Civil strife: Africa’s stumbling block to feeding itself

Gaborone – Former South African First Lady Graca Machel has faulted African states for spending a lot of money funding civil strife, instead of using it for feeding the continent’s children.
Delivering a keynote address at a regional seminar held in Gaborone this past week, Machel called on African countries to mainstream issues of nutrition for them to move forward in terms of development.
“Such a move would ensure that Africans reach their full potential physically and intellectually, thereby contributing to the growth and development of the continent,” she said.
Instead of addressing the root causes of malnutrition and under-nutrition, the wife of former SA President, Nelson Mandela, said African countries were more concerned with dealing with their effects.
Machel stressed the importance of giving serious attention to issues of nutrition, especially in relation to children, adding that research had established the importance of proper nutrition in the first 1 000 days of a child’s life, from conception to a child’s second birthday.
Despite such evidence, Machel, who is also the founder of the Graca Machel Trust, noted that African countries were still not doing enough to ensure proper nutrition for pregnant women.
“This situation had over the years resulted in a growing number of stunted children who move on to perform poorly academically and exhibit low productivity in their working life.
The high infant mortality in Africa could be partly blamed on poor nutrition,” said Machel.
According to Machel, the high levels of poverty as well as high child, infant and maternal mortality rates are a reflection of the struggle for social transformation. She stressed that malnutrition is not only a health problem, but an issue of human development as well.
“The rate of malnutrition in the region will prohibit Africa to advance to the human development levels witnessed in the developed world,” she said.
Levels of under nutrition in Africa, Machel said, have a negative impact on childhood development and generate significant costs to national economies and are a key constraint to long-term economic development.
She further noted that mindset change is essential for people to realise the importance of nutrition on children and mothers.
“Even if we might have good strategies, if the people’s mind-set is not changed we cannot achieve anything,” she said.
She expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which African countries were moving towards the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals on nutrition, observing that of the 54 countries, only nine had made some progress.
“The problem with African countries is we justify ourselves on why we cannot do it, instead of looking for solutions to our problems,” said Machel.
She added that African countries should join hands to address the children issues and rights.
“We do not care enough about our children’s nutrition; we concentrate more on children going to the clinics not realising malnutrition and obesity are a result of poor nutrition,” said Machel. She said if we do not concentrate on the development of our children and change our attitudes Africa would continue to remain behind.
“The challenge remains that more needs to be done to ensure that nutrition interventions are scaled and sped up at regional level,” said Machel. Speaking at the same event, Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Phandu Skelemani, said unless Africa paid greater attention to the nutrition of children and less on wars, the continent would continue to lag behind in many respects. Skelemani called on all countries to play their role in ensuring that mothers and children have access to proper care and nutrition.
The objectives of the seminar included discussing the key principles of proposed and existing regional nutrition strategies in Eastern and Southern Africa.

December 2012
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