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It takes a continent to fight hunger and malnutrition in Africa

It is often said in Africa that it takes a village to raise a child. Parenting is a shared responsibility, a communal affair. For Africa to tackle some of the challenges it faces, like the threat of severe malnutrition and hunger, a similar awareness of shared responsibility and co-operation between - and within - countries will be needed. Multilateral co-operation could catalyse more successful health and agriculture interventions and enable countries that are trailing behind to be better supported.

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Panel members at the Malabo Montpellier Forum prepare for their session

The battle against malnutrition in Africa can be won. Several African countries have reduced malnutrition significantly in the last 16 years –  Senegal, Ghana and Rwanda by more than half. Largely as a result of their efforts, the proportion of hungry people on the continent dropped from 27 per cent to 20 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

However, there remains a lot of work to be done if African countries are to meet the commitments of the 2014 Malabo Declaration to halve poverty and end hunger by 2030. One in five people on the continent don't have enough to eat. Food shortages and food crises have been all-too-frequent this last year, leaving countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia devastated. Africa is the only continent where the absolute number of hungry people is still rising.

However, progress is being made in some countries and it is crucial that policy makers have a platform to share their experiences about what works, how and why. To facilitate just that co-operation and dialogue, we are delighted to be holding the first Malabo Montpellier (MaMo) Forum this week in Cotonou, Benin.

The MaMo Forum is co-chaired by The Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and His Excellency Abdoulaye Bio-Tchané, Minister of State in charge of Planning and Development of the Republic of Benin. Under the leadership of its co-chairs, the Forum seeks to create a space for high-level decision-makers, Malabo Montpellier Panel members and development partners to exchange about their experiences of fighting hunger and malnutrition and to learn crucial lessons.

High-level meetings, such as this, are essential to support policy makers and development partners to review progress across the continent. There is a growing evidence-base for successful nutrition and agriculture interventions and it is crucial to draw out lessons to help replicate and scale-up successful interventions.  

Senegal reduced the number of undernourished people and wasted and stunted children by 56 per cent between 2000 and 2016, according to the Global Hunger Index, Ghana by 54 per cent and Rwanda by 53 per cent while Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Togo achieved reductions of more than 40 per cent.

Governments that have been successful in beating hunger and malnutrition have elevated the issue to the highest political priority and taken a multi-pronged approach that includes different ministries. In Senegal, the Cellule de Lutte Contre la Malnutrition (CLM) sits within the Prime Minister’s office and provides technical assistance to implement the national nutrition policy,  

Benin and Malawi, the countries that are co-chairing the Forum, have backed programmes in health and agriculture that provide helpful insights for other nations. For example, it is common for people in Malawi to participate in civil society groups, some of which advocate for better health outcomes. Through these, the government has been able to deliver successful community-based care, which has significantly extended health services throughout the country since 2004. Nine out of ten children treated for acute malnutrition in Malawi are now cured.

Food fortification is an intervention that has worked in Benin and proven that collaborating with the private sector can be beneficial. Local companies are fortifying cooking oil with Vitamin A, while others have committed to fortifying wheat flour with iron, zinc, folic acid and B group vitamins. The Government of Benin is aiming to meet at least 30 percent of the population’s daily vitamin A needs through the consumption of enriched products.

It is crucial that the evidence about what works in the fight against hunger and malnutrition is discussed and lessons learnt. Amongst the successes, there are also new challenges. There is an urgent need to address the emerging burden of obesity among some segments of the African population. The growing middle classes and shifts in dietary patterns and physical activity levels have led to an increased prevalence of obesity. It is only by coming together and taking shared responsibility for meeting these challenges that we will successfully end hunger in Africa by 2030 and address malnutrition in all its forms.

The opinions represented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of individual Malabo Montpellier Panel members and their organizations.