FAO Regional Office for Africa

FAO and AUC set to promote sustainable school food and nutrition programmes in Eastern Africa

Malnutrition in Eastern Africa among children raises concern

Amira ElFadil, AU Commissioner Social Affairs & Patrick Kormawa, FAO Repr./AU-UNECA-Eastern Africa (Photo: ©FAO/Abebe Demissie)

18 January 2018, Addis Ababa – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Africa Union Commission have signed an agreement to launch sustainable school food and nutrition programmes in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

“The devastating effects of malnutrition on the nutritional status and health of children in Africa are well known,” said Patrick Kormawa, FAO Representative to the AU and UNECA and Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa, during the signing event at the Africa Union Headquarters.

“An African Union study, The Cost of Hunger, indicates that many countries in the subregion are among the countries with poor nutrition school and pre-school children with one out of three children below five estimated to be stunted.  As a result, they pay the highest prices of child malnutrition, as much as 11 percent of their Gross Domestic Products”, Kormawa added.

Amira ElFadil, African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, also noted that malnutrition in Africa among children is very appalling, not only for the wellbeing of the children but also to the economy itself. The African Union's revised Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy and other programmes have endorsed homegrown school feeding as a continental strategy to address some of these challenges.

“Based on the lessons to be learned from the implementation of this new project, we will formulate a continent-wide initiative, which will significantly reduce the gaps we see in current school feeding programmes on the continent”, she remarked.

Addressing pressing gaps

The newly launched project, Creating an enabling environment and capacity for school food and nutrition in Eastern Africa, will come up with strategic framework that incorporates and links among smallholder agriculture systems, school food programs prioritizing nutrition education and development of rural economies. It will address some of the most pressing gaps the four countries have identified to create an enabling environments and strengthen the capacities of the countries to design and implement local farmer friendly and sustainable school food and nutrition programmes.

Millions of children under the age of five in the subregion fail to reach their full potential in terms of cognitive development due to malnutrition. Childhood undernutrition can lower learning capacities and educational outcomes, thus compromising their futures and perpetuating a generational cycle of poverty and malnutrition, with negative consequences on both individual and their nations. Childhood malnutrition is costing African economy about 11% of gross domestic product (GDP) every year, whereas preventing malnutrition delivers $16 in returns on investment for every $1 spent in Africa. 

This initiative complements current effort to embed nutrition education in primary and secondary school curriculum and improve on retention and learning outcomes of schoolchildren in the region. FAO provides technical and financial support to the AUC for the annual regional commemoration of the Africa Day on School Feeding to draw political attention to this strategic nutrition intervention.