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Establish sustainable nutrition system

food insecurity
A third of Kenya’s population is actually affected by food insecurity contributing to chronic malnutrition. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The first ever Nutrition Africa Investor Forum was held in Nairobi last week on World Food Day bringing together leading business leaders, policy makers and prominent development high-level representatives from the World Bank, European Commission, International Finance Corporation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focused on unlocking business potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) working to improve the nutritional quality of the food system across Africa.

Former Tanzania president Jakaya Kikwete, a lead member of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement working to end malnutrition, was the keynote speaker and gave an illuminating story of how he ended up being a nutrition advocate. For a period of time, his mother suffered from goitre but he never understood the cause until he met a Unicef senior officer when he was Minister of Finance.

The Unicef official took him through how inadequate vitamin and mineral intake can lead to an increase in “hidden hunger” – a phenomenon where despite getting enough calories, the diet lacks essential micro-nutrients leading to deficiency diseases. It was at this point that he came to realise why his mother suffered from goitre. Born and bred in the coastal town of Bagamoyo where fish is every household’s main dish, his mother never ate fish (she couldn’t stand the smell) which would have strengthened her immune system, while the table salt sold in Tanzania that would have boosted her iodine deficiency was actually not iodized.

So the Unicef officer prevailed upon him to pass a law that would require all table salt sold in Tanzania be iodized and quality controls for monitoring and inspection be put in place.It’s from that point that he took more interest on nutrition quality matters and when he became president one of the first things he did was to set up was a nationwide nutrition system.

A nutrition office was established in every district of Tanzania sufficiently staffed to monitor nutrition quality at the grassroot level. He also passed a law on nutrients fortification, as well as provided tax incentives on capital inputs on nutritional products.

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Today, stunting – impaired growth and development – in Tanzania stands at 28 per cent (lower than Kenya at 30 per cent) up from 42 per cent (among the highest in Africa) he had found when he came into the Presidency, due to creating a sustainable nutrition system.

Now, on the same World Food Day metres away, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy were meeting SME business people and chose to celebrate the day with an ironic policy declaration. He advised policy makers to be “imaginative” enough and place regulatory non-tariff barriers on Chinese imported fish.It was ironic because the President has food security as one of his main agenda.

Fish consumption provides multiple health benefits like support of heart health, mental health, immune function and foetal development but according to FAO statistics, fish consumption in Kenya is on a decline because of dwindling supply, in 2000 average per capita consumption was 6kg but today it’s at 4.5kg.

A third of Kenya’s population is actually affected by food insecurity contributing to chronic malnutrition; 26 per cent of children under five are stunted whilst 25 per cent of women are anaemic. 27 per cent of adult death is caused by the rising rate of diet related non-communicable diseases. So as govt plans to ban fish imports because they are cheap, this is one of the foods that can address Kenya’s nutrition problem.

Therefore, government designing food security policies and programmes actually entails increasing accessibility of nutritious foods through affordable prices because it is estimated that African countries lose 11 per cent of their GDP due to malnutrition and according to the Copenhagen consensus 2008, an investment of $60 million a year into micro-nutrients yields benefits worth over $1 billion to the economy. According to Mr Kikwete “Nutrition is the silent problem”.

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