At a forum recently organised by Nestle Senegal, experts from different parts of Africa tackle nutritional challenges facing the continent, writes AKEEM LASISI, who was at the forum
In the past, experts usually expressed worries about how undernourishment ravaged many parts of Africa. In recent years, the challenge has been compounded. Over-nutrition, with its attendant problems of obesity and other complications, has become as worrisome as under-nutrition.
This was the subject of a forum recently held in Dakar, Senegal, with the theme, ‘Nutritional Challenges in Central and West Africa’. Organised by Nestle Senegal, the conference drew experts from different parts of the continent and beyond. It sought to dismantle the contradiction of a continent blessed with huge natural resources but remains the epicentre of malnutrition.
The team of experts from Nigeria was led by Dr. Chika Ndiokwelu, while a nutritionist and TV producer, Jamila Lawal, was also on board. The General Business Manager, Nestle Senegal, Mr. Xavier Beraud, set the agenda rolling when he noted that the company believed the challenges posed by malnutrition on the continent were so crucial that all hands must be on deck.
Also giving the Senegalese perspective, Dr. Maty Camara, who represented the country’s health minister, commended Nestle for championing the cause, saying there was a need to debate the issues involved.
She said, “Food production is not increasing, but demography is increasing. We should rethink policies in various countries. It is ironic that the world has created two types of malnutrition, which are under-nutrition and over-nutrition. The challenges are complex; so, we need to talk about them.”
According to her, apart from the fact that obesity, which she described as an effect of over-nutrition, affects the poor as it does the rich, it does not exclude children too.
She, however, noted that, in line with its commitment to various international initiatives, Senegal had stepped up fight against malnutrition.
The agenda for the forum included Nutritional Challenges in Central West Africa, Tackling Micronutrient Deficiencies, Nutrition and Food Security, a Winning Duo as well as Universal Health Coverage Nutrition.
Among the other experts present were Dr. Yves Mboudene from Cameroon, Nicole Dossou, Dr. Ndeye Toure, Guelaye Sall, Drs. Makale Traore, Alphonse Yakoro and Jean Nzegue. While some of them are scholars, others are in practice in various nutrition-related fields.
Others included Soumaila Bredoumy, Jules Kouassi, Mamadu Seck and Eliane Ekra, with the Nestle Business Executive Officer, Nestle CWAR, Dominique Allier, also on ground to strengthen the deliberations.
In his overview of ‘Promoting Balanced Diet to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals’, Toure stressed that malnutrition affected developing countries mostly, adding that it had dire consequences on society. He regretted that funding for nutritional projects was low in many African countries.
He said, “Each country should define targets and implement policies that will make the population have and eat adequate and quality food.”
One thing that Ndiokwelu wanted participants to take away is the fact that adequate nutrition is a human right – especially for children. According to her, whatever one will be in future depends on what one does to one’s children today. She is also worried that there are no clear-cut programmes to take care of adolescents.
“We generally neglect the group,” she said. “For instance, we have clinics for children and old people, but do we have adolescent clinics? This syndrome also affects the way we treat nutritional issues when it comes to adolescents.”
She lamented that the problem of insecurity, especially the internal displacement occasion by insurgency, had compounded nutritional problems in Nigeria. She explained that women and children were the worst affected in IDP camps, while noting that illiteracy also fuelled malnutrition.
Ndiokwelu recommended behavioural change, which entails proper breastfeeding, building on what affected populations already know about nutrition – rather than portraying them as knowing nothing – and accommodating adolescents as parts of what can redeem the situation.
For Mokem and Bossou, nutrition education is very important. They therefore want this to cover both formal and informal settings and all age groups. They want journalists and civil society groups to also seek knowledge on the subject and disseminate accordingly.
The participants recommended that foods be well fortified by producers. They want manufacturers to conscientiously and clearly label their products while advertisers should be more responsible in the way they project foods with questionable constituents.
Also, Bredoumy wants Africa to cultivate the habit of nourishing its soil. Kouassi wants the continent to check the importation of rice and other foods, while Mammadou urged manufacturers to patronise research outcomes from higher institutions.
At the end of the forum where Nestle also showed some documentary films on the challenges of malnutrition and how the company is making radical efforts to improve on its products, Allier noted that its agenda was to contribute to the emergence of healthier families.
As a result, he noted, Nestle was committed to eliminating ingredients that were counter-productive to quality nutrition. He unveiled plans to improve the nutritional profile of maggi, reduce its salt content by 22 per cent while also increasing local sourcing and building of local economies. Nestle further plans to reduce the weight of maggi wrappers by 13 per cent.
Allier added, “We will provide 300, 000 mothers with support in management, education access and health through vaccination programmes. We will engage 50 million women through social media.