Africa: Introducing a New Force in the Fight Against Malnutrition

9 June 2016
guest column

Malnutrition is holding Ghana back. And it’s holding Africa back. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Poor nutrition—especially for children—has far-reaching health and economic consequences. When young children do not get the vitamins and minerals they need, their brains and bodies are stunted, which means they don’t develop to their full potential. Multiplied across communities and generations, malnutrition in Africa takes a serious economic toll.

In Africa today, the growth and development of 58 million children under age 5 is stunted by malnutrition. We cannot continue to grow as nations if we are not fully supporting the growth and development of the children that are the future of the continent.

We must increase investments in nutrition. An investment is nutrition is an investment in economic growth and progress.

The Global Nutrition Report estimates that every $1 spent on nutrition yields an average of $16 in benefits. This is because children who are well-nourished are healthier and able to learn more in school and earn more as adults, allowing them to raise healthy, well-nourished children of their own. This creates a ripple effect that extends across families, communities and countries. New data shared during an event on Achieving Nutrition Security, held during the African Development Bank’s annual meeting, shows that malnutrition costs economies in sub-Saharan Africa between 3 and 16 percent of GDP annually. Yet the same data also shows that if we increased investments in nutrition in just 15 of Africa’s countries, we could add more than $83 billion to national incomes. Imagine what that could do.

Already, Africa is making strides toward improving nutrition: the African Union has committed to the Malabo Declaration, and nearly 40 African countries, including Ghana, have joined the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. But to end malnutrition—not just reduce it—solutions must come from across governments, sectors, and partnerships. We need greater political leadership. We need collaboration. And we need accountability.

To stop malnutrition from holding us back, we must have leaders committed to taking this issue forward.

Last year, during a meeting of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition held in Accra, Dr. Akin Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, and I discussed opportunities to strengthen African leadership on nutrition. What started from this conversation is today becoming a reality that has the potential to catalyze progress across the continent.

The African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) forum will be an African-led effort, made up of individuals like myself who will drive increased visibility and prioritization of nutrition. We will encourage smart, effective policy and financial actions. We will hold ourselves and one another accountable—tracking our progress and identifying examples of success to share. And together, we will help Africa reach its highest potential.

Today, we have an opportunity to rethink how we look at nutrition. This is not just a health and social development issue. It is an investment that shapes opportunity for economic growth.

I call on Heads of State across the continent to join us and do their part by lending not just their voice, but their commitment and energy to improving nutrition. History shows us that commitment alone is not enough; we need to all work together to ensure these high-level commitments turn into significant and dedicated resources for nutrition. Because when Africa’s children are nourished and can grow to their full potential, learn to their full potential, and earn to their full potential, we will be able to unleash the potential of the entire continent.

John Kufuor is the former president of Ghana (2001-2009), Chairperson of the African Union (2007-2008) and founder of the John A. Kufuor Foundation. He currently serves as the co-Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

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