21 November 2003, Rome/Ouagadougou -- "Food-based approaches for a healthy nutrition in West Africa*; the role of food technologists and nutritionists" is the theme of an international workshop to be held from 23 to 28 November 2003 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The workshop is sponsored by the University of Wageningen (The Netherlands), the University of Ouagadougou, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD - France) and FAO.

West African countries, with a combined population of 226 million people, face major challenges related to nutrition. Nearly thirty-five percent of children under five years of age are stunted, a sign of a chronically poor diet while about 5 to 15 % of young children are wasted, a sign of acute hunger.

At the same time, overweight and obesity, which can lead to diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, are emerging problems among some urban populations in West Africa.

Deficiencies in vitamin A and iron are widespread in West Africa and contribute to illnesses and high rates of child mortality. Iodine deficiency is a public health concern as well.

Improving consumption

Improving consumption of foods such as palm oil, orange sweet potatoes, papaya, mangoes, citrus, green leafy vegetables as well as oil crops, legumes, animals and fish can prevent these nutritional problems, according to FAO.

The Ouagadougou workshop participants will assess "food-based strategies" which mobilize the agriculture, food technology and education/communication sectors to promote the production, availability, access to, and consumption of nutritious foods. They will analyze current knowledge and identify future needs to promote food based-strategies.

FAO will present a paper on food security and nutrition trends in West Africa and challenges and opportunities for West African countries to meet the goal of reducing malnutrition by one-half by 2015. The FAO paper calls for the need to diversify and increase food production and productivity.

An FAO Special Workshop Session on "Food-Based Actions: The Role of Governments and their Development Partners" will call for increased support for promising strategies, such as appropriate food storage, processing and preservation techniques and better distribution and marketing.

* FAO definition of West Africa includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Pierre Antonios
Media Relations Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53473