Key African leaders including philanthropists and businesses have called for increased investment to eliminate malnutrition across Africa during the African Development Bank Annual Meetings 2016 taking place from May 23-27 in Lusaka, Zambia.
This follows release of new economic data by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, which shows that increased investments to meet the World Health Assembly target of reducing stunting by 40 per cent by 2025 could add US $83 billion in additional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in just 15 Sub-Saharan African countries.
For instance, in Nigeria alone, this includes US $29 billion in national income or a 17-to-1 benefit cost ratio for additional investments.
"Nutrition is not just a health and social development issue, nutrition is an investment that shapes economic growth for all African nations," said AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina, who hosted a discussion among influential leaders, philanthropists and businesses on how Africa can achieve nutrition security through increased investments and public-private partnerships.
To empower people out of poverty, Adesina said, there is need to first invest in the gray matter infrastructure that will truly fuel progress.
"When the growth of our children is stunted today - the growth of our economies will be stunted tomorrow. But when Africa's children are nourished and can grow, learn and earn to their full potential, we will be able to unleash the potential of the entire continent."
A new Africa-specific investment framework by the World Bank and Results for Development showing the costs to achieve the World Health Assembly (WHA) stunting, wasting, anemia and breastfeeding targets was also unveiled.
Achieving these four global nutrition targets in Sub-Saharan Africa would require an increased investment of approximately US $1.8 billion annually from donors and US $750 million annually from African governments over the next decade.
"Malnutrition remains a major barrier to development in many African nations, but we have global consensus on what targets we need to reach, along with a roadmap for action," said Kofi Annan, the Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation.
"One of the most critical steps we can take to achieving nutrition security is to transform the continent's agriculture sector, because it's not just about the amount of food we grow, it's also about the type of food that we eat."
Annan lauded the ongoing efforts, but further underscored the role of agriculture in defeating malnutrition.
"We need agriculture to be nutrition-smart," he said, adding that he is looking forward to opportunities for collaboration with the African Leaders for Nutrition on creating agriculture and food production systems that are diverse, efficient and resilient in order to meet the nutritional needs of every community and nation.
In his remarks, John Kufuor, former President of Ghana and co-chair of the Global Panel, said he would spearhead efforts the newly created African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN), which aims to bring together Heads of State, Finance Ministers, and leaders from key sectors across the continent to champion and increase investments in nutrition.
In his video message played during the event, Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, emphasized the need to accelerate progress against malnutrition and unlock the potential of children everywhere.
"We have a set of cost effective interventions that, if scaled up globally, would save 2.2 million lives and reduce the number of stunted children by 50 million in the next ten years," he said, pointing out that broad commitment from the highest levels, and African Leaders for Nutrition can play a critical role in making nutrition a national priority.
The May 23 event in Lusaka builds on Investing in Nutrition in which Bill Gates joined President Adesina and global development leaders to launch the first ever investment framework for nutrition and lay out research from new groundbreaking analysis that gives policymakers and advocates a roadmap for how the world can accelerate progress against malnutrition. The event was held in Washington, DC during the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings in April 2016.