About half of Tanzania's population of nearly 40 million cannot perform their responsibilities well because they are undernourished, a new study says.
According to research carried out by Policy Forum, a non-governmental organisation, half of the country's population does not consume sufficient calories to sustain the rigours of heavy work, such as agriculture, which is the main occupation of the majority of Tanzanians or more than 80 per cent.
The research also found that the situation is quite gloomy for children, as four out of every 10 of those aged up to five years are chronically undernourished. The researchers say that one out of every five children weighs too little.
In the new eight-page report, Policy Forum also reveals that 25 per cent of the population consumes too few calories to sustain their bodies and enable them to carry out even light office work.
Tanzania's efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) number one of reducing by half the number of people affected by hunger are being thwarted by the increasing population of undernourished people.
Tanzania is among the 20 nations, which make up 80 per cent of the countries in the world, whose people are undernourished.
And the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC) has acknowledged the problem, noting that what people eat, how they eat it and how they prepare their food, are some of the major factors cited by experts for the rising number of malnourished people.
The TFNC's principal nutritionist, Dr Joyceline Kaganda, said research conducted by the centre few years ago had established that the problem was rampant, especially among pregnant women and children below the age of five.
And according to the TFNC, 38 per cent of the children in Tanzania are stunted due to underfeeding.
Also, statistics from the TNFC indicate that a massive 72 per cent of all the children and 48 per cent of all women in the country are anaemic.
Dr Kaganda warned that apart from having an adverse impact on human health, malnutrition hampered social and economic development due to reduced labour productivity.
This was because malnutrition increased the risk of contracting nutrition-related diseases such as iodine deficiency, iron deficiency or vitamin A deficiency, which make people too weak to perform their duties.
According to the Policy Forum report, the undernourishment contributes 56 per cent of the childhood mortality in the country. Malnutrition, the research found, is responsible for the loss of up to 13 per cent of intelligence in children.
Research conducted by the World Bank in Kagera Region in 2007 established that malnourished children lose up to two years of education compared to their adequately nourished peers.
Dr Kaganda told the Sunday Citizen that there were multiple factors responsible for the reduced intake of appropriate nutrients by many Tanzanians.
"The problem can be traced to the way we store our food, especially grains, after harvest. Though many people don't realise this, the way we store food has a great bearing on the preservation of nutrients in the items," she said during the interview at her office on Ocean Road, overlooking the ocean.
Most grains, she added, lost a great part of their nutrients in warehouses due to poor storage. The majority of granaries, she said, were not well ventilated and hence the food was stored in humid environments.
"Within a short time after being stored, you will find most grains engulfed with fungi. These destroy most of the nutrients it the grains," she said.
She also blamed the widespread malnutrition on the rampant poverty, saying that the majority of Tanzanians could not afford to buy different varieties of food to make a balanced diet.
Dr Kaganda said many Tanzanians did not diversity their food to obtain different nutrients. Most of the people ate too much of one type of food, thus denying their bodies nutrients from other food varieties.
"Our eating habits also contribute immensely to the problem. Generally, Tanzanians consume food, which is high in carbohydrates and, to some extent, proteins. Many people take very little food with vitamins or minerals. It is very rare that people make fruits part of their meals," she said.
According to the expert, nutrients in food items are lost during preparation. Citing vegetables as an example, she said many people had a tendency of washing vegetables after chopping them, not realising that by doing so they were wasting a lot of nutrients.
"We also lose more or almost all nutrients during cooking," she said. "Some people pour vegetable soup after warming it, not realising that what they are discarding contains major nutrients."
The principal nutritionist also said was also critical of those who cook food for too long, saying that destroyed the nutrients in them. "As a result we end up eating waste and not healthy food. Most Tanzanians don't know how to prepare the food without losing its nutrients."
On diseases, Dr Kaganda said: "A sick person loses appetite, therefore, reducing his intake of nutrients. The situation becomes worse if a person suffers from diarrhoea, as he also loses nutrients from his body fast."
She urged the government to support TFNC to enable it to educate more people on nutrition.
"The centre, which is responsible for conducting public awareness campaigns on nutrition lacks resources to carry out its duties," she said.
She also revealed that due to financial constrains, the Centre had not been able to expand its reach beyond Dar es Salaam.
Officials in the ministry of Health and Social Welfare could not be reached to explain what the government is doing to raise public awareness on nutrition and the attendant problems.
But their counterparts in the ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives highlighted several steps being taken to ensure that farmers produce nutritious food crops.
The ministry's spokesperson, Mr Richard Kasuga, said in Dar es Salaam that farmers were being trained on modern farming practices, including how to prepare farms, the application of fertilisers, and the use of quality seeds and pesticides.
"To have nutritious food crops, farmers should be facilitated to use productive seeds and fertilisers in their farms," said the spokesperson, noting that the government had been supplying many farmers with subsidised fertilisers.
Mr Kasuga said that this year, about 1.5 million farmers across the country received subsidised fertilisers.
The government planned to train more extension officers and deploy them in villages to help farmers improve the quantity and quality of their produce.
However, Mr Kasuga conceded that the government lacked the capacity to do all this alone and appealed to businessmen to chip in whenever possible.