Analytical summary - Food safety and nutrition
Food output per capita has not increased over the past 50 years in the WHO African Region and 20 countries are reported to be in food crisis. The traditional African diet comprising largely cereals, roots, fruits and vegetables with some animal protein has now shifted towards more fats and processed foods, adding noncommunicable diseases and obesity to the chronic problem of undernutrition in many countries.
As agriculture remains the backbone of the African economy, a strong food safety/food control system is essential to protect both the import and export food markets. However, the required human capacity and resources for this are lacking in most African countries, and food law is often incomplete or outdated. The broad intersectoral nature of food safety, with the resultant difficulty in coordinating effective policies and actions across many government departments, is one major reason for the lack of coherent action.
Also, food safety experts and training institutions to produce them are in short supply. However, a movement towards coordinated food safety mechanisms is now beginning and this can be assisted through active participation in research and training activities, and in the Codex Alimentarius Commission process, to ensure that Africa’s voice in international food trade matters is heard.
Nutritional problems persist, with significant consequences for infants and children aged under 5 years. The absolute number of underweight infants has increased by 8 million, showing that progress has not kept pace with population growth. Poverty, disease and poor nutrition lead to intergenerational health disadvantages, such as low birth weight and stunting.
More than one third of African children aged under 5 years old are stunted. As the nutritional position in most African countries continues to deteriorate, WHO is collaborating with Member States in the development of a comprehensive plan on infant and young child feeding. School-based feeding programmes are seen as an effective way of reaching older children and adolescents.
Cost-effective interventions exist to address undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency and vitamin deficiency, but coordinated cross-sectoral strategies are needed to deliver them. As a step in the right direction, 72% of African countries provide vitamin A supplementation and 61% provide iodized salt. However, less than half of all African countries with overweight or obesity problems are taking any action to counter them.
In an attempt to redress the nutritional shortfalls, countries are now reviewing and revising their food and nutrition policies, with a view to increasing a safe and nutritious supply of food.