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AfDB President Adesina addesses the issues of malnutrition during Global Panel Annual Meeting

This speech was delivered by Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, at the High-Level Round Table on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, 3rd Annual Meeting of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, held in Accra, Ghana, 19th November 2015.

Good morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me particularly recognize the Co-Chairs of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, H.E. President John Kufuor, former President of Ghana and Sir John Beddington, and the Members of the Global Panel.

It is a great honor for me to be here today at this High Level Roundtable on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, the third in the series organized by the Global Panel of Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. I wish to particularly appreciate the excellent leadership and passion of President Kufuor, for his remarkable commitment to ensuring food and nutrition security in Africa – which of course won him the World Food Prize (often called the “Nobel Prize for Agriculture”). He remains a giant, physically, but also in terms of driving giant commitments to this cause.

I am especially delighted that the annual meeting of the Global Panel is being held for the first time in a developing country – and in Africa. This will no doubt strengthen the political will and momentum in Africa towards the eradication of hunger and malnutrition.

The Global Panel provides unique leadership in promoting improved nutrition through agriculture and the food systems. This focus on exploring the possibilities for improved nutrition through agriculture and the food systems is particularly important for Africa.

Africa is clearly the continent on the rise. Six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. Real income has risen by 30% in the last ten years. Foreign Direct Investment has increased to US$ 64 billion while remittances have reached US$ 56 billion, exceeding total official development assistance. Despite the slow global economic growth, the continent continues to grow at 3.6%, which is projected to increase to 3.8% in 2016. But that is only one side of the trajectory.

The other side of the trajectory that we must face, however, is that the growth process is highly unequal. Africa has today one of the highest inequalities in the world. Over 400 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live on less than one dollar per day. While poverty rates have dropped, Africa is the only region in the world where the absolute number of the poor has increased. Africa accounts for 20 out of 24 countries with stunting rates over 40%.

The level of malnutrition has remained unacceptably high for many decades. About 58 million children under the age of 5 are too short for their age (stunted); about 14 million weigh too little for their height (wasted) and 10 million are overweight. These are very disturbing numbers.

We must see nutrition not just from the perspective of those that need to be well fed, but also from the perspective of the economy. Poorly fed people lead to poorly performing economies. UNICEF has estimated the annual cost of undernutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa at $25 billion. Africa and Asia lose 11% of their GNP every year due to poor nutrition. The evidence is clear: boosting nutrition boosts the economy.

Our gathering here in Accra, therefore, is to examine ways in which we can eliminate malnutrition in our world, especially by changing the agricultural and food systems. Access to food, in the right quantity and quality, is a basic human right. There is absolutely no justification that Africa, which has over 65% of all the arable land left in the world, is unable to feed itself, spending US$ 35 billion per year on food imports. Ladies and gentlemen, Africa can feed itself – and Africa must feed itself.

That is why at the African Development Bank, we have set one of our top five developmental goals as “Feeding Africa”. Given the need to rapidly diversify Africa’s economies, create jobs and reduce dependency on food imports, the transformation of agriculture in Africa must be given top priority.

Efforts are underway at the Bank to drive agriculture in a new way in Africa. That is why in October this year, I convened a high-level conference on Agricultural Transformation in Africa in Dakar, which brought together 60 Ministers of finance, agriculture and central bank governors to review the state of agriculture and design new ways to unlock Africa’s huge agricultural potential. One of the major outcomes of the conference was the need to change how we look at agriculture – away from agriculture as a development program, to agriculture as a business – one that can substantially raise the incomes of farmers, not one for simply managing poverty. We must ensure that smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women, are supported to have accelerated access to improved farm inputs in order to raise agricultural productivity. They must also be linked to markets. The development of agro-allied industries will play a significant role in this, as they will provide direct market-off take opportunities for farmers. Improved rural incomes will help raise household consumption and investment in nutritious foods.

As we raise agricultural productivity, we must pay greater attention to post-harvest losses, which are estimated to be around US$ 310 billion in developing countries. Over 65% of the losses occur at the production and processing stages. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, up to 150kgs of food produced is lost per person every year. Depending on the crop, between 15% and 35% of food may be lost before it even leaves the field. To achieve improved nutrition, we must reduce food system losses all along the entire food chain- from the farm, storage, transport, processing and marketing.

Contamination of cereal, grains and other food materials by aflatoxins is a major cause of post-harvest losses and food insecurity in Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that a quarter of the world’s food crops are affected by aflatoxins each year. Drought, pests, delayed harvests, insufficient drying and poor post-harvest handling – all of which are common in Africa - exacerbate the prevalence of aflatoxins. Solving the problem of aflatoxins requires a multi-sectoral approach, linking agriculture, health and food safety. Significant progress in Africa is already being made in this area by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which is today producing aflasafe, which reduces the presence of aflatoxins by up to 100%. Greater efforts are needed in Africa to scale up aflasafe. The African Development Bank will support African countries to scale up efforts to solve the problem of aflatoxins, as well as expand private sector investments in aflasafe manufacturing plants.

We must aggressively promote bio-fortification. In this regard, significant progress has been made in the dissemination of orange-flesh sweet potato and pro-vitamin A cassava varieties across many parts of Africa. High lysine maize varieties with high levels of protein or hybrid sorghum varieties with higher levels of zinc offer opportunities to address malnutrition. We know that biofortification works. What is needed now is to build greater demand for biofortified crops within national nutrition programs. This will require addressing demand side constraints and policies that encourage the private sector to incorporate these nutritious crops in processed foods.

We must also vigorously pursue large-scale food fortification as a food systems’ initiative and leverage agricultural platforms to promote innovation such as micronutrient powders. This will accelerate the reduction of anemia and other forms of malnutrition among women and children in African agricultural communities.

When I was Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, we launched the Transformative Partnership for High Energy Nutritious Foods for Africa. We must develop our local value chains and support our private sector to use our food resources in Africa to address our nutritional needs. Today, over 90% of the high-energy foods distributed in Africa are sourced from outside Africa. This must change, as imported high-energy foods are not always culturally acceptable, take a long time to arrive, are expensive, export jobs out of Africa and do not benefit African farmers or the private sector. The crops required to produce high-energy foods are sorghum, or maize and soybeans, all of which are produced in abundance in Africa. And so Africa must look inwards and take advantage of its own food resources and the private sector to produce all the high-energy nutritious foods it needs.

The Transformative Partnership on High Energy Foods in Africa is a regional partnership initiative that will expand markets for fortified foods beyond national boundaries. It will support both prevention and treatment of malnutrition. It will be private sector driven with governments providing the enabling environment. This is an initiative that the African Development Bank is keen to take forward with other country partners and relevant organizations such as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the private sector.

We must ensure that women farmers benefit significantly from renewed efforts to boost agriculture. Women form a significant share of the farming population but continue to face challenges in terms of access to secure land rights, labor saving technologies and finance. Evidence is clear that when supported, women can help boost food production significantly. It is time that a major effort is put on supporting women farmers in Africa. We know that agricultural productivity increases by as much as 20 percent when women are given the same inputs as men. Therefore, there is need to invest in the training and skills promotion for women in order to enhance their decision-making power in the household and greater control of their social and physical security.

This is why the African Development Bank will work with other partners to establish a US$ 300 million facility for Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa – which will be used to deploy risk- sharing instruments to leverage US$ 3 billion in financing from banks and micro-finance institutions to support women and women-owned businesses. By providing greater access to labor-saving technologies, especially food processing technologies, women will free up time and invest in more productive income generating activities. And we know that increasing the incomes of women will translate into improved overall household nutrition, as women spend a greater share of their incomes on the welfare of their households.

We need policies and programmes that help to keep children in school, and implement laws to prevent under age marriage, postponing pregnancies until the girls are old enough and physiologically ready for marriage. This will have crucial benefit both for the child and the mother and highly impact inter-generational reduction of malnutrition. Delayed marriage and keeping girls longer in school, when complemented with school feeding programmes, can have profound impacts on nutrition.

No doubt, we need massive infrastructural development in Africa. However, the greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure but brainpower, what I refer to as "gray matter infrastructure". While it is obvious that a road or port can add to improved trade and economic growth, it is often not recognized that stunting shrinks the size of the brain and therefore compromises current and future economic growth of nations. Stunted children today leads to stunted economies tomorrow. It is that simple. Therefore, we must refine the debate around nutrition from one seen as a social development issue to one that shapes the path of economic growth and development. We must now invest in developing the gray matter infrastructure of Africa, by investing in better nutrition for its children, who are the future of the continent.

School feeding programs that focus on nutrient rich crops, fisheries and dairy products, produced by farmers within their localities, can open up huge institutional markets for farmers while feeding their kids with healthy school meals. I congratulate the Global Panel for the launch of the Technical Brief on Healthy School Meals yesterday. I strongly believe that effective school feeding programmes are crucial to sustainably addressing the problems of hunger and malnutrition.

But farmers producing foods for school feeding programs face other challenges notably that of climate change. As we look towards the Conference of Parties 21 on climate change in Paris in two weeks, we must not lose sight of the impacts that climate change has already made on food and nutritional security in many parts of Africa. Some estimates show that crop yields under rain-fed agriculture in Africa may be reduced by up to 50% by 2020 due to frequent droughts. And between 75 and 250 million Africans will be exposed to worsening water stress as a result of climate change. This has very serious implications for agricultural production, food and nutritional security.

Take the Lake Chad for example, which has shrunk significantly in size because of overgrazing and droughts, all linked to climate change. The frequent droughts across the Sahel, the floods that devastate crops and fisheries populations, all contribute to increasing vulnerability of poor households. And because poor households have limited assets to cope with such effects, they spiral down further into poverty traps, which worsen nutritional outcomes. And children and women tend to be the most vulnerable in such situations. To better support African countries to deal with climate change, there is need for scaling up access of farmers to drought tolerant crop varieties, including those that are flood tolerant in areas where increased frequency of floods are becoming more common. In this regard, the scaling up of weather indexed crop insurance and other forms of micro-insurance can provide crop and livestock farmers the ability to cope with weather related risks. Other forms of risk transfer instruments such as disaster and catastrophic bonds can also help countries to mitigate the effects of large climate events.

To improve nutritional outcomes, we must also build more resilient economies. Today, over one third of the countries in Africa are categorized as fragile states. Fragility, which arises from conflicts is particularly worrisome, as the largest share of the displaced population tends to be women and children, who suffer most from lack of access to enough food - talk less of nutritious foods. Yes, we can make a lot of gain in agriculture for food systems and nutrition, but of what benefit is this if conflicts displace populations and reverse productivity and income gains? This is why the African Development Bank focuses on using a fragility lense to inform its programs and policies, with specific attention to provision of concessionary financing resources to build resilience.

But we must learn from the experiences of zero hunger in Brazil, where dramatic declines in malnutrition was achieved due to strong political will. This is why it is important for African leaders to commit to zero hunger and ensuring nutritional security for all their populations.

I have no doubt that with greater political will for nutrition in Africa, we can rapidly scale up many nutrition activities for greater impacts. We see this in the ambitious targets that the African Heads of States committed to through the Malabo Declaration, which underscores the critical role that agriculture can play in addressing stunting, underweight and wasting while increasing productivity and reducing post-harvest losses. This commitment is further reaffirmed by the AU Agenda 2063 that recognized the right of all Africans to be well-nourished and lead healthy and productive lives. Also, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 recognizes the global understanding of the need to reduce hunger and malnutrition through sustainable agricultural investments and practices.

And this is where the work of the Global Panel becomes critical: developing and disseminating evidence-based policy studies on nutrition to inform political decisions on prioritization of actions on food and nutritional security across developing countries – and especially in Africa. For nowhere is the need for the SDGs to succeed more than in Africa. I commend the Global Panel for the various policy and technical briefs that can now help the global community as it addresses the SDGs on food and nutrition in developing countries.

Let me particularly highlight here the Foresight Study of the Global Panel, which represents a very substantial input towards democratizing access to healthy foods in the next decade. Regional and country responses to the findings will significantly advance the development and implementation of concrete actions to end hunger and malnutrition worldwide.

But for this to happen, we need better data. There must be a data revolution in Africa on agriculture and food systems for improved nutrition. While agriculture and food system policies can improve nutrition significantly, data gaps that limit optimal allocation of resources towards food and nutrition priorities must be addressed. The African Development Bank will provide significant amounts of resources to support African countries to address the data gaps on food, nutrition and agricultural statistics. We look forward to working closely with the Global Panel on this in the coming months.

The world awaits us – and millions in Africa wait for actions to end hunger and malnutrition. We must see their faces. We must hear their voices. To do so, there must be Nutrition Accountability. Food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition affecting millions of the poor and children are simply unacceptable. The most important infrastructure is ‘gray matter infrastructure’. Yet millions of children in Africa grow up without adequate nutrition and become stunted, depriving them of the ‘gray matter infrastructure’ they need to improve cognitive and learning capabilities that will expand economic opportunities for them throughout life. Access to adequate nutritious food is a basic human right. We must foster accountability on malnutrition as the world drives the Sustainable Development Goals. Let us end the scourge of malnutrition. It is well within our reach to do so, and the evidence is overwhelming that we must act – and act now.

Thank you very much.

Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank

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