Stories tagged: malnutrition

Nourishing Crops for Resilient Food Systems in sub-Saharan Africa

Image of Dr Shamie Zingore

Dr Shamie Zingore, Director of Research and Development at the African Plant Nutrition Institute, delves into the relationship between soil health, crop productivity and human nutrition.

Africa is home to an estimated 33 million smallholder farmers who contribute about 70 per cent of the continent’s food supply. But these farmers face various constraints, such as low productivity and limited access to new agricultural technologies. The soils in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular are some of the poorest in the world due to naturally low fertility and insufficient soil conservation measures. It is estimated that the continent loses over US $4 billion worth of soil nutrients each year, severely eroding its ability to feed itself. Crops require an adequate and balanced supply of nutrients to produce good yields, yet currently, more than 60 per cent of SSA’s agricultural land faces challenges around crop production. Continue reading

More Than US$27 Billion Pledged to Tackle Global Malnutrition and Hunger at the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit

COVID-19 and climate change have exacerbated malnutrition and threatened the sustainability and resilience of food systems around the world.

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Tackling the Food Security Risks of COVID-19

Dr Chase Sova, Senior Director of Public Policy and Research at World Food Programme USA Continue reading

Better Diets: The Intended Consequences of Addressing Food Waste

Tom Arnold, Global Panel Member and Chair, EU Commission Task Force Rural Africa (TRFA) speaks to Farming First about how preventing food loss and waste across the value chain can improve nutritional and environmental outcomes. 

“If food waste were a country,” says FAO, “it would be the third largest emitting country in the world”. But it is not just the planet that is experiencing a health crisis as a result of our food system.

Globally, one in three people are affected by the triple burden of malnutrition – a concern for 193 countries in the world: 264 million women are affected by iron-amenable anaemia, 462 million adults are underweight, and 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese.

The prospect of feeding the extra 1 billion people by 2030 will require the scale and pace of food production to increase, placing further pressure on the system.

Reducing the quantity of the food lost during agricultural processes, storage and distribution, and that which is wasted by stores and consumers is instrumental to addressing both issues.

The traditional policy response to ensuring food security has been to promote higher output of staple crops such as grains, tubers and other starchy foods, which provide the bulk of people’s nutrient energy. Although this approach has helped reduce stunting, it has failed to ensure access to healthy and nutritious diets for all. Poor-quality diets have now become the greatest threat to public health, with diet-related factors accounting for six of the top nine contributors to the global burden of disease.

With rapidly rising levels of diet-related ill-health, it is vital to invest in making high-quality diets available to all. The obstacle is that some of the very foods that are critical components of healthy diets (such as fruits and vegetables) are at the highest risk of loss and waste – hence the urgency to look for solutions across the global food system.

The numbers are staggering. It is estimated that more than half of all fruits and vegetables produced, and over 30 per cent of the total fish and seafood harvested each year, are lost or wasted. As for meat, about 50 million metric tons of meat produced globally is lost/wasted each year – the equivalent of 75 million cows.

Credit: GLOPAN

For policies to be effective, it is important to understand where in the food system loss and waste occur. Harvest and post-farm gate handling and processing losses are relatively high in low-income countries, for example where infrastructure (handling facilities, energy for cooling, bulk packaging and transport) is limited and costly. In contrast, food waste in homes, restaurants and stores generally tends to be greater in high-income countries, due, for example, to bulk purchases of perishable foods, and to excessive portion sizes that are uneaten.

In 2012, the Government of Ghana launched the “Food for All Africa Programme” – West Africa’s first food bank to rescue edible surplus food from stakeholders within the food value chain and supply to vulnerable beneficiaries. The programme aims to create an efficient food supply chain across the continent, and lead on emergency food recovery.

In 2017, in its National Food Security Policy, the Government of Pakistan included measures to reduce food loss and waste and improve access to safe and nutritious food. It also explicitly recognised that while the public sector should contribute to R&D for reducing losses and waste, the private sector has an important role to play in harvest/post-harvest capacity building. Policy measures include: incentivising investments in infrastructure such as storage, processing facilities and reliable energy supplies; supporting smallholders that yield economies of scale; and introducing procedures to ensure higher corporate accountability standards to monitor food loss reductions in the processing and retailing sectors.

In January 2019, the UK Government announced a new £15 million-worth pilot scheme to reduce by a further 100K tonnes of food that goes uneaten – which equates to 250 million meals a year. The pilot scheme, which will be launched in 2019/20, will be developed over the coming months in collaboration with businesses and charities to address surplus food from retail and manufacturing.

In both low- and high-income countries, there are number of policy actions that can help reduce food loss and waste, while improving nutrition. The Global Panel presented some of these examples at an All Party Parliamentary Group event at the Houses of Parliament in London on February 4th.

The evidence is clear: taking policy action to reduce the huge post-production losses in nutrients from the food system, would make a significant contribution to the efficiencies needed to address climate change and to feed a growing world population. Eating more of the nutrient-rich food already produced would result in savings to land, water and energy consumption tied to food production.

As pointed out in the EAT-Lancet report published last month: “An intended consequence of reducing food waste is the redefinition of how we eat”. Reducing food loss and waste in nutrient-rich foods has the potential to yield substantial nutritional benefits, while offering the opportunity to improve diets, tackle malnutrition and foster healthy and well-nourished societies.

Featured photo credit: GLOPAN.

Tackling the “Other” Malnutrition on the Rise in Africa: Obesity

In this guest post, Sheryl Hendriks, Director of the Institute for Food Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria, South Africa argues an unexpected but dangerous form of malnutrition is on the rise in Africa, and outlines recommendations from the Malabo Montepellier Panel on how to tackle it.  

The Borlaug Dialogue, happening this week in Iowa, will convene global leaders, farmers, agribusiness and development experts to address the most critical issues facing global food security. When we think of food security and nutrition, especially in Africa, a key question that comes to mind is how countries can best tackle malnutrition?

When thinking of malnutrition we can be forgiven for conjuring a vision of listless, pot-bellied children with dull eyes and skinny limbs. This sadly remains a reality in many countries across the continent with a total of 14 million children wasted – too thin for their height. But there is another form of malnutrition that is spreading silently through Africa, and it is just as dangerous: obesity. Continue reading

Sprouting Grains for Stronger Bones: The Power of Finger Millet

In this guest blog post, Jerome Bossuet of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) explains the potential that the calcium-rich cereal finger millet has for combatting calcium deficiency around the world.

Calcium is key for growth and we need plenty of it in our daily food from a very young age. Yet, about half the global population, mostly in Asia and Africa, lack calcium in their diet and are prone to many related ailments ranging from cardiovascular diseases and diabetes to bone loss, which leads to crippling osteoporosis at old age.

Scientists from Aberystwyth University, UK and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) recommend biofortifying finger millet, an already calcium-rich dryland cereal grown in India and Africa, to combat this significant micronutrient deficiency.

One woman out of three and one man out of five will be exposed to bone loss and related fractures during their lives and the societal cost is rising fast, both in developed and developing countries. Think of a bone lifesaving account. Children need to get as much calcium as possible during their childhood to prevent osteoporosis which is very difficult to detect at an early stage. In the US, osteoporosis is costing around US$ 17 billion annually.

Different strategies are in place to prevent calcium deficiency with contrasting results. Food fortification e.g. breakfast cereals or flours, may not reach the most vulnerable, while supplementation tablets have well documented side-effects. Eating calcium rich food, like dairy products, seems to be the most efficient way to combat calcium deficiency. However, many cannot switch to dairy because of lactose intolerance, purchasing power or being vegan. Therefore, selecting (biofortifying) and promoting calcium-rich crops has a great potential to combat calcium deficiency. This is where finger millet stands out.

An Indian farmer’s organization in Kolli hills, in Tamil Nadu has been advocating for finger millet (called ragi in India) for years. They grow and market it, they eat it in various ways and value its resilience and health benefits. Here, children eat sprouted finger millet as part of their midday school meal. The group have been  processing and packaging this super grain for urban markets, with the support of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Bioversity International and IFAD.

Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

Children eating finger millet chappatis at school in India. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

This is a survival dryland cereal which can grow with little rain, on poor soils, yet could reach yields of 10 tons per hectare when irrigated. It is the richest source of calcium among cereals, 3 times more than milk and 10 times higher than brown rice or maize. It is traditionally eaten as weaning porridge in some parts of India and Africa.

Under the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Cereals, a nutrition profiling of hundreds (628) of finger millet varieties in Africa shows great variability in grain quality content. Breeding research has started working on calcium biofortification of finger millet, gaining a better understanding of what environmental factors and genes influence calcium grain richness without impeding its agronomic performance. Finger millet varieties in the pipeline with double the calcium of average varieties (up to 450 mg/100g edible portion) are now being tested by Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers. Dr Ojulong, ICRISAT research scientist working on finger millet highlights the vast potential of this work. “With the development of this biofortified finger millet that still performs well in the field, you need to eat a third less finger millet to meet your daily calcium requirements. Some Kenyan food processors are very keen on using it for the growing baby food market.”

Rural Kenyan women learn a new way to cook finger millet porridge for better nutrition. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

Rural Kenyan women learn a new way to cook finger millet porridge for better nutrition. Photo credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet

However, eating finger millet is not enough to get its nutritional benefits, our body has to absorb it. This is what a nutritionist calls bioavailability, which is usually quite poor for grains, as it also contains compounds like phytates and tannins that prevent calcium absorption. However, such anti-nutrient compounds are important in plant growth and grain preservation. Tannins for instance prevent mould or insect damage. The way grain is processed and eaten highly influences calcium absorption. A nutrition study assessing women self-help group diets in rural Karnataka State, India showed that a portion of finger millet consumed two times a day together with one portion of pulses and vegetables, met the recommended calcium daily requirements.

The most nutritionally sound way to prepare finger millet is grain decortication followed by malting (germination and heat treatment).  But processed grains have a limited shelf life compared to decorticated grains. In Kolli hills, it works well because people have easy access to small village mills and can prepare small quantities depending on their immediate needs. The rest of the harvest can be safely stored for months.

Integrating the Kolli hills nutrition improvement practices could ensure calcium biofortified finger millet delivers its promises. Calcium deficient households could learn the best ways to cook finger millet to minimize the nutrient loss and recipes should suit their palate and preferences.

Increasing the market demand for this grain as a Smart Food would also incite farmers to grow it and local food processors would develop a range of value-added products reaching new consumers. MSSRF has been supporting farmer groups to raise the profile of this ‘climate-smart nutri-cereal‘, which they say can help in the fight against hidden hunger. India has already incorporated millets in the Public Distribution System food basket, and it would make sense for African countries to add finger millet in the food aid basket too. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have promoted finger millet to a high value crop because of high potential in malnutrition alleviation and also as a high value cash earner

To have a proof of concept for food security decision-makers, Dr Ojulong and his colleagues recommend support in scaling up the initial success of biofortified finger millet in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as implementing pilot nutrition studies for vulnerable groups (like children, nursing or post-menopausal women) in finger millet-eating communities to confirm the extent of finger millet calcium absorption and benefits.

Through this approach, which incorporates agriculture, nutrition and health, along with policy and market research, finger millet could combat calcium deficiency in coming years.