Eastern Africa still bears the highest burden of malnutrition – What can our lawmakers do?   

By Dia Sanou*

ADDIS ABEBA – Recent data from the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World suggest that after decades of steady decline, hunger has slowly increased in the world.

According to this report, more than 820 million people in the world were still hungry in 2018 and over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. Eastern Africa remains by far the most affected region, with 271.7 million people representing about 63% of the population in 2018.

High levels of malnutrition expose children to both immediate and long-term problems such as stunted physical growth, lower intelligence quotient (IQ), and poor school performance. Malnutrition also increases the risk of health conditions in adulthood including diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

Further, economic costs due to malnutrition will undermine Eastern Africa’s efforts to reduce poverty, thus impeding the speed and quality of development. For example, studies have shown that Africa countries lose annually between up to 16% of their GDP due to child malnutrition.

The drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition call for decisive and urgent actions

The causes of food insecurity and malnutrition are complex and multifaceted. Reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that poor policy environment and governance frameworks, coupled with weak implementation capacities are major factors that derailed progress.

Furthermore, poverty, economic slowdowns are important drivers. Climate change, conflicts and insecurity are exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition.

The high burden of malnutrition in Eastern Africa requires decisive and urgent actions, including the development and effective implementation of regional and national laws, policies, strategies, plans and programs.

The role of parliamentarians in advancing Food Security and Nutrition (FSN)

Members of Parliament (MP) can ensure that enabling legislative and policy frameworks for food security and nutrition actions are formulated and enacted. They also bear the responsibility for the allocation of national budgets to implement programs that address challenges that hamper the progress in the areas of food security and nutrition. MPs can also hold governments accountable for policy implementation and commitments made at global and regional levels.

MP can advocate for more funding and shape development policies that prioritize food security and nutrition. Moreover, they can use their position as respected opinion leaders to educate constituents on healthy dietary behaviors.

Partnership with MPs is crucial

Acknowledging the critical role MPs can play in advancing the food security and nutrition agenda, FAO is working closely with national and regional Parliaments to support member states in Eastern Africa in their fight against hunger and malnutrition. This is in support of the Africa Union’s Aspirations to end hunger by 2025, as stated in the 2014 Malabo Declaration, as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2, which targets ending hunger, and malnutrition by 2030.

As part of its vision for Africa, the FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa is supporting the formation and operationalization of regional and national parliamentary alliances across Eastern Africa, providing technical support and capacity building to MPs on food security and nutrition issues.

It is in this regards that the Eastern Africa Parliamentary Alliances for Food Security and Nutrition (EAPA – FSN) was established to serve as a platform for knowledge sharing among MPs and of advocacy on FSN issues. The Alliance comprises MP from Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, East Africa Legislative Assembly and the Inter-parliamentary Union of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Members of EAPA are working with stakeholders such as Africa Union, IGAD and the East African Community (EAC) to increase political commitment and budget allocation for agriculture and food security while raising awareness in their respective constituencies.

*Dia Sanou is a nutrition officer at FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa