Africa’s health depends on improved nutrition

A profound shift from communicable to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is under way in many parts of the African Region. Globally, NCDs are estimated to kill 38 million people each year and they threaten progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals and influence the post-2015 development agenda. The four main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.

Native Research Nutritional and Crop value

The importance of agriculture for nutrition and health will allow TRIDI to enhance old and create new long-term partnerships among agriculture, health, and nutrition researchers, policymakers, and development practitioners to:
(1) strengthen their capacity in developing, adapting, evaluating, and using new methodological tools and approaches to link agriculture, nutrition and health in research, policy, and practice;
(2) design and implement integrated, gender-responsive, multisectoral programs and policies that cut across the traditional sect oral; divides, evaluate them, and generate lessons learned from these experiences.
The research program will tackle this complex agenda by focusing on two broad research components:
(1) maximizing the potential of agriculture to improve nutrition through better dietary quality;
(2) promoting safe agricultural and food systems practices that reduce infectious and chronic disease risk.

Research Goals

The two research areas will be brought together under a common framework to build on the synergies between agriculture, health, and nutrition. The research program focuses on two targets populations:

(1) populations that are directly involved in or exposed to agriculture intensification;

(2) marginalized, vulnerable, and/or ultra-poor populations.

The overall goal of this research program is to contribute to the CGIAR impacts of improving food security, enhancing environmental sustainability, and reducing poverty through agricultural interventions that improve human health and nutrition. Poor health and nutrition are inextricably linked to poverty. Specific objectives include:

1. Maximise the impact of agriculture on food security, diet quality, and nutrition.

2. Develop new gender-responsive approaches to control agriculture-associated diseases in marginal and vulnerable populations that suffer from neglected diseases.

3. Asses and mitigate the agriculture-associated health risks involved in intensifying agri-food systems.

4. Improve agricultural development planning and policy making to achieve better health and nutrition, promote sustainable intensification of agro-food systems, and support marginal and vulnerable peoples in developing countries.

Enhancing nutritional value

The majority of the population in Africa lives in rural areas and depends on what they grow to feed themselves. However, most rely on a major staple that offers calories but usually inadequate nutrients leading to malnutrition or “hidden hunger”. When people do not get the right quantities of vitamins and minerals in their diet, they are more susceptible sickness and diseases. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies and do not have enough Vitamin A, iron, and zinc needed to maintain a healthy diet.

Scientists at TRIDI Harvest Plus in partnership with others have found ways to add these essential vitamins and minerals to everyday foods such as maize, cassava, and beans through biofortification – a process by which the nutritional quality of a food crop is enhanced through plant breeding.

Malnutrition – including undernutrition and nutritional deficiencies – are still major causes of death and disease, especially among vulnerable and socially disadvantaged people like women and children less than five years of age. To help address these challenges, Uganda recently hosted the Regional Meeting on Accelerating Nutrition Improvements (ANI) in Africa. ANI aims to strengthen nutrition surveillance and scale up activities that will provide indirect benefit to 66 million women of reproductive age and 46 million children less than five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa.

Opening the meeting, Uganda’s Director General of Health Services Dr Jane Ruth Aceng underscored the centrality of nutrition in health care delivery noting that "nutrition is a social and economic determinant of health that must be always be prioritized" Dr Mercy Chikoko, ANI coordinator at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, highlighted that all stakeholders need to be accountable for framing policies and implementing programmes that will effectively reduce preventable risks to health. Evaluation, monitoring and surveillance are essential components of such actions.

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