Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security – We need to do more on nutrition, and multi-stakeholder partnerships are a key part of the solution

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      Today is Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security. 



      A lot is happening on food security, as evidenced by progress on CAADP and the important commitments made by AU Heads of State in Malabo. However, the same cannot be said for improving nutrition on the continent.

      Producing more is important, and better linking food-surplus with food-deficit areas in Africa is crucial. But “producing and trading more” alone is not enough, we also need to ensure people eat well

      With economic growth, urbanisation and expansion of the middle-class, a new phenomenon has emerged. People are increasingly eating highly-processed fatty foods and soft-drinks from supermarkets which has led to a dramatic increase in obesity: 5% of the total female population in Sub Saharan Africa and 61% of adults in the richest country there, South Africa, are overweight. 

      No doubt nutrition challenges like these need to be tackled via public-private partnerships (PPPs). The private sector should play a strong role since farmers, traders and retailers are so important in determining what we eat. 

      But what are the challenges and opportunities to make such PPPs more effective? And what is the role for the EU there? Here are my thoughts.

      Four Challenges

      Better integrating nutrition in the African agriculture transformation agenda still remains mostly rhetoric (very few CAADP plans include serious nutrition-specific action), despite the advances made by the SUN movement in some specific countries.

      1) There is still a lot of mistrust between public and private actors, and wounds from the Nestlé debates are not yet mended.

      2) Which private sector are we talking about? Can we really combine different approaches for win-win PPPs or are we going to face increasing tensions between African family farmers (who believe producing organic food via multi-cropping is the solution for better nutrition) and foreign corporations (who believe only large-scale mono-cropping can produce enough food, with fortification providing the supplements for improving nutrition)?

      3) Making more nutritious food available for all still faces big challenges in terms of both supply and demand: can producers deliver such better food at more affordable costs for poor consumers? How to make consumers more aware about the importance of purchasing more nutritious food?

      4) Finally, it remains to be demonstrated that PPPs for improving nutrition are commercially sustainable and scalable. Most existing examples of PPPs for nutrition are pilots, strongly motivated by ‘corporate social responsibility’, and it is not clear if those models can be upscaled to serve base-of-the-pyramid consumers in a profitable and sustainable way.

      Four Opportunities

      1) The whole debate on the role of the Private Sector for Development , especially in Europe, is in itself an opportunity to modernise development cooperation and finally ground it in the reality in which private operators and citizens shape development. A societal challenge like nutrition needs non-state-actors in the lead, with governments and donors in a supporting role.

      2) Africa itself is on the move and is starting to consider a PPP approach to improving nutrition. CAADP is a multistakeholder framework with opportunities for the private sector to be involved in policy decisions and strong mutual accountability for both public and private actors’ investments. In this context, countries like Tanzania are designing PPPs for nutrition as part of CAADP, and regions like SADC are thinking of facilitating similar initiatives through regional cooperation.

      3) These dynamics in Africa are developing in an international context where there’s also increasing attention on facilitating PPPs for development - recently captured by the adoption of the Responsible Agriculture Investments in a multistakeholder process (at the Committee on World Food Security) and even more so with the finalisation of the post-MDGs debates in 2015.

      4) Finally, donors are increasingly aware of the importance to integrate nutrition into agriculture agendas and are taking decisions in that sense, including in support of PPPs, with the EU in the lead. The EU made the commitment of supporting developing countries to reduce the number of stunted children worldwide by seven million by 2025, and in 2013 pledged to spend €3.5 billion for that (with 70% of that though agriculture-related interventions). 

      Four ideas for the EU

      1) To transform leadership and pledges into concrete improvements for nutrition in Africa, the EU will first of all need to better align to the CAADP at all levels. Despite some progress, and continued full political support to CAADP, in bilateral decisions on aid many EU member states and institutions still do not sufficiently follow the directions and content of the CAADP National and Regional Investment Plans.

      2) The big amounts pledged by the EU to improve nutrition will have to be “patient capital” if they want to successfully support inclusive PPPs. Those resources will have to be spent wisely, i.e. without rushing into “value-for-money” after 1 or 2 years, since PPPs require time and not only seed capital. More resources should go for consumer awareness, technology transfer to local operators in Africa, and support to intermediary private sector organisations like cooperatives: this is the only way for all operators in the value chain for nutritious products to really share costs, risk and knowledge and avoid marginalisation of the weakest players. 

      3) The EU should concretely allow PPPs for nutrition, and its support to them, to be informed and influenced by systematic and inclusive multistakeholder dialogue, which shall include also consumers and civil society and a strong rigorous monitoring component on what needs to improve in the PPPs over time.

      4) Finally, the EU as lead donor worldwide and soft power broker in international relations should ensure that the International Conference on Nutrition ICN2 (initially called ICN+21) results are serious and will be implemented and monitored by all parties, again through a multistakeholder approach. This will require: working on a serious ‘Framework for Action’ to implement the ICN2 commitments; clarity on the role of the private sector for nutrition and the related accountability framework; and ensuring that the world will not wait another 21 years before the next International Conference and collective decisions for addressing nutrition challenges.


      This blog is the view of the author, not necessarily that of ECDPM

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