A major initiative to combat malnutrition in Africa was yesterday, unveiled by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, at the World Economic Forum going on in Abuja.
The package, which is drawing technical and financial support from global food and nutrition agencies, research institutions and donors, will see the injection of $50 million by Nigeria's leading industrial and agricultural group, Dangote, into the project.
Others, who have indicated interest in the project, aimed at eliminating malnutrition, poverty and agricultural losses by farmers around the continent, are the United Nations International Children Fund, UNICEF, and World Food Programme, WFP.
Others interested in the project are: United States Agency for International Aid, USAID, United Kingdom's Department for International Development, DfID, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harvestplus, Global Action for Improved Nutrition, GAIN, and Syngenta.
Adesina, who was flanked by his Health counterpart, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the initiative known as "Transformative Partnership for High-Energy Nutritious Foods, would see to a high level multifaceted effort aimed at arresting the scourge of malnutrition and hunger in Africa.
Giving a grim statistics of hungry and malnourished people around the world, the minister lamented that nearly 850 million of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, are hungry.
Adesina pointed out that malnutrition is the cause of 45% of deaths in children under five, taking the lives of about 3.1 million children each year at a time global wealth in 2013 reached a new all time high of $241 trillion, up 68% within the past ten years.
"In Africa, malnutrition, especially the lack of essential minerals and vitamins poses major challenges in most countries.
"It is estimated that 12 Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. Almost 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not eat well enough for their health and well-being.
"Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world afflicting almost one in four people. Eighty percent of the world's stunted children live in just 14 countries, of which eight are here in Africa. This is not a pretty picture at all," Adesina said.
In a bid to reverse the ugly trend, the minister said effort was being made to transform agriculture from a mere development programme to a money-making business.
Speaking, the Vice President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Sani Dangote, said the company was desirous of setting up a major High-Energy food plant in Africa to produce enough food for children in the continent and provide income for farmers, who grow the crops.
Dangote however said with the enthusiasm given by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development towards the project, his company was willing to invest as much as $50 million into the food project and help fight hunger, unemployment and poverty in Africa.
Dangote said: "We are ready to jump-start the programme, provided we see commitment and certain level of uptake. We have to factor in crop production inconsistencies and price instability. There should also be a guarantee of uptake to farmers. "We can jumpstart the programme and others can come in. We can encourage other investors to key in. "About nine million children between five and 59 months are targeted at 100g per day per child - a huge demand.
"As population increases, the demand grows. We have to also formulate based on what people want and based on food attitudes. I believe we can do even more with these high energy foods," the Executive Head of the Nigeria Agribusiness Group, said.
Speaking, the President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Kolawole Jamodu, MAN, said his group would be signing an MoU with the Federal Government on the food programme, adding that the sorghum production programme would provide jobs for 35,000 farmers.