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The East African : March 3rd 2014
The EastAfrican 32 OUTLOOK MARCH 1-7,2014 D E VE LO PME N T Rwanda model of best nutrition practice in Africa The country has scaled up community-based nutrition programmes in all its 30 districts A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT The EastAfrican R wanda has achieved remarkable success in reducing child hunger, and nutrition experts believe there may be lessons here for other countries in Africa. The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), in a 2013 report on progress in tackling malnutrition, noted that in 2005 more than half of Rwanda’s children under five years of age — about 800,000 — were stunted. “Just five years later, stunting prevalence had decreased from an estimated 52 per cent to 44 per cent,” the report said. The Rwandan approach has been to find home-grown solutions. It scaled up communitybased nutrition programmes in all its 30 districts, and has been setting up an almost universal community-based health insurance scheme. “This was done with the help of food grown locally, and not packaged interventions provided by donors,” said Fidele Ngabo, director of Maternal Child Health. “There are thousands of local solutions for hunger… “Each village comes up with community-based approaches to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity that don’t cost money — we are at the centre to provide support and play a monitoring role,” she said. Examples include the setting up of a communal grain reserve to which each household con- tributes at least 20 per cent of their harvest during a good season, with the stored grain being used during the lean season; or the expansion of kitchen gardens with shared information on the vegetables to be grown. Suggestions and proposed so- lutions are debated in working groups comprising aid agencies, researchers, academics and government officials. The Rwandan model could be used in other African countries, where foreign donor-driven initiatives tend to focus on treatment and technical solutions. Change will only come when nutrition research is led by Africa, and interventions are designed to meet a country’s priorities, according to the findings of a two-year European Unionfunded Sunray (Sustainable nutrition research for Africa in the years to come) project, published recently in PLOS Medi- The food price crisis of 2006-08 pushed the number of malnourished children to shocking levels and put a new focus on nutrition. Greater political stability after various conflicts ended, an improvement in economic growth, and advances in the fight against HIV/Aids, A partnership between African researchers and those from the West will paint a better picture of malnutrition in Africa. Picture: File FOOD CRISIS AND MORTALITY have all helped reduce mortality rates and malnutrition since 2000, says the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), but most countries with the highest GHI scores, or with alarming hunger levels, are in Africa. The three countries at the bottom of the GHI scale are Burundi, Eritrea and Comoros. cine, a peer-reviewed journal. “We need to shake up nu- tritional research in Africa and turn it upside down,” said Patrick Kolsteren, of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, the co-ordinator of the Sunray project. “Currently, researchers from developed countries search for African partners for joint research, based on funding and research priorities defined outside Africa. Instead, the research agenda should be based on needs identified within the continent. Calls for research proposals by donors should match this agenda.” “We did not look at the portfo- lio of interventions but rather at the research agenda. The overall feeling was that this agenda is mainly donor-driven and not always in line… with the locally identified needs and priorities,” he said. Researchers and policymak- ers in Benin wait for “the dictate of donors before taking action. As soon as they end, all activities are stopped, and acquired benefits and good practices are lost,” said Eunice Nago Koukoubou of the Université d’AbomeyCalavi in Benin, one of the author of the published findings. “In addition, nutrition re- searchers are not autonomous, creative and proactive enough to define their own agenda in line with real nutritional problems of our populations,” she added. So, “despite enormous amounts of money spent on nutrition research and interventions,” malnutrition rates have not fallen in Benin. “If African governments were funding nutrition on the continent adequately, donors wouldn’t dictate their agenda,” said Ms Koukoubou. “In Benin, there is already a kind of po- litical will to make nutrition… including nutrition research, a priority in development policies, and to fund it.” The Sunray project consulted over 100 stakeholders in 40 sub Saharan African countries and identified the following priority areas of research: The impact of community interventions; what influences the quality and quantity of food a child eats; and the effectiveness of promoting traditional foods and whether this helps people through periods of climatic shock. Priority actions that would help create a good environment for funding nutrition research in Africa include better governance of research, ensuring it is aligned with priorities identified in sub-Saharan Africa; helping countries develop technical capacity; and sharing findings with each other. Respected nutrition expert Lawrence Haddad, director of the UK Institute for Development Studies, said the study is the “first systematic listening exercise about what the African nutrition research community thinks.” A partnership between Af- rican researchers, “who have more credibility and knowledge of the context,” and Western researchers with the resources and opportunities, would be key. Haddad cites the African Economic Research Consortium as an example of an African-led model built on such partnerships, but with the agenda set by Africans. “I would like to see something along these lines tried in nutrition.” The Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators Initiative, run by IFPRI, monitors spending on agricultural research and development. Among countries for which data is available, half recorded negative growth in spending on agricultural R&D between 2000 and 2008. To change the face of nutri- tional research in Africa, the Sunray project proposes an African-led “knowledge hub” that will assess and build on existing knowledge and present effective solutions for major nutrition problems in Africa. Af≥ican count≥ies conduct t≥ials on biotech c≥ops By JAMES KARIUKI Special Correspondent SEVEN AFRICAN countries are conducting field trials on biotech crops to enhance food security and improve nutrition. The trials in Kenya, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda seek to persuade leaders to pass pro-biotech policies. Burkina Faso and Sudan have increased bio- tech cotton hectarage by an impressive 50 per cent and 300 per cent respectively, with the biotech leader, the US, introducing the planting of biotech drought-tolerant maize. In a report released Monday, the International Drought resistant maize could be in the markets soon. Picture: File Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said the trials were in the final stages before the technology is formally intro- duced to food-deficient communities residing in semi-arid and arid areas, thereby reducing their reliance on relief food supplies. Biotech drought-tolerant maize technology has been donated to Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project, a public/private partnership by Monsanto and BASF, funded by the Gates and Buffet foundations and implemented through the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation. Planting of the high yielding drought-tolerant biotech maize crop in Africa is expected to start in 2017. The 2013 report says that more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted biotech crops, reflecting a five million increase in global biotech crop hectarage. “More than 90 per cent, or 16.5 million, of farmers planting biotech crops are small and re- source-poor; eight countries are highly industrialised and 19 are developing countries,” it says. Technological uptake of modern farming methods and use of biotech crops showed increasing confidence among millions of riskaverse farmers around the world that have experienced the benefits of these crops. It said nearly 100 per cent of farmers who try biotech crops completely shifted from conventional crops to biotech crops year after year. Global biotech crop hectarage increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013. During this 18 year period, more than a 100-fold increase of commercial biotech crop hectarage was reported. The biotech crop campaign has been fuelled by continued climate change that has seen yields dwindle.
February 24th 2014
March 10th 2014