SADC Food and Nutrition Security Committee seeks to improve food security and nutrition in the Region
The Food and Nutrition Security Committee in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has agreed on common areas of concern that need regional coordination and focus in order to improve food security and nutrition in the Region.
The Committee, which convened a hybrid meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 22nd to 23rd September 2022 to take stock of Member States’ implementation of the Minister’s Decisions related to food and nutrition security, agreed on the need to advocate for public financing for food security and nutrition to the Heads of State and Government through platforms such as the Africa Leaders for Nutrition (ALN).
The Committee agreed that there is a need for policies on human resources for nutrition which is still limited in most Member States due to limited funding. To address the human resource gap, mobility for nutrition professionals and alignment of qualifications in the Region need to be put on the agenda.
Member States need to strengthen the tracking of Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) indicators and adopt a multi-sectoral approach to improve the nutrition and food security situation in the Region. The CAADP is a continental initiative that aims to help African countries eliminate hunger and reduce poverty by raising economic growth through agriculture-led development. Through CAADP, African governments agreed to allocate at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development and to achieve agricultural growth rates of at least 6% per annum.
The Committee noted that the SADC Member States needed to consider transformative food systems to enhance availability and access to diversified foods such as maximising the value chain for fisheries and aquaculture, and there is a need for all Member States to adopt a comprehensive food balance sheet that generates production information on diverse commodities.
The Committee further agreed that maternal nutrition needs systematic programming, development of indicators, tracking, and monitoring. Member States should conduct bottleneck analysis to identify gaps and adopt the regional maternal nutrition action framework to strengthen maternal nutrition programming.
The Committee further discussed priorities and emerging areas of focus as aligned to the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2020-2030), Food and Nutrition Security Strategy (2015-2025), and Global and Regional Commitments.
Officially opening the meeting, the Chairperson of the Committee, Dr. Bruno Bindamba, Director of the National Nutrition Department of the Democratic Republic of Congo, noted the rising vulnerabilities in the Region with a total of 55 million people being food insecure and almost 19 million children under the age of five years being stunted. He said climate change is responsible for escalating the extent and prevalence of droughts, high temperatures, and rainfall variability in Africa. COVID-19 pandemic compounding issues such as imposed lockdown restrictions have caused major job and income losses and worsened the food and nutrition insecurity in the Region.
Director of Social and Human Development in the SADC Secretariat, Duduzile Simelane, noted that the AU Commission declared 2022 as the Year of Nutrition under the theme “Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent”. She emphasised the need to harness a systems approach to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity in the Region. Through the support of UNICEF, the SADC Secretariat has developed a tool on the complementary feeding action framework which aims at improving the diets of young children.
Through the action framework, Simelane urged member states to catalyse the food, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and social protection systems to improve the diets of young children. She commended the Member States that have adopted the action framework such as Eswatini, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and urged the Member States to start adopting such tools as guidance to improve the nutrition situation of young children.
Hale from Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FARNPAN), emphasised the importance of Member States working towards achieving the CAADP set a target of Food and Nutrition Security and encouraged Member States to establish and institutionalise inclusive mutual accountability systems in food security and nutrition and address capacity gaps in multi-sectoral coordination structures and mechanisms, unified data collection instruments, methodologies and information platforms and budget allocation to food and nutrition security strategies.
Chris Rudert, Regional Nutrition Advisor from UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, highlighted that the food environment in the SADC Region is in transition and becoming more obesogenic which is reflected by growing numbers of children, adolescents, and adults who are overweight and obese. As households’ available incomes reduce, families focus on buying cheaper and more caloric-dense foods and eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more fat-and sugar-containing foods. Exposure to unhealthy foods is also perpetuated by aggressive advertising of unhealthy foods to children which can influence children’s food preferences, purchase requests, and consumption patterns.
The meeting was jointly planned and convened by the Directorates of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR), and Social and Human Development (SHD) and supported by the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Also in attendance, were partner organisations, which included African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), UN World Food Programme, UN Food, and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), FARNPAN, Nutrition International, and Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN).