Children’s access to adequate and nutritious food must be a priority

Mathare Lea Children

Children in Mathare North estate, Nairobi, wait to be served donated food on July 30, 2021. Mama to the Rescue made a weekly donation to Lea Mathare Foundation.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In some countries, under-nutrition is twice as common in children in rural as in urban areas.
  • There are many impressive innovations that, if deployed on a large scale, can help to eradicate hunger.

Extreme hunger is ugly and dehumanising. An obscenity that strips off human dignity. Picture a child eating soil because there’s nothing else to feed on. As shocking as it sounds, this is a heartbreaking reality today in parts of Africa. As Ghanaian author Israelmore Ayivor said, “To a hungry person, every bitter food is sweet. When the preferable is not available, the available becomes preferable.”

It’s saddening to see an adult in pain due to hunger but worse an innocent child suffering from severe malnutrition, and helpless. No child should go hungry. Access to food is a fundamental pillar of the right to life yet it has become the most violated human right. Unicef blames nutritional deficiencies for 30 per cent of child mortalities in Africa.

In some countries, under-nutrition is twice as common in children in rural as in urban areas. When President William Ruto recently flagged off food aid to drought-hit regions, he said, hopefully, it would be the last time the government was performing such a ceremony—a clarion call to other African leaders.

Food insecurity

All stakeholders, including the government, development partners and communities must address the causes of food insecurity and implement holistic and sustainable interventions that put at the core the most vulnerable people, especially children.

First, children’s right to adequate and nutritious foods should be prioritised when developing budgets. In line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union (AU) seeks to eliminate hunger and food insecurity by 2025. Both Agenda 2063 and the AU Summit decision on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation have reaffirmed this commitment.

Unfortunately, Africa is not on track to meet these targets. Allocating adequate funding to cater to children’s well-being, food, health and educational needs is not debatable.

Secondly, we must embrace innovation. There are many impressive innovations that, if deployed on a large scale, can help to eradicate hunger. They don’t have to be expensive. An example is climate-smart agricultural practices by planting fast-growing, highly nutritious drought-resistant crops like moringa and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes grown by communities in several countries.

Profound benefits

These crops have had profound benefits for children’s nutrition. Some schools have incorporated the vitamin-rich potatoes into their feeding programmes, an effective means of ensuring that no child goes hungry. This can easily be replicated and scaled up.

Governments should encourage such sustainable community-tailored school-feeding programmes to end hunger. That would also promote long-term involvement in agriculture. This and other innovations in land use, conservation agriculture and water harvesting can enable Africa to provide adequate food while dealing with the impact of climate change instead of relying on imports yet there is plenty of unused arable land.

Poverty is the primary cause of hunger. A significant population in Africa lives in abject poverty and cannot afford basic food. The African Development Bank says over 445 million people lived below the poverty line prior to Covid-19 as 30 million more fell into extreme poverty when the pandemic struck.

Therefore, any solution to hunger should tackle poverty. This calls for increased investment in sectors that can contribute to the growth of resource-poor communities. Most of these families live in rural areas and rely largely on agriculture for a living.

Amid immediate interventions, focus on building resilience in light of the never-ending negative climate change effects. Let’s have self-sufficient communities not at the mercy of governments, donors or the weather.

Policy pronouncements and commitments cannot be eaten. Stakeholders must walk the talk—change this narrative for the long term to ensure universal access to nutritious diets for children. We risk losing more children to diseases caused by malnutrition and, ultimately, having a stunted generation that cannot move this continent to greater heights.

Mr Ngugi is the ChildFund International’s Africa regional director.  [email protected]. @ChegeNgugi1