Président de la Commission de l’Union Africaine (depuis le 1er. février 2008)
In Africa, nutrition has been waiting in the shadows for a long time while the drum rolls were reserved for other causes – agricultural productivity, transport, education, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and many more.
Now it is nutrition’s turn to step into the circle. The need to refocus attention has been confirmed by the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition at its meeting in Rome on 26 February–2 March 2007 and by the activities of the African Union and NEPAD.
At the December 2006 AU Summit on Food Security in Abuja, Nigeria, the leaders highlighted the continent’s food and nutrition security challenges, and committed themselves to incorporating nutrition considerations into national policies and strategies.
With 38 Agriculture Ministers in attendance together with the eight Heads of State and Government, the meeting focused heavily on matters related to increasing production and intra-regional trade.
This time, however, the quality of available food was given as much attention as quantity. Thus dietary diversity, fortification, and appropriate infant feeding became part of the discussion on the productivity of African agriculture.
The nutrition movement in Africa is a dance, rather than a march. It is about joining hands and learning new steps together - a partnership dance of possibility and inclusion, not ‘either-or’ but ‘both-and’. Partnerships between sectors, and between the public and the private sector, are being forged with every step.
African Regional Nutrition Strategy While African leaders were meeting in Abuja to discuss food and nutrition security, nutrition experts from across Sub-Saharan Africa were meeting in Brazzaville to discuss the implementation of the African Regional Nutrition Strategy (ARNS).
The ARNS was adopted by Ministers of Health in Gaborone in October 2005, and endorsed at the Khartoum AU Summit of Heads of State and Government in January 2006.
It focuses on broad principles for a renewed effort to mainstream nutrition in national development and scale up effective interventions. It identifies eight priority action areas, and includes specific objectives, activities and indicators for each action area.
The experts meeting in Brazzaville reviewed the key strategic priorities and recommended actions at regional, sub-regional and country-level.
A complementary action plan, the Pan-African Nutrition Initiative (PANI) was also discussed at the Brazzaville meeting. The PANI was developed as part of Pillar 3 of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a priority initiative of NEPAD.
PANI emphasises achieving sustainable results by scaling up proven interventions, and applying a ‘nutrition lens’ to identify opportunities across different sectors for accelerating the achievement of the region’s nutrition goals.
The harmony between the ARNS and the PANI was obvious at the meeting. It is encouraging that there is such broad agreement between the two initiatives.
At the Brazzaville meeting the first steps were taken to develop an action plan fully informed by both the ARNS and PANI. Given the high level endorsement the African nutrition plans now enjoy, it is time to step onto the dance floor and do it.
The African nutrition dance is rich in variety. Diverse sub-regional initiatives and country-specific actions call for agility, alertness and attention to emerging strategic directions.
At sub-regional level, COMESA, the Economic Community of Eastern and Southern Africa, has been tasked with leading the implementation of the food security strategy outlined under Pillar 3 of the CAADP.
For nutrition, the Pillar 3 strategy presents rich opportunity for learning intricate new dance steps :
There is the opportunity to demonstrate that home-grown school feeding can have nutritional, educational and economic benefits for rural communities.
There is the challenge to increase the nutritional value of food aid and to ensure that nutritional considerations are taken into account in the move towards utilisation of locally processed blended food.
Nutritionists must be ready to participate in the heated debates around harmonised standards to strengthen regional trade in staples.
Care needed with fortification of staples Perhaps the most daunting steps to learn will be how to increase the fortification of staples while at the same time reversing the trend towards centralisation of staple crop production and processing.
The strategy notes the value of fortification of staples such as maize meal and wheat flour. However, it cautions that a call for mandatory fortification could undermine the equally important goal of generating alternative smaller-scale processing of these staples, in order to close the gap between producer and consumer prices, and ensure that small-scale farmers benefit from the renewed emphasis on local production of staple crops.
Thus the invitation to the nutrition community is to find ways to make voluntary fortification an attractive business proposition to the large-scale milling industry eager to maintain market share.
At the same time, further research must continue on effective fortification strategies for small-scale milling and refining operations, and alternative local sources of vitamins and minerals.
In West-Africa WAHO, in collaboration with ECOWAS and with the support of development partners, is developing an advocacy strategy to achieve a genuinely multi-sectoral approach to addressing nutrition-related communicable and non-communicable diseases.
The new African nutrition dance thus has its share of intricate steps, and requires rigour to execute gracefully.
But countries are energetically joining the dance. They are experimenting with different institutional arrangements to support multi-sectoral action. For example, Nigeria is set to implement a multi-sectoral nutrition strategy.
Nutrition leadership is moving beyond the traditional sectoral approach. In Mozambique, for example, there is much scope to strengthen nutrition research and action under the umbrella of the new Science and Technology Policy.
To scale up proven strategies, and achieve the desired results, there are efforts to help change the way work gets done. In Kenya, for example, private oil companies, government agencies, and the standards body recently brought certified Vitamin A-fortified oil to market in 120 days, using a market-tested institutional change approach, the Rapid Results Initiatives.
There is new energy stirring in the African nutrition effort. Regional and national leaders have acknowledged the central role of nutrition in Africa’s development.
With locally-crafted strategies and action plans like ARNS and PANI, African nutritionists are signalling to the world that they are taking the lead in creating a well-nourished continent.
We want to work with partners who support the goals of a self-reliant Africa, to learn together how to realise the dream of a malnutrition-free Africa. Source : NEPAD News, March 9, 2007