Enoka, a Kenyan village pastor who hosted a visiting preacher from the US recently, says that he now understands why Europeans always request to be shown the loo whenever they visit someone. “It is because they eat a lot, and would like to expel it in preparation for more intake,” he says.
He had gone to pick the visitor from the hotel and found him taking breakfast, to which he was accordingly invited to partake. Before him were assorted juices, fruits, cereals, pastries, potatoes, eggs, beans, sausage, milk and so on. The pastor, used to only two items for breakfast: black tea and cassava, was mesmerized and didn’t know where to begin. To him, this was lunch!
According to the African Regional Nutritional Strategy 2005-2015 by the African Union, sustainable access to food and nutrition security is a pre-requisite to socio economic development of any country. Deterioration of the nutrition situation coupled with increasing rates of poverty destroys any gains made and seriously constrains any future efforts to pull Africa out of underdevelopment.
Empirical evidence from NEPAD shows that 204 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa are chronically malnourished. An estimated 331 million people consume less than 2100 calories per day. Consequently, Africa faces diet related diseases and nutrition deficiency disorders such as Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM), micronutrient disorders such as iron deficiency anemia, Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) and Vitamin A deficiency. The lack of iron alone, reports UNICEF, is so widespread in adults that it is lowering overall labour productivity, resulting in estimated losses of up to 2 per cent of GDP in the countries most affected. In Kenya, this will mean about Ksh 20 billion per year, almost equal to the aid given by the World Bank.
Plagued by hunger and high cost of living, a majority of Africans would rather have a dish that makes their stomach full, regardless of whether it has nutrients essential for their physical and mental development. In most families, foodstuffs such as meat, fish, rice and cakes baked from wheat flour are only prepared on Christmas and New Year days. They can either not be afforded or are considered luxuries.
It is difficult for a construction worker, for example, who earns Kshs 100 per day and has to pay Kshs 1000 rent at the end of the month to master lessons on nutrition. His income, considering the prices of foodstuffs, cannot allow him the luxury of nutritious food. Nutrition education cannot leave classrooms and ante-natal clinics as a result of economic disparities.
Good nutrition is vital for meeting the increasing nutritional demands of a continent dependent on a labour intensive economy. It is good for a continent that requires tough thinkers to extricate it from the abyss of disease, poverty and illiteracy. There is a dearth of this thinking because Africans are not exposed. Buying newspapers and books is a luxury they can not afford.
Good nutrition will be achieved when Africans experience food security and are economically empowered. Concerted effort from African governments, the private sector and agribusiness should help Africans acquire modern technologies such as the use of pesticides and high yielding varieties, which will spur food productivity. There is need to revitalize Africa’s soils through use of fertilizer, as the continent loses the equivalent of USD4 billion worth of soil nutrients per year. Technologies that ensure minimum tillage will greatly help the saved energy to be invested in other income generating activities. Cultural stereotypes that make certain foods to be labeled as ‘not food’ need to be addressed.
Africans should shun the mentality that it is only Europeans who are entitled to elaborate diets and start producing. Only a culture of plenty can afford the luxury of elaborate dishes. We must consequently learn how the developed nations attained food security, adopt what is relevant and push towards high productivity among our people. The rest will follow.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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