the envisaged future.

The King conveyed these sentiments in an address, in his official role as the African Union Nutrition Champion during the High-level Dialogue on Nutrition Financing held recently in Maseru. The revered monarch was conferred with the title in 2012 and will continue in the role during the course of 2023 -2024.

In the unenviable background of a great number of African countries failing to implement and veering off course, in relation to meeting projected nutritional and agricultural targets, set in past continental converges ions, like the 36th African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this year. The king reiterated the importance of imploring vast and innovative mechanisms for a better future through adequate funding and the incorporating of the private sector.

He emphasized the importance of good nutrition as one which would yield positive outcomes and in turn benefit all African states mutually.

“Distinguished guests your presence here today is an unequivocal sign of your commitment to continue in fighting the scourge of malnutrition, hunger and poverty on the continent. The treacherous covid-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt the work we had begun in 2019 and preceding years.

“We are grateful that this event and others like it will enable us to commence where we had left off. A few weeks ago some of you met in Addis Ababa, on the margins of the 36th session of the African Union summit, to evaluate progress and achievement towards addressing malnutrition on our continent. The Growth Continental Nutrition accountability score card and the Comprehensive Africa Development by annual report showed that Africa is making some progress towards achieving the global nutrition targets and the Malabo targets, of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2025.

“This progress is commendable but however it is not enough, we need to greatly increase our efforts in this battle against malnutrition, if we are to meet or even come close to meeting the 2025 targets. Events of this nature are of great importance because among other things they provide us with an opportunity to reflect and look back on the progress we have made and identify impediments that may hinder greater progress.

“We therefore welcome the Continental Nutrition accountability score card which shows that stunting levels decreased from 32% in 2012 to 27% in 2020, but with only five countries on course to reach the target of reducing stunting in children below the ages of five. Wasting prevails as also to have decreased by 7% in 2012 to 5% in 2020 with 19 countries on course of maintaining the prevalence of wasting to below 5%,” His Majesty said.

Echoing His Majesty’s sentiments, besides stunting and wasting, the Continental Nutrition Score Card also revealed that exclusive breast feeding had increased from 36% in 2012 to 44% in 2020, and 20 countries were on course to meet targets of exclusive breast feeding among children in the first six months.

In continuation the King further weighed in on the challenges presented by obesity and the unattended predicament caused by the prevalence of anaemia in related women.

As adolescents make up nearly one-quarter of the sub-Saharan African population and malnutrition, especially anaemia in adolescents is a public health concern. This is especially true for girls, who not only have the most significant nutritional needs during this period but face the most barriers to accessing the nutrition they need.

He emphasized that by working together, states could ensure adolescent- especially girls had access to the right nutrition.

“Over weight in children under the age of five years old is increasing, this although 28 countries appear to be on course to reach target of reducing overweight to below 5%.”

In hindsight what is most alarming is that no African country is on course to achieve the target relating to the reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age.

“Obesity among women is still concerning. Although significant progress has been made in the structural transformation of agriculture, it is greatly disturbing to learn that a bi- annual report indicates that a vast majority of countries on the continent are not on track to meet the Malabo target of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2025.”

His Majesty further added that the statistics constituted clear evidence that the continent continued to be in dire straits with regards to malnutrition and food insecurity, and suggested that leaders were therefore required to address this perilous situation with greater urgency and determination.

 In 2021 the Global nutrition report created the nutrition accountability frame work to register nutrition commitments and monitor nutrition action.

The 2022 Global Nutrition Report on stronger commitments for greater action reviewed 433 financial commitments to nutrition made by 198 stakeholders including governments, civil society organisations, private sector, donors, international organizations and academia. The commitments amounted to a staggering 42.6 billion US dollars; the review targeted mostly countries in Southern Asia and Africa. Over 61% of the commitments were from donor countries, followed by 31% from governments, 7% from international organisations and the remaining 1% from the private sector and civil society organizations. The reviewed results indicated that a significant proportion of commitments were aligned with key global nutrition targets on maternal infant and young children’s nutrition, while fewer commitments focused on improving food security.

There is also an existing indication that a relatively low proportion of commitments focused on poor diets or obesity and diet related non communicable diseases. Results emphasize the need to re-orientate food production and consumption in Africa to insure agro-food systems deliver healthy diets reducing the levels of malnutrition.

Results of the aforementioned review revealed a need to attract greater financial engagements by the private sector and civil society organisations in the fight against malnutrition and hunger thus the King highlighted.

The African continental free trade area, which is aimed to boost intra-continental trade, was also shed with a spot light by the King to be advantageous in providing an opportunity to improve nutrition and food security by eliminating tariffs on intra- Africa trades.

The High level dialogue on nutrition financing lasted for a duration of two days.

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