Several meetings organized by food and nutrition stakeholders have shown that food insecurity in many West African countries is a result of insufficient rainfall, drought, inundations and the like.
It is against this backdrop, that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has held its 11th food and nutrition forum here in Sierra Leone.
The ECOWAS nutrition forum which is coordinated by the West African Health Organization (WAHO) gathers national multisectoral nutrition networks within its 15 ECOWAS member states.
The objectives of this one week bi-annual conference which is ongoing at the Bank of Sierra Leone Complex at Kingtom is to exchange experiences and review nutrition interventions and programs implemented at country level; also it seeks to develop profile for nutrition and identify adequate resources needed from African institutions and partners for implementation; and finally to provide technical up date focusing on a crucial and relevant topic in food and nutrition security for the sub region.
Representing the President at the forum, the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Soccoh Alex Kabia explained that since 1999, the WAHO has organized annual nutrition fora to address malnutrition.
These fora, he explained, “bring together all the major nutrition actors [bi-annually], which provide an important opportunity to promote regional integration, networking, resource sharing and to develop regional solutions to problems that affect all ECOWAS members countries.”
The health minister explained that nutrition status is internationally recognized as an indicator of national development and malnutrition is one of the biggest challenges that developing countries have to deal with.
In his keynote address, agriculturist, Dr Dunstant Spencer defined food and nutrition security; as “secure access to food coupled with a sanitary environment, adequate health services, and knowledgeable care to ensure a healthy, active life for all individuals,” he said.
Zooming on the state of nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Spencer explained that an aggregate malnutrition rate estimated at nearly 30 percent during the decade of the 1990’s. “While malnutrition prevalence decreased significantly in most other developing countries during the decade,” it was “nearly static in Sub-Saharan African,” he said.
Dr Spencer explained that there are many challenges and pit falls along the path, the most recent being the sharp increases in food prices over the past couple of years which has raised serious concerns about the food and nutrition situation of people around the world, especially the poor in developing countries; about inflation; and-in some countries- about civil unrest. He noted that growth performance of the agricultural sector over the last 10 years indeed indicates that the required changes to significantly reduce poverty and eliminate malnutrition should be within reach for many African countries.
Dr Spencer noted that carefully subsidized programs for seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, electricity, and water should involve the private sector from the beginning and facilitate a transition from initial “cash programs” to market based arrangements. Banking and finance are also critical for success. “Quick action rehabilitation of critical rural infrastructure such as rural roads and processing assets also needed,” he said. By Ophaniel Gooding