The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the African Union (AU) have launched a landmark campaign to curb malnutrition in Africa, with the recently appointed African Nutrition champion, King Letsie III.of Lesotho, warning African leaders that the continent's future was at risk unless the high malnutrition rate was checked.
“Investing in nutrition is an investment in the social and economic development of the continent," he said at the launch at the 23rd Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea Friday.
“Poor nutrition is closely linked to extreme poverty, and improving nutrition is a prerequisite for reaching the targets of the Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to education and health," he said.
"This places a heavy burden on us to work hard, in collaboration with stakeholders outside nutrition, in order to see positive results on economies of African countries.”
Dr. Mustapha Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, said investing in nutrition will greatly improve productivity, economic growth, and promote education, intellectual capacity and the social development of the African people.
"It is imperative that Africa takes up nutrition sufficiency. It is also important to look at the quality of food," Kaloko said during the launch.
The campaign is focusing on the first 1,000 days of the birth of any child in Africa, to spare a whole generation of newborns from the risk of dying or suffering permanent stunting.
"As Africans, we have a big problem among the many problems that we face and that is the problem of malnutrition," said King Letsie III.
The AU aims to reduce malnutrition through a project known as Africa's Renewal Initiative Against Stunting.
Addressing Africa's Heads of State in his new capacity, the King said solving the problem of nutrition can help solve other problems in the continent.
"Africa is the only continent where malnutrition has been increasing. The consequence is that 45-50% of all deaths of infants in Africa is related to nutrition," he said.
In his address to the summit on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, hailed the AU leadership for agreeing to join a movement to increase nutrition on the continent.
At least 44 African countries have joined the movement, which the UN chief termed a "crucial investment in a nation's future."
Studies across Africa show lack of proper nutrition among poor communities results in US$15 to $17 billion in lost economic opportunities.
“The nutritional status of a child is influenced by three broad factors: intake of quality food, health and care,” said Dr. Noel Marie Zagre, UNICEF’s Regional Nutrition Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa.
“The programmes that address malnutrition therefore have to be multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder."
Another UNICEF representative, Brando Co, said; "Mothers need to have sufficient food to feed their children. We have to start from the community level. We have to ensure proper feeding and ensure food is available at every level."
The AU plans to reduce stunting in children from the current 50 percent to five percent.