AfDB moves to end malnutrition

HARARE - The African Development Bank president (AfDB) Akinwumi Adesina says the greatest contributor to economic growth is not physical infrastructure, but brainpower, or ‘gray matter infrastructure’.

Adesina told delegates attending an event on global nutrition organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Washington on Saturday that malnourished children do not feed their brains or bodies, and “stunted children today leads to stunted economies tomorrow”.

This comes as 58 million children in Africa under the age of five are too short for their age, while 14 million weigh too little for their height. 

Unicef has estimated the annual cost of under-nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa at $25 billion.

In his address, Adesina outlined the ways in which the regional development bank is addressing Africa’s nutrition challenge.

He said AfDB will first launch a new strategy to feed Africa and turn a net food-importing continent into a self-sufficient food exporter within 10 years.

“Feeding children needs to be accompanied by supporting their mothers. To address this, the bank is launching the Affirmative Finance Action for Women to leverage $3 billion specifically for women in Africa,” he said.

The AfDB is also expected to use its 2016 annual meetings to be held in Zambia in May this year as a platform for the group of African leaders for nutrition to call for innovative and effective financing approaches to end malnutrition.

“Now more than ever is the time to invest in nutrition”, said Keith Hansen of the World Bank. If the world is to meet the six targets set out by the World Health Organisation in 2012, the World Bank calculates that it needs to spend $7 billion a year for 10 years.

“That is a fraction of what it currently spends on things like subsidies for farmers. Our current spending on nutrition amounts to just half of one penny in every dollar,” Hansen said.

Adesina expanded on the idea of financing the fight against malnutrition, floating the idea of issuing nutrition social bonds.

He also underscored the importance of using mobile technology to get food and information about food — to women, and stressed the need for Africa to scale up its use of bio-fortified foods.

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