African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina has called for urgent action from stakeholders over the deepening crisis of global malnutrition.
Adesina made the call as he joined key nutrition actors, private-sector representatives, policy-makers and thought leaders at the 2017 World Food Prize-Borlaug Dialogue Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, October 18, to push for mutual accountability on leadership, governance and investments for nutrition.
The 2017 World Food Prize Laureate made the remarks during a high-level meeting on nutrition hosted by the African Development Bank and the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.
The President's charge aligns with the AfDB's High 5 development priorities, in particular with the fifth goal to Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa. The quest for high-quality, healthy diets also supports the achievement of Goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture".
Earlier, Adesina attended a plenary session to launch the Global Panel on Food Systems and Nutrition policy brief, 'Urban diets and nutrition: Trends, challenges, and opportunities for policy action', where he highlighted the major problem associated with poor diets.
"Poor nutrition has become the number one killer in the world. It's therefore high time to address this seriously and decisively," he said.
He explained how many low- and middle-income countries now experience a 'triple burden' of malnutrition, where under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies co-exist with obesity and other diseases related to diets.
"We must face the reality that unhealthy foods now pose the greatest danger to the health of urban dwellers," he stressed. "In short: Urban foods are energy rich, but nutrient poor. The changing face of urban areas aggravates malnutrition. We must address the problems of rapidly expanding slums, globally and especially, in Africa."
The Global Panel report highlights critical areas that deserve attention in dealing with the link between urbanization and malnutrition.
"First, we need to have stricter food market regulations in urban areas, especially for informal food markets," Adesina said. "Second, to reduce pressure on urban food systems, policies should be used to promote more sustainable peri-urban agriculture, especially for vegetables, legumes and other nutrient-rich crops. Third, better policies are needed to link rural and urban food systems, with greater investments in infrastructure, transport logistics, storage and markets, to assure steady supply of foods to cities and secondary towns."
To cut back on rising obesity, urban areas need to invest in better education on health and nutrition, support physical activities and tax sugar drinks, he added.
The policy brief describes the challenge of providing healthy diets in urban environments, with eight evidence-based recommendations.
"The urban food crisis has become a thread we can no longer ignore," said Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Former Director General, Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), Tom Arnold; Senior Adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Food Security Project, Emmy Simmons; and Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)'s Liaison Office for North America, Vimlendra Sharan, stressed how decisive action is required to reduce urban malnutrition crisis.
Policy-makers at local level need to take a leading role in championing better diets and nutrition, and this requires them to be both mandated and empowered to act, the Global Panel members emphasized.
The Global Panel is an independent group of influential experts and leaders who hold or have held high office and who show strong personal commitment to improving nutrition. Formally established in August 2013 at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in London, it is jointly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development.