Healthy Diets Central to Achieving Food and Nutrition Security

ADDIS ABEBA – On 16 October 2019, Ethiopia joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Food Day. The Day aims to heighten public awareness of world food problems and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.

World Food Day also marks the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945. Ethiopia is one of the 194 Member Nations of FAO, having joined the Organization in 1948. In 1981, FAO opened a Representation Office in Addis Ababa, which also hosts the Organization’s Subregional Office for Eastern Africa.

The theme for this year’s World Food Day is “our actions are our future. Healthy diets. For a #ZeroHunger world.”

The theme reminds us that achieving Zero Hunger is not only about addressing hunger but about also nourishing people while nurturing the planet. The theme calls for action across sectors to make healthy diets affordable and accessible to everyone. It also calls for sustainable agricultural practices that protect the environment, expand the earth’s natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility.

A healthy diet is one that meets the nutritional needs of individuals by providing sufficient, safe, nutritious and diverse foods to lead an active life and reduce the risk of disease. It includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, as well as foods that are low in fats (especially saturated fats), sugar and salt.

The Government of Ethiopia has made commitments and is implementing several programs to address food insecurity and malnutrition under the framework of the Growth and Transformation Plan II (GTPII), the Agriculture Sector Policy and Investment Framework, the Second National Nutrition Programme, the Food and Nutrition Policy (FNP) and the National Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Strategy (NNSAS), among others.

The country has also committed to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), whose first and second goals are to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere (SDG1)” and “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture (SDG2)” by 2030. Ethiopia also signed the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact, which aims to end hunger in Africa by 2025.

Despite these efforts, millions of people in Ethiopia still go to bed hungry and are not sure of when and what their next meal will be. Currently, about 7.8 million people are food insecure and in need of food assistance. Despite the significant reduction in poverty prevalence, about 23 percent of Ethiopia’s population is still living below $1.90 a day, meaning that their access to sufficient and nutritious food is curtailed.

According to the Ethiopian National Food Consumption Survey (2013), an adult woman consumes less than two food groups out of 10. Similarly, children under five consume less than two food groups out of seven. Consequently, about 38 percent of children under five years suffer from chronic under-nutrition (stunted or being too short for their age) and 10 percent suffer from acute under-nutrition (wasted or having weight too low for their height).

Overweight and obesity (too heavy for their height and age) are also becoming an emerging problem that is caused by increased intake of refined starches, sugar, fats, salt, processed foods, meat, coupled with decreased physical activity.

The agriculture sector plays a major role in nourishing people by increasing the availability of and access to diverse, safe, nutritious foods that contribute to healthy diets and environmental sustainability.
Ethiopia is an agrarian country with about 80 percent of the population, depending on agriculture for food and livelihood.

However, the sector has lingered in addressing the food insecurity and malnutrition problems in the country. Agricultural production is mostly subsistence in nature with low application and utilization of technology and inputs. Climatic variability and pests and diseases also contribute to losses in the sector.

FAO remains devoted to working with the Government of Ethiopia to transform the agricultural sector to become more sustainable and productive to address food insecurity and malnutrition. The Country Programming Framework (2016 -2020) that FAO and the government signed prioritizes improving crop and livestock production and productivity, and sustainable natural resource management, while addressing crosscutting themes of resilience, climate change, nutrition and gender.

FAO has supported the Government of Ethiopia to develop and implement several policies, programs, and strategies to improve agricultural production and food security and nutrition, including the GTP-II, Post-Harvest Strategy in Grains, Horticulture strategy, Fall Armyworm Management Strategy, FNP and its strategy and the NNSAS.

The Organization generates information on the nature, extent, magnitude and severity of food security and nutrition problems, as well as their causes, resources and how they are changing over time.

FAO also strengthens national capacities to evaluate and monitor the food security and nutrition situation, analyze options and act effectively in improving food security and nutrition. The Organization is also supporting efforts to improve natural resources management and build resilience of farmers against re-current climate-related disasters.

On this World Food Day, we retaliate our commitment to working with the Government of Ethiopia and partners to not only achieving food and nutrition security but also promoting healthy diets.

Fatouma Seid is FAO Representative in Ethiopia

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Ethiopian Monitor Online.