Nutrition and agriculture in Africa: what role for research?

28th July 2015
Although Africa has the potential to produce all the food the continent needs it faces a heavy burden of food insecurity, undernutrition and an increasing problem of obesity. Dr. Namukolo Covic, IFPRI in Ethiopia, writes for Eldis on the role for research in addressing these issues. 
It is impossible to talk about agriculture in Africa without reference to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), an extensive African Union programme from NEPAD, implemented based on the 2003 Maputo Declaration.

agriculture in Africa

Photo: PHOTOS Ecoagriculture Partners (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The main goal of CAADP has been to help African countries to expand exports, achieve higher economic growth through agriculture and contribute to addressing hunger, poverty and food insecurity. The 2014 Malabo Declaration further provided specific nutrition targets - to improve children’s nutrition status and reduce stunting to 10% and underweight to 5% by 2025 - using agriculture as a key strategy. All AU member states are signatories to these declarations and, significantly, are therefore accountable to addressing them within their country contexts. CAADP thus has far reaching potential for Africa’s agricultural development and addressing nutrition challenges.

Although agriculture is fundamental to nutrition, increases in food production have not always produced positive nutrition outcomes. Recent efforts by NEPAD with FAO and involving several development partners have sought to make CAADP more nutrition sensitive by mainstreaming nutrition in National Agricultural Investment Plans, bringing deliberate and much needed attention to nutrition within the CAADP process.

Given the fact that Africa is also recipient to multiple nutrition initiatives such as SUN, REACH, ARISE, SPRING, Biofortification etc., what role can research play within CAADP for more adequate diets and positive nutrition outcomes? Nutrition researchers must engage with the CAADP processes especially at national level to generate context specific evidence to inform policies and programmes, monitor and evaluate progress. I would urge international researchers to work with African researchers and institutions such that while evidence is generated, capacity is developed for continued generation and use of such evidence as an integral part of the process to sustain progress.

Finally the nutrition to agriculture research stage has been set by the Malabo Declarationwhich states a commitment to “…a systematic regular review process, using the CAADP Results Framework, of the progress made in implementing the provisions of this Declaration…” (AU, 2014). Researchers must come to this stage and play their various roles to move the process of addressing nutrition through agriculture forward.
This blog is based on a presentation given at the Federation of African Nutrition Societies (FANUS) Conference in May 2015.